Mayfly Spinners, Organza Wing Spinners, Beulah Tonic Spey Lines, Simms Anglers Sunscreen, The Perils of Winter Steelheading

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Mayfly Spinners
By Rick Hafele
Mayfly spinners.  Every fly fisher knows about them.  Most everyone has seen them.  But not every fly fisher recognizes when fish are taking them or when they should be imitating them.  That’s a big mistake. Just in case you are a little cloudy about
mayfly spinners, the term “spinner” is the common name for the fourth and final stage in the mayfly’s life cycle: egg, nymph, dun and spinner. They’re important because they frequently land on the water in great numbers, and trout can’t resist them when they do. More technically entomologists refer to spinners as imagoes, which is just a fancy way of saying they are reproductive adults. This is significant if you are a mayfly because the preceding winged stage - the dun – look very much like spinners, but are not yet able to mate and lay eggs. Entomologists call duns, sub-imagoes, which literally means the sub or pre-adult stage. Thus mayflies have two distinct winged stages –
the dun and the spinner. One can easily see the dun stage as they emerge on the water’s surface during a mayfly hatch. Those duns not eaten as they drift on the surface waiting for their wings to stiffen, fly off the water and land on nearby vegetation. There they sit quietly until they molt, or shed their exoskeleton, one last time to become spinners. The length of time before the dun molts into a spinner varies from a few minutes to a few days depending on the species. Twelve to 24 hours is typical for many species.  The spinner stage lives a similar length of time. Thus, the dun and spinner stages combined may be as brief as an hour or two and no longer than four or five days. In a nutshell, the spinner’s sole purpose is to mate and lay eggs, and they
don’t have any time to waste, and mate they do, sometimes in rather dramatic fashion. Typical mating behavior begins when male spinners form large swarms. The swarms usually develop over water anywhere from a few feet to over 100 feet high. In some cases the swarms occur over land hundreds of meters from any nearby water. Males within the swarm fly with an erratic up and down dance-like motion. At times the whole swarm of thousands of mayflies seems to rise and fall with a rhythmic pulse. Females fly into the swarm, where males rush to be the first to grab a female in flight to mate. Copulation only takes a few seconds, after which females begin laying eggs one of three
ways. Most species glide down to the water’s surface one to several times, and release a cluster of eggs each time the tip of their abdomen hits the surface. Some other species release their eggs in flight above the water. A few species crawl underwater – generally down the side of submerged rocks – and deposit their eggs directly on the bottom. Each female spinner lays somewhere between 500 and 5,000 eggs depending on the species. When all their eggs have been released, the females die spent on the water, with their wings stretched out flat, creating what anglers call a “spinner fall.” It’s critical that you learn to recognize duns from spinners, and how to tell when spinner falls are occurring. For some species duns and spinners look very similar, while in other species they are quite distinct. In all species the key difference is in the wings. The wings of duns are
semi-transparent with a smoky brown, gray, or yellow tinge to them. The wings of spinners are completely transparent and clear except for the dark colored veins running through them. The wings of some species have dark colored spots in both the duns and spinners. Don’t let these spots confuse you. The rest of the wing will show the characteristic smoky color in the dun and be clear in the spinner. The body colors of spinners also tend to be brighter than the dull colored duns. Finally, male spinners have very large eyes for spotting females that fly into the swarm, and noticeably longer front legs than the
middle or hind legs. These long front legs help hold the female during copulation. While sometimes it can be tricky to tell a spinner from a dun, when seen side by side there’s little doubt, which is which.
