How to Tie a Rusty Spinner

Producer: Tim Flagler

The Rusty Spinner is one of those fly patterns that really needs no introduction – kind of like a Woolly Bugger or an Adam’s Parachute. It’s found in virtually every fly shop and catalog, and is, by far and away, one of the most effective flies that’s ever been, particularly for fishing at or after dark. This version, although a little fiddly in spots, is well within reach of advanced beginner and intermediate tiers.

A size 14 is probably the most common hook size used for a Rusty Spinner. So here, I’m going to use a Fulling Mill 50 50, barbless Ultimate Dry fly hook, in size 14.

After getting the hook firmly secured in the jaws of my tying vise, I load a bobbin with a spool of rusty brown UTC 70 Denier thread. While leaving a tag 6-7” in length, get the thread started on the hook shank behind the eye, and take a dozen or so wraps rearward before snipping off that extra long tag. Take the tag and pull it up and underneath the hook shank, then double it over around the hook bend. Plunger-style hackle pliers, attached toward the end of the thread tags, will form a loop. Let the hackle pliers and loop rest on your tying vise for the moment.

Although there are several options for the fly’s tails, I do prefer white micro-fibbets or mayfly tails, particularly those that have been treated with Water Shed. This helps them to rest on the water’s surface. Separate just two fibers from the clump and, while keeping their tips aligned, measure to form tails a full hook in length. Transfer that measurement rearward to the start of the hook bend and begin taking thread wraps to anchor the fibers to the top of the hook shank. Make sure these wraps go all the way back to the start of the bend, but no further. Then take 2 or 3 wraps forward until your thread hangs at about the hook point.

Getting the tails to separate just a bit can be rather tricky. Take your time and you’’ll eventually get it. The separation doesn’t have to be great, just a little space between the two tails. This will allow you to pull the thread loop up between the tails and over top of the hook shank. Take a wrap or two of tying thread to lightly anchor the loop there, then pull on the loop to further separate the tails. You want the tails to splay out anywhere from about 60-90 degrees apart. Continue to take thread wraps, which will in turn lock the tails into place. With the tails splayed correctly, lift up both the butt ends of the fibers and the thread loop and snip them off close. Take thread wraps forward to cover up the snipped off ends, then leave your tying thread at about the midpoint of the hook shank.

A single rusty spinner-colored turkey biot is used to form the abdomen of the fly. I like to get them from the leading edge of a flight feather. Don’t be dismayed if the biots are fairly short at the base. Just go up a ways and they generally get much longer. To directly access these longer biots, I’ll snip the feather’s stem at a point where they begin to increase in length. This allows me to strip the biots off as opposed to snipping them off. Select a single biot and strip it free from the stem. Hold the biot with the notch-side down. I know some people will disagree with this, but it’s my preferred orientation for tying the biot in by its tip.

With the notch pointed down, anchor the biot’s tip to the near side of the hook with tight wraps of tying thread. The frilly edge of the biot should be on top of the hook shank at this point. Stop taking thread wraps a wrap or two before you reach the base of the tail. Return your tying thread forward to an eye-length behind the hook eye. Snip off the biot tip as you go, if necessary. Make sure that notch side of the biot is still pointed down. Reach for some superglue or here, Fly Tyer’s Z-Ment, and apply the lightest of coats to the thread wraps on top of the hook shank.

Here, plunger-style hackle pliers don’t work as well as more traditional ones. Get hold of the biot with the pliers. The biot should fold over at the beginning of the first wrap, so the thin darker edge now points forward, with the frilly edge behind and sticking up. Start making spiral, slightly overlapping wraps up the hook shank with the biot. Continue taking wraps until you reach your tying thread. Use your thread to firmly anchor the biot to the hook shank then snip the excess off close. Take a few more thread wraps to ensure the biot is firmly anchored. At this point, you should be left with a nicely segmented abdomen that goes at least 2/3 of the way up the hook shank. The Fly Tyer’s Z-Ment beneath will definitely increase the durability of the somewhat delicate biot.

Although many different materials can be used for the Rusty Spinner’s wings, I generally prefer white polypropylene floating yarn, as it’s easy to tie in, floats well and doesn’t require a whole lot of maintenance while fishing. After snipping a card-width segment free, split the length into two equal halves. Secure one of the halves with plunger-style hackle pliers so it doesn’t get lost on your tying bench, then pick up the other half and find its midpoint. Lay the midpoint on top of the hook shank a full eye length behind the back edge of the hook eye, and take cross wraps with your tying thread to secure it perpendicular to the shank. It should now look something like this. Although there are many different ways to trim the wings to length, I like to pull them back individually and snip them off, in line with the back edge of the biot body. If you prefer, you can leave them a bit longer.

Pull down on your bobbin to expose about 3” of tying thread. Rusty brown Super Fine dubbing is used for the thorax of the fly. The smallest wisp is all you need. Use the dubbing to create an inch-and-a-half long super thin noodle on your tying thread. Take cross wraps with the noodle to further lock the wings in place and create a bulbous little thorax on the fly. Ideally, end with bare tying thread at the back edge of the hook eye. Sweep the wings back and out of the way then reach for your whip finish tool, and use it to do a 4 or 5 turn whip finish, seat the knot well and snip or cut your tying thread free.

Take some time to get both the wings and the tails oriented correctly. Then, get hold of some head cement or here, Sally Hansen Hard as Nails, and apply a small drop right at the base of the tails. Once the adhesive sinks in and dries, it will both protect the rear end of the biot and help to keep the tails splayed correctly. While you’re at it, apply another small drop to the thread wraps, behind the hook eye, to ensure they don’t come unraveled.

And that’s a size 14 Rusty Spinner. I’ll start the season with at least 4 dozen and almost always end up tying more.