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Spinner Fishing: The Imago Stage and Lack Of It on Eastern Trout Streams
Gene Macri


Baetis Mayfly Spinner from Spinner Fishing: The Imago Stage and Lack of it On Eastern Trout Streams by Gene Macri at

©2013 E. Macri

The rods were bamboo and the imago stage or spinners as they are called were tied to delicate tippets.  On these Eastern spring creek trout streams the fly patterns were precise for the time period.  It was the greatest spinner fishing I had ever experienced.  The stream was the famed Falling Spring Run and the hatch,---the glorious Sulfurs and Tricos.  But those days are gone. The stream, Falling Spring Run, is just a relic now. Its precious hatches diminished to the point of nonexistence by development, poor farming practices, and poor stream management by the state of Pennsylvania.

There really was nothing quite like it.  You fished in a shallow spring creek where you could see the fish rise to the massive spinner fall. These weren't just any fish--wild rainbows and browns to 30 inches or more.  The trout were super selective. They got more and more selective as the season progressed, as the flies became smaller.  We fished into the night and it was just amazing how good one could get at it and how much the observant fly angler learned.

I have fished spinner falls on many trout waters including the famed Henry's Fork but nothing compared to  those years on Falling Spring..nothing! The combination of the size of the stream, the large fish, the massive hatch ,the spinner return and the sophistication of the trout made for world class fishing.

I always thought spinner fishing was the best type of dry fly fishing one could get whether it was for the return of tricos, sulfurs or even drakes.  But in the East it has diminished so much that it's often not worth even trying on many streams any more.  Here are the reasons for the decline of spinner fishing in the East.

  1. The massive decline of mayflies due to pollution, development, and improper so called stream improvement projects.
  2. Environmental changes including global warming which have disrupted the natural cycles of emergence and return of mayflies.
  3. Extreme angling pressure on streams which still have some spinner falls with incompetent fly anglers and guides that put down fish.
  4. The actual destruction of trout populations due to pollution, bad stream management and improper creel limits.

The Western United States and some parts of the Midwest still have some fairly decent spinner falls on many of their streams.  There are some Eastern waters which will not be named because of the possibility of too much angling pressure that also have fairly decent imagoes but they are declining rapidly. In the East if you know a stream still has good hatches but never see spinner falls then they are most likely occurring in the middle of the night or the early morning hours.  You must figure out the a stream temperature profile because on many Eastern freestone waters even though the flies many come back from 3:00 a.m. to 7:00 am the water can be too warm and the fish will not be active.

A few years ago on Yellow Creek in Pennsylvania I witnessed a massive return of Drakes, March Browns, Caddis Flies, and Sulfurs that can only be described as a blizzard but in the stretch where I watched from  3 a.m. not one fish rose due to the warm stream temperatures.  To figure a stream profile take the temperatures of a stream over a number of days at various time periods.  Compare that to the normal air temps and graph them.  You should see some trends in data that will show you how long it takes for that stream to lower its temperature profile to an optimum for feeding for that stream. It's a bit of work but if the stream has a good population of fish and good mayfly hatches it will be worth it because you might be the only person on the stream at the right time.

Here are some tips for successful spinner fishing:

  1. Always use the heaviest tippets you can get away with especially in the evening because you can't chase fish in the night.
  2. Have the flies ready to fish. Some anglers just tie the spinners on 6 separate tippet sections with a loop and then just loop them on the rest of the leader. If you snap one off just clip the tippet and loop a new one on.
  3. Have a few different varieties of imitations such as hen wing, poly wing etc.  This sometimes makes a differences!  Why? Because the secret of spinner fishing is that fact that sometimes the spinners ride high or low in the surface film.
  4. Contrary to belief trout can see fairly well even in the dark!  Try slight variations in body color and size depending on stream conditions and water turbidity.
  5. You are not going to move around much in the dark so scout out an area and be prepared. If you keep turning on flash lights to tie flies on etc. you'll spook the fish and ruin your innate night vision
  6. I prefer to fish upstream with spinners but anything that works is ok.  You'll hook more trout by fishing upstream..
  7. You are not going to be casting very far because in most instances your vision will be limited so use a long rod such as 9 or 10 feet.  If you have a 9 foot rod, 10 foot leader, and 10 feet of fly line that's about 30 feet of reach ..that's the most you need.
  8. Have a quick system of landing and releasing the fish. Make sure you barbs are pinched down and use a cheap hook disgorger to release the fish.

Spinner fishing can be the best dry fly fishing you can find.  Follow these tips and improve your success rate!



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