Spinner falls occur at various times of the day depending on the weather and species. In general during cold weather – fall, winter, and spring – spinner falls occur in the late afternoon. During warm weather spinner falls occur at dusk or early to mid morning. One way to judge if a spinner fall is likely to occur is by the size of the surface hatch of duns. Anglers are well attuned to spotting duns popping up on the water’s surface. When a couple days of good dun hatches have occurred, you should be on the lookout for a heavy spinner fall later in the day or in the morning.
One excellent clue is seeing swallows feeding heavily above the water. This certainly means some type of insect is swarming. Look carefully for the up and down dancing flight of the male spinners. A small pair of binoculars aimed at the swallows will quickly tell you if it’s mayflies, midges, or some other insect the swallows are feasting on, and what the trout will be feasting on next. Binoculars can also help you see exactly what trout are taking off the surface. When the swarm of spinners is so thick it looks like fog over the water, you know you are in for some serious spinner fishing.
Confusion often begins once the spinners have laid their eggs and lie spent on the water. That’s because spinners, lying dead on the surface with their wings out flat, are virtually impossible to see, especially in the fading light of sunset (use those binoculars). Further, because spinners are dead, fish feed on them with leisurely, very subtle, almost invisible, rises. Therefore, what the angler sees is a few small rises that look like dinky little fish, and no insects flying off the water to indicate a hatch worth fishing. What the angler doesn’t see is the large size of the fish below those dinky little rises,
or the spinners floating flush in the surface film. So, just when things get interesting many anglers think it is all over for the day and head home. Remember, spinners in the air will mean spinners on the water, even if you can’t see them. So, if you see spinner swarms, pay very close attention to the water for softly rising fish, and look for dead spinners caught in small pockets of dead water behind near-shore rocks or debris. If you find some, definitely pick them up so you can get a fix on their size and color and select an appropriate pattern. Excellent spinner fishing doesn’t always result in excellent fish catching.
I have found that trout feeding on spinners can be some of the pickiest and most difficult trout I’ve ever fished for. Part of the reason is that since the spinners are dead they make no movement on the water other than what the current imparts on them. Therefore, un-natural drag on your fly, of even the smallest amount, will tip off trout that something isn’t right. The other problem is that trout can take up feeding lanes in quiet water where the current funnels spinners down to them. The smooth surface makes it easy for fish to spot the natural
spinners on the surface, and easy to spot un-natural imitations and the leaders attached to them. Therefore, fine tippets – 5X at least, and often 6X or 7X is needed – and perfect drag-free presentations are critical for consistent success during spinner falls. I also find that downstream slack-line presentations generally fool more fish than upstream or up and across presentations when fishing spinners to picky trout.
On the plus side, the patterns used to imitate spinners are simple and easy to tie. A few split tail fibers, a slender body of dubbing or quill to match the color of the natural, and a pair of spent wings of synthetic or natural material is all it takes. Of course the correct size is important. Spinners, like most insects, always look larger than they really are when seen flying in the air, so try to catch a few naturals to get a good match in size and color. The color and size of males and females differ significantly for some species. When that happens match the female rather than the male, since it is predominately females that end up floating on the water’s surface.
Despite all the different species of mayflies out there, the most common spinner color by far is a rusty brown. If you keep a selection of rusty spinners from size 12 to 20 in your fly box, you will be well prepared for most spinner falls you might encounter.
For in-depth information on the behavior, effective patterns, and fishing tactics for each life stage – including spinners – of all western mayflies, check out Rick’s newest book (co-authored with Dave Hughes), Western Mayfly Hatches.
 
