It’s hard to truly appreciate a Trico spinner fall (Tricorythodes sp) until you have experienced one first hard. You have the river to yourself as the female duns begin their emergence shortly after first light. Fish begin to rise sporadically and you find yourself wondering, “is this it?” Their numbers grow, but not to the swarm you’ve envisioned. As the small, broad thoraxed mayflies drift by with wings high, it’s clear the time has not come. As the morning passes, things begin to change. Not with the mayflies at first, but your surroundings. It’s 9 AM and the river is now lined with anglers. The rise remains sporadic, but the added company hints at what is to come.
Then it happens, the midmorning air comes alive with swarms of fluttering clear wings. The males, emerged as duns the evening before, have completed their second molt and join the females as spinners (imago) for their final dance. Having completed their life’s work, they begin to fall. Spent wings splayed wide on the waters surface.
For the angler, this is when the true fun begins. Sporadic rises give way to chaos. Trout begin to rise everywhere, but with little rhyme or reason. Timing and presentation become everything. With hundreds if not thousands of tiny morsels passing through the feeding lane every minute, the right fly can make all the difference.
Requiring hooks in size 20-24, trico patterns (spinner or dun) can present a challenge to any tyer (especially those of us with less than nimble dexterity). As such, I truly believe in simplicity when attempting to mimic these minute mayflies. Less is more and the simplest of patterns can often provide a more accurate representation than the most complex of classic dry patterns.
On to the tying:
- Hook: Dry Fly size 22 or 24
- Thread: 12/0 Black
- Tail: Hareline Dubbin Mayfly Tails
- Abdomen: 12/0 Black Thread
- Thorax: Dubbing (Black) or 12/0 Thread
- Wing: Zelon (White)
Apply a few wraps of thread behind the eye of the hook. Trim off tag.
Apply an even layer of thread across shank of hook. Stopping at bend.
Tie in three mayfly tails approximately 3x length of hook. Use cross wraps to create splayed appearance. Wrap thread forward and apply flex-seal to secure.
Note: Fibers from a fine paint brush provide a cheap alternative to these Mayfly tails).
Next, tie in a sparse bunch of Zelon fibers approximately 1/3 hook length behind the eye. Wings should extend roughly one hook length on either side of the fly.
Remember, spinner wings are clear. Light should easily penetrate your zelon. Keep it sparse!
Finally, dub a thick thorax using cross wraps around the tie in point for your wings. Whip finish and seal with flex-seal.
Lift don’t set – Perhaps the greatest challenge in fishing small flies is the hook set. We seem hardwired for the short, swift, powerful hook set that works so well. The same force and acceleration that allows for a secure hook set with larger patterns, all but guarantees disaster when fishing size 22, 24, and below. At best, such a set will pull the fly clear of the fish’s mouth without connecting. At worst, it may pop your tippet resulting in the loss of fish and fly.
To avoid either outcome, concentrate on simply raising your rod as the fish takes the fly. Pressure applied as the fish turns will be enough for the hook to set and the risk of breaking your tippet will decline significantly.
Double dry rigs – Beyond hook sets, following a size 24 hook (especially in broken water) can be a struggle. While I’ve found white Zelon almost glows when viewed through polarized lenses, the size of this Trico Spinner may be difficult for many anglers to follow. If you find this to be the case, consider a double dry rig trailing your Trico Spinner 12-18″ behind a larger more visible dry fly. As an added bonus, you may find the occasional voracious trout may prefer the larger morsel even at the height of the spinner fall.
Proof of Concept:
I was lucky enough to experience my first Trico spinner fall on a trip to Eleven Mile Canyon along the South Platte River in August of 2019. Water was significantly higher than most years, but the increased flows may have helped as they masked my often less the perfect casts.
Abandoning a prime run to avoid the crowds, I made my way to a stretch of broken water slightly upstream. There in the slack water along the river’s edge, I was greeted by large Snake River Cutthroat. For over an hour, I targeted this fish with a size 24 Trico Spinner, eliciting a dozen rises before finally setting the hook. She measured over 19″ in the net.
Tight lines everyone!