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Fly Tying The Footwing Spinner

Formidable footprints with snowshoe rabbit foot hair.

Fly Tying The Footwing Spinner

Fly Tying The Footwing Spinner

(Egg-Laying Hendrickson)
HOOK: #12 Tiemco 100.
THREAD: Black 6/0 Uni-Thread.
WING: Light dun snowshoe rabbit foot hair.
EGG SAC: Yellow Spectrum Dubbing.
TAIL: Coq de León.
BODY:Rusty spinner or rusty brown goose biot.
THORAX: Rusty brown Superfine Dubbing.
Note: Use just enough dubbing to completely cover the thread to eliminate clumping and easily manipulate the wings into position without creating too much bulk.

Footwing Spinner Step 1 of 5

Cut a small clump of longer fibers from the bottom of the rabbit's foot, stroke out the underfur, and use a hair stacker to even the tips. Wind the thread from the eye halfway down the shank, then wrap back halfway again. Measure the fibers against the hook shank for a length equal to the space between the barb and the eye. With the tips pointing forward, tie in and post the fibers upright.

Footwing Spinner Step 2 of 5

Use figure-eight wraps to divide and lock the wings in place. They should sit slightly elevated and at 90 degrees to the hook shank. Wrap over the remaining butt ends, creating a clean, tapered body. End your windings at the hook barb. You will manipulate the wings into their final positions when you dub the thorax in the final step.

Footwing Spinner Step 3 of 5

Wind your thread partway down the hook bend (approximately ten wraps), to create a foundation for the egg sac. Wind back to just over the barb. Tightly dub and wrap the egg sac. Cut two or three fibers of Coq de León and tie them down in front of the egg sac. Divide the tails evenly while compressing them against the dubbing ball with the thread.

Footwing Spinner Step 4 of 5

Tie in the biot with the notch at the base of the biot facing upward. Wind the thread forward to just behind the wings. Let the bobbin hang. With a pair of hackle pliers, slowly and smoothly wind the biot forward, creating a segmented, tapered body, and tie it off.

Footwing Spinner Step 5 of 5

Lightly dub from the biot tie-in point to just behind the hook eye and back to the wing for a foundation. Do not crowd the eye. Build the finished thorax with figure-eight wraps around the wing base. Pull the wings down and secure them in their final position. Tie off behind the hook eye and place a drop of head cement with your bodkin.

I was a guest tier at a small regional fly-tying show, and I was eagerly anticipating the arrival of the guest of honor, Sylvester Nemes. His book Spinners (Stackpole Books, 2006) had just been published, and I hoped he would sign my copy.

Spinners was the first book devoted solely to the spinner stage of the mayfly life cycle, and it also illustrated numerous effective patterns.

I had always been a big fan of Nemes's books and was an avid tier of his highly effective soft-hackle patterns.

At the show, I was busy tying my mayfly emerger pattern and answeringquestions regarding the best methods for tying and fishing it. An older gentleman watching me noticed my copy of Spinners, and asked what I thought about it.

I told him it was well done, long overdue, and that I was waiting for the author to show up so he might sign it. The gentleman smiled, asked my name, then signed the book and put it back on the table.

I felt like an idiot–I had been reading Nemes's books for years and had no idea what he looked like.

Tying Better Spinners

Over the next few years, I incorporated Nemes's spinner patterns into my fly boxes, and they always fooled trout. But since they used only hackle or hen wing feathers for the wings, they were not durable, and didn't float well after getting slimed by a fish.

My early fly-tying mentor was Del Mazza. Mazza is the finest contemporary fly tier and instructor I know. He believes that the best flies are created for situations, not imitations. A good question to ask yourself is, "How can I change the design of a fly to solve a specific problem or fishing situation?"

With that in mind, here was my predicament: I needed a natural spinner wing material that floated high, lasted long, reanimated with desiccants, and was supple enough not to spin and twist a light leader. As with many things in life, the answer was years in the making, and appeared when it was least expected.


The Usual is one of my favorite flies. To the chagrin of many of my classic match-the-hatch friends, I use this disheveled, hair-wing fly regularly, and do well with it. During one preseason spell, I was tying a batch in various colors and sizes, lauding snowshoe hair as an exceptional material for emerger and dun patterns. Then it hit me: The magic material I had been seeking for my spinners was right here the entire time.

Snowshoe foot hair is a perfect material for spinner wings. The hair is extremely durable, floats high, has a supple footprint, and is easily restored with desiccant. In addition, its iridescent sheen is greater than most feathers, and it is available in numerous colors. I prefer natural and light dun for my spinner patterns.

The Footwing Spinner is easily adjustable in size, body materials, and colors to imitate any mayfly spinner. The recipe here is for an egg-laying female Hendrickson.

In the East, most Hendrickson spinner falls occur on warm spring evenings, as well as from morning until noon as temperatures rise. Try the Footwing Spinner for its durability, floatability, and fishability. It provides more fishing time per fly, and you might even catch a fish or two.

Harold McMillan owns Housatonic River Outfitters, Inc., in Cornwall Bridge, Connecticut.

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