Organza Wing Mayfly Spinners

Callibaetis Spinner

Mahogany Spinner PMD Spinner Rusty Spinner Trico Spinner
Organza is a thin, sheer fabric traditionally made from silk. Many modern organzas are woven with synthetic filament fibers such as polyester or nylon. Traditionally a fabric used to make brides and harem women more attractive, Organza has found favor with fly tiers for several applications, such as the clear spent wings of mayfly spinners; the fabric is cut in narrow strips with the fibers running parallel. Then the strip is tied cross-wise of the hook. After the rest of the fly is tied, the cross fibers are easily picked out to leave only the fibers that were tied perpendicular to the hook. These clear crinkled fibers are lightweight and when treated with floatant will support the fly on the surface of calm water. The crinkles in the fibers give a sparkley effect just like real clear mayfly spinner wings. Organza fibers have become the most popular material for this application.
 
Organza Wing Callibaetis Spinner
Callibaetis are the most numerous mayflies in many of the Western Hemisphere's lakes, ponds and slow moving streams. In rich alkaline lakes, these insects can hatch in such numbers to mimic clouds of smoke. Trout, bass and panfish all eat Callibaetis Mayflies in the nymph, dun and spinner stages. The Organza Wing Callibaetis Spinner is the most popular pattern for the spinner fall of these insects.
Item Description Size Price To Top
BB270-16 Organza Wing Callibaetis Spinner 16 3 for $6.75 Sale Ended
BB270-18 Organza Wing Callibaetis Spinner 18 3 for $6.75 Sale Ended
Organza Wing Mahogany Spinner
Many mayflies that in the dun stage are yellowish or pinkish color in the dun stage, turn mahogany color in the spinner stage. It always pays to capture one of the real flies so that you can match it for size and color. I like to carry a pair of high resolutions binoculars to scan the water and identify what trout are actually feeding on. My binoculars have been the downfall of may picky, selective trout.
Organza spinners don't have a lot of flotation, and they must be dressed carefully with floatant. Be sure to dress the whole fly lightly, except for the hook, which must penetrate the surface of the water so the fly will lay perfectly flat on the surface of the water.
Item Description Size Price To Top
BB278-16 Organza Wing Mahogany Spinner 16 3 for $6.75 Sale Ended
BB278-18 Organza Wing Mahogany Spinner 18 3 for $6.75 Sale Ended
Organza Wing PMD Spinner
Many mayflies that hatch as light green or olive duns turn into spinners of the same general shades. Trout can be very picky when feeding on spinners. Especially when feeding in scum lines in slow back-eddies, trout normally find that one type of food is preferable to all others. It is always best to spend a lot of time observing your quarry before making that crucial first cast. Then you must be very precise in your fly placement in front of the fish. Putting your fly exactly in the center of a fish's feeding lane is often as important as having the right fly pattern.
Item Description Size Price To Top
BB280-16 Organza Wing PMD Spinner 16 3 for $6.75 Sale Ended
BB280-18 Organza Wing PMD Spinner 18 3 for $6.75 Sale Ended
Organza Wing Rusty Spinner
This is the most popular color of mayfly spinner overall. It seems that many different mayflies turn this color in the spinner stage. Although most mayfly spinners are fished on the surface, they can even be more productive fished as wet flies. After mayflies mate and reproduce, both sexes quickly die. These dead spinners only float for a short period of time and then they become waterlogged and sink, where they are consumed by trout.
Item Description Size Price To Top
BB290-16 Organza Wing Rusty Spinner 16 3 for $6.75 Sale Ended
BB290-18 Organza Wing Rusty Spinner 18 3 for $6.75 Sale Ended
Organza Wing Trico Spinner

Certain western spring fed rivers, such as Silver Creek in Central Idaho are famous for hatches of Trico Mayflies. During the spinner falls of these tiny mayflies, trout can feed ravenously, but be very selective as to the size, shape, color and attitude of your fly. Extremely thin tippets are the rule. 7X isn't out of the question. Very lightweight rods are often used to land large trout. Down-stream drag-free presentations are the rule. During these spinner falls the Organza Wing Trico Spinner, and perfect presentations are the keys to success.

Item Description Size Price To Top
BB275-18 Organza Wing Trico Spinner 18 3 for $6.75 Sale Ended
BB275-20 Organza Wing Trico Spinner 20 3 for $6.75 Sale Ended
 
Beulah Tonic V2 Skagit Shooting Head 
Shooting Head for Switch Rods Shooting Head For Spey Rods

The Tonic V2 is Beulah’s Compact Skagit style Switch and Spey floating head. Both ends are looped, the line color is for angler visibility, and there is a line ID on the front loop to help keep you organized. The head is tapered to improve turn-over and casting control for bullet shaped loops even while you are casting up to 15 feet of T-14 and a bunny leech. This head is a workhorse; designed to satisfy your sink tip and large/heavy fly needs. For switch try sinking tips 6-10’ in the 60-110 grain window; for Spey use tips in the 6-15’ range with a grain window of 60-168 grains depending on rod weight. Tonic V2 is offered in both switch and Spey grain sizes and lengths.
Beulah’s Tonic V2 Shooting Heads have been designed to be just under 2 times rod length. This allows for sink tips in a wide full range of lengths and grain weights, combined with moderate to large and heavy flies, to be presented with ease and grace. These lines are generally designed to cast with sustained anchor techniques including the Snap “T” or “C” and Double Spey. With the right touch, splash and go casts like Single Speys and Snake Rolls aren’t out of the question.
Beulah’s new Tonic V2 is easy to see, and therefore it is easy to place your anchor in perfect relation to your body, which automatically makes casting easier. This same high-vis concept gives each angler better control of each presentation, which enables better fly speed and more hook-ups.

Beulah Tonic Switch Shooting Head
These shorter heads are designed specifically to fit perfectly with Beulah Platinum Switch Rods, but they also balance with Switch Rods from other makers, and load shorter Spey rods from all manufacturers. These very compact heads are great in any application that requires a more compact casting stroke, or when fishing smaller rivers, or even in some cases where larger flies are needed.
Item Description Size Length (ft) Weight (gr) Price To Top
TSH300SW-V2 Beulah Tonic Switch Shooting Head 4-5 22.5 300 $48 Sale Ended
TSH325SW-V2 Beulah Tonic Switch Shooting Head 4-5-6 22.5 325 $48 Sale Ended
TSH350SW-V2 Beulah Tonic Switch Shooting Head 5-6 22.5 350 $48 Sale Ended
TSH375SW-V2 Beulah Tonic Switch Shooting Head 5-6 22.5 375 $48 Sale Ended
TSH400SW-V2 Beulah Tonic Switch Shooting Head 5-6-7 22.5 400 $48 Sale Ended
TSH425SW-V2 Beulah Tonic Switch Shooting Head 6-7 22.5 425 $48 Sale Ended
TSH450SW-V2 Beulah Tonic Switch Shooting Head 6-7-8 22.5 450 $48 Sale Ended
TSH475SW-V2 Beulah Tonic Switch Shooting Head 6-7-8 22.5 475 $48 Sale Ended
Beulah Tonic Spey/Skagit Shooting Head
These Skagit style heads are designed to balance perfectly with Beulah Platinum and Beulah Onyx series two-hand rods. They also mate up well with most other brands of rods, as with all the Skagit Lines, Tonics are designed to turn over a tip. These lines work well with every kind of tip that is normally used for steelhead and salmon fishing: M.O.W. tips, iMOW tips, FLO Tips & lengths of T-Line in various weights & lengths.
Item Description Size Length (ft) Weight (gr) Price To Top
TSH400SP-V2 Beulah Tonic Spey/Skagit Shooting Head 6-7 24 400 $48 Sale Ended
TSH425SP-V2 Beulah Tonic Spey/Skagit Shooting Head 6-7 24 425 $48 Sale Ended
TSH450SP-V2 Beulah Tonic Spey/Skagit Shooting Head 6-7 24 450 $48 Sale Ended
TSH475SP-V2 Beulah Tonic Spey/Skagit Shooting Head 7-8 26 475 $48 Sale Ended
TSH500SP-V2 Beulah Tonic Spey/Skagit Shooting Head 7-8 26 500 $48 Sale Ended
TSH525SP-V2 Beulah Tonic Spey/Skagit Shooting Head 7-8 26 525 $48 Sale Ended
TSH550SP-V2 Beulah Tonic Spey/Skagit Shooting Head 7-9 26 550 $48 Sale Ended
TSH575SP-V2 Beulah Tonic Spey/Skagit Shooting Head 7-9 27 575 $48 Sale Ended
TSH600SP-V2 Beulah Tonic Spey/Skagit Shooting Head 8-9 27 600 $48 Sale Ended
 
Simms Anglers Dry Gel Sunblock
2.5 fluid ounces, 32 SPF
This fast drying, water resistant sheer gel is contained in a very durable leak-proof squeeze tube, which fits in your luggage, and stream size pack or vest. There is plenty for the average destination fishing trip. It is always good to put any liquid or lotion containers in a sealed zip-lock bag while traveling, especially when traveling by air. This liquid gel is advertised to be water repellent for 80-minutes. If you have sensitive skin, think about reapplying to key areas every hour. This stuff is manufactured by Dermatone® for Simms, and is formulated especially for protecting fisher people.
Item Description Size Price To Top
ADS50000 Simms Anglers Dry Gel Sunblock 2.5 oz. $7.95 Sale Ended
 
The Perils of Winter Steelheading: Entry #14
By Rob Eggers
Sinking a boat in the middle of a river in February in 39 degree water was something I figured would never happen to me.  No, that was for other unfortunate fishermen, and for me to hear about it on the news, or around the campfire at chukar camp, or to overhear at the local fly shop.  At least that’s what I thought, until it did happen to me in the winter of 2013.

That year for our annual winter steelhead trip, two of my closest fishing buddies and I deviated from the Oregon Coast, and headed north to try our luck on the Olympic Peninsula.  On day two of the trip we decided to float the Hoe river.  After an early portage around a log jam that span the entire width of the river, we figured the rest of the float would be a piece of cake.  So we thought.

About an hour later one of my fishing buddies said, “hey, want me to take the oars?”  I said, “sure” feeling glad to get a chance to fish since the day before I spent the entire float pinned behind the oars navigating us down the more difficult Sol Duc.  He was still learning the nuances of rowing, but he was getting better and better each year, and now he was more proficient and independent on the oars than ever before.  So much so that I began to feel comfortable in the back of the boat, and I no longer had to micromanage his every stroke.  

We rounded a few corners and went down about a half mile or so and stopped at the end of a long classic run called Mini Peterson.  After fishing the run for a good half hour with no success, we all piled back in the boat.  He jumped in the rowers seat, and I was glad to still have my rod in hand.  After shoving off, I began stretching line off my fly reel, and begin making a few casts.  Dropping out of the tailout I instantly noticed our boat picked up speed.  I had seen the upcoming corner from the tailout above, and noted it looked a bit fast, and it took a sharp 90 degree turn to the left, but I didn’t give it much more thought than that.  Now, as I looked down river from the back of the boat, I instantly assessed that we were too far on the outside corner.  My heart jumped, and adrenaline hit my veins as I further noticed the current hitting hard against a downed tree just past the corner, that stretched from the outside bank, deep into the icy water.

Everything seemed to stop as I focused solely on what lied ahead.  I barked to my friend, “pull back hard right.”  Hearing the order, my buddy snapped to attention and sat upright in his seat.  “Pull back hard right” I firmly repeated.  He paused for a second, and then looked both directions as though he was trying to remember which was his right and which was his left.  He then hit his right oar stroke.  Nothing seemed to happen.  He hit his right oar stroke again but the boat made no movement.  Simultaneously, we both looked out at the right oar blade.  It was flared at a 45 degree angle, perpendicular to the water, and was merely skimming the surface with each stroke he took.  “Adjust your blade!”  I shouted, knowing we had lost precious time as we entered the corner.

I thought for a second, should I jump back in the rowers seat and try to pull us out of this?  No, there wasn’t enough time, and our best chance was for him to pull us through.  As we hit the corner he tried to correct his right oar blade, but the left oar on the other side of the boat hit a strong seam and lurched his hand and oar straight up.  Before I knew it, the left oar raised so high that it popped straight out of the oarlock and landed on the gunnel of the boat.  It was over.  As soon as that happened I knew we were now ghost riding straight for the sweeper with no chance of recovery.  My friend was panicked, and was scrambling to get the left oar back in the lock.  I myself felt more numb, knowing what was about to happen as our last chance of recovery vanished.  

As we charged toward the downed tree with a full head of steam, I hoped, somehow, that we would hit the end of the exposed root ball, bounce and spin off of it and float down river.  However, the river had other ideas.  As we were about to hit, my thoughts went to my other helpless fishing buddy up in the front seat of the boat.  He was the one in the greatest danger, and had the most underwater obstacles near him.  As we were about to hit, I shouted “hang on!”  I don’t know why, it just came out, as though it could somehow make a difference.  

As we hit the side of the tree and root ball, the upstream gunnel dipped, and instantly green water poured over the edge.  It didn’t happen slowly.  It was almost instantaneous, only giving enough time for us to recognize what was happening, with no time to react.  The green water pulled the gunnel swiftly under the current and I felt the other side of the boat hit my left leg as it flipped under me.  Strangely, none of us remember hitting the water.  We all seemed to blackout that particular moment.  What I do remember, was the boat hitting the side of my legs as I leaped backwards as far away as I could from the strainer, hoping to land clear of the obstacles.

As I leaped out the back, my two friends went under the boat as it flipped.  The boat was now fully capsized and still against the tree.  However, just enough of the stern of the boat remained in the heavy current, which began to pull the boat off it’s resting place.  As the current pulled, the boat spun and broke free of the tree and began tumbling down river.  At the same time the boat dislodged, my two fishing partners popped up down river of the tree gasping for air.  

My first memory after leaving the boat was me bobbing down river seeing white water all around me.  Then I remembered branches hitting the side of my face as I floated under another tree leaning over the river.  Not knowing what unknown obstacle were waiting for me next, I back stroked hard toward the inside bank feeling the cold water pouring down my back and into my waders.  

As I swam, the waves diminished, and I kept making my way toward shore.  I looked back up river to see my two friends, still further out in the river, coming down stream, with the submerged boat floating down river behind them.  Just as I reached the shore and staggered to my feet, I turned around to hear one of my friends call out in desperation.  His head was tilted back.  His chin just at the surface of the water.  He was beginning to sink.

About an hour before the incident, at one of our stops up river, he announced that he had forget to get his wading belt out of the truck before we launched.  We encouraged him to take it easy and to wade carefully.  Little did we know that an hour later he would be swimming for his life.

As I staggered more toward shore, he cried out a second time.  The desperation in his voice indicated that he knew he was about to go under.  I then knew that I had to venture back out into the cold water to help save my friend.  Just as I took a few steps in his direction, I saw his head bob up, as though he touched the bottom.  His head bobbed up again, and he seemed to be getting some traction.  Soon he too was crawling out of the water, downstream from where I reached the shore.  My other friend, who was in the front of the boat, came to shore a few seconds later, even further downstream.  Against the odds we all survived.  We were shocked, stunned and disoriented, but alive.  That was the most important thing.

The next day, after an 8 hour effort, the twisted and bent frame of the boat, and a few other items, were recovered with the help of local fishing guide Bob Kratzer and several of his friends.  Most of the gear was lost, but we each came out with our lives, which was all we could ask for given the terrifying ordeal.  Armed with a new boat, our trips continue each year, but none of us have ever looked at the river the same way again.

 

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