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  1. #1

    Default Why so many spinner colors?

    I'm new to fly fishing and received a number of flies as gifts as well as bought quite a bit myself to start out. I have several different colors of spinner (mainly rusty, mahogany, cream/sulfur, and olive) and have begun to realize that just about every spinner I see on the water is rusty or cream in color. Granted I've only fished in the East so far...

    I did some research and found that the vast majority of spinners are these two colors or can be imitated by them. So why have so many other colors? Is it just to sell more flies (the saying that most fishing lures are made for fisherman comes to mind) or are there actually some spinners that exist in olive, red, or varying colors?
    Last edited by nefarious_1_; 08-09-2012 at 09:35 AM.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Why so many spinner colors?

    This isn't exactly an answer to your question but the light in the morning and evenings at sunrise and sunset is redder than when the sun is overhead.

    Gary Borger refers to a discussion he had with John Goddard of The Trout and The Fly, A New Approach, which has an extensive discussion on trout vision, pp 59 - 105. John had wondered why the Sherry Spinner which has a reddish orange tint would catch more fish than flies of the natural color. The puzzle was solved when John went under water and looked at the naturals which had a reddish glow due to the reddish light at sunset. The flat spinner wings on the water had an orange glow.

    The red/orange light at sunset and dusk causes the naturals at this time of day to take on an orange reddish tint. Flies of this color fished at or near dusk will catch more fish than flies that are identical the color of the naturals. An orange spinner fished at sunset will "match the hatch" no matter what the color of the natural.

    Matching the hatch is a concept based on selective feeding. Selectivity is a survival mechanism that trout have developed to gain the most food with the least effort because they feed efficiently and do not waste energy trying items that are "not food". They simply cannot help themselves.

    To feed selectively, the trout have search criteria. You are familiar with size, shape, color and behavior in matching the hatch. These search criteria are called "triggers" that trigger the fish to feed.

    Normally color is a minor search criteria, but when feeding on spinners with translucent wings, the sherry color of sunset causes the flat spinner wings to glow that distinct color.

    The concept of accentuating a key feature of the natural that attracts the the fish's attention to the artificial vs the natural is called a "super trigger". The sherry spinner wings are a super trigger. It causes the artificial to stand out amongst the naturals and the fish seem to preferentially choose the artificial from amongst the naturals.


    "Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought"..........Szent-Gyorgy

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  4. #3
    Join Date
    Sep 2010
    Akron Ohio (don't let that fool you)

    Default Re: Why so many spinner colors?

    In my opinion, you already answered your question, to sell more flies. I tie four colors, rusty, cream, black (for tricos) and grey. Rust and black have done the best for me as most spinner falls occur at dusk or dark the dark silhouette is easier for the trout to see and rust covers just about everyother situation.
    Oh I live to be the ruler of life not a slave

  5. #4

    Default Re: Why so many spinner colors?

    The basic underlying reason, I believe is selectivity.

    When fishing during selective feeding, one may catch some fish with a spinner that does not match the color. One may then think that matching the color is not necessary. But all one has really proved is that some fish are not selective to color.

    Fish behavior is population based. They do not all behave identically and for each behavior we can graph the fishes behavior and the population distribution will lie under a bell curve. For selective behavior, as the population become more and more selective, the curve will shift to the right and the mean behavior will become more selective. As the behavior becomes more clustered, the distribution of the curve tightens and the slope of the curve becomes steeper and the peak taller.

    The diagrams below are used to illustrate what I think happens during the development of selectivity. They are not meant to state that all populations can be fit into the symmetrical perfect bell curves below.

    The Venn diagram below demonstrates what happens to a population of fish during hatch as the population moves form nonselective feeding to selective feeding.

    The same concept can be shown as a bell curve population distribution with the horizontal X axis representing increasing selectivity as one moves to the right. So the pink bell curve population is more selective than the blue bell curve population.

    If the hatch lasts long enough and is heavy enough, the population distribution can cluster and selectivity criteria can become extremely strict. Again this is represented below by a move from blue to pink.

    In the graph below during a heavy hatch the fish may show the wide blue distribution of day 1, then day 5 they demonstrate more consistent search criteria and on day 10, their criteria become much more strict.

    There are places where fish, especially the largest fish are extremely selective. They will be selective to color.

    So you may not need to carry those colors but this does not mean that a need for those colors does not exist.


    "Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought"..........Szent-Gyorgy

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  7. #5

    Default Re: Why so many spinner colors?

    Awesome. This is excellent information: just what I was hoping for! All of this is new to me and I'm slowly starting to sort everything out. Thanks so much for the help guys!

    I've definitely noticed that, especially at evening, the rusty spinner seems to be very effective during late and early hatches where I've been fishing. I assumed it had something to do with the lighting, but I was never quite sure, especially seeing such odd color variations of the same fly. This really makes sense now. I can finally start weeding out my flybox of those extra colors that don't produce for me (I sort of already started) and key in on effective dressings.

    Some part of me still feels that some of the colors being tied are virtually useless, with exception to few very specific situations where they may apply. Again, thanks for the info!
    Last edited by nefarious_1_; 08-10-2012 at 09:06 AM.

  8. #6

    Default Re: Why so many spinner colors?

    Another fact that confuses newbies is that they assume human vision and trout vision are the same and that the color they see is the same as the color that the trout sees. The lens shape of a trout and a human differ and the color vision have some differences.

    For example trout have 4 cones for color vision and humans have three. Trout have an extra cone which reacts to light in the UV range. This cone disappears as the fish ages but is thought to reappear at spawning to help guide the fish to spawning location. The two color receptors of blue and green have the same coverage in humans and fish. But the red receptors in fish can see longer wavelengths of red than humans. So trout can a red that we cannot see.

    These differences between trout and humans means that sometimes colors that seem incongruous to us attract trout because the material on the fly reflects a light spectrum that we cannot see that matches the natural. For example a shade of purple such as the purple haze fly may work because it reflects light in the UV spectrum that matches the natural. The color of the natural that to us may not look purple at all but it can reflect that same UV spectrum that is a trigger. I'm not saying that UV is the key of the purple haze but it is one possible explanation.

    Remember that when we speak of color it is different that size, shape, and behavior. We can be certain that when we match the size and shape with a fly, we are matching the natural; but that is not true for color because trout see color differently that us.

    Fortunately for us, nature varies color in trout foods. So we do not need to be spot on in the color choices we can see. But when we cannot see a color at all such as UV or infrared to come close to a match, it places us at a disadvantage. It may also lead to erroneous conclusions such as purple fly does not match the natural catching fish. We don't know for sure that an off color does not match a natural in a spectrum that is invisible to us and may be a trigger for the fish.


    "Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought"..........Szent-Gyorgy

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  10. #7

    Default Re: Why so many spinner colors?

    I don't much bother worrying about the body color on a spinner. I always carry a small box of rusty spinners in all normal sizes and use them to match the size of bugs coming down. My theory is that the trout merely see a black or dark silhouette of the fly because of the contrast between the light sky and the fly.
    I can tell you these rusty spinners work for me during almost every hatch as long as I nail down the size of the bugs coming off. Even during sulfur spinner falls the rusty spinner never failed me.
    Now if I'm fishing subsurface or in the film I get a bit more particular about the fly color as I feel the trout have a far better perspective from which to see the color.

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  12. #8

    Default Re: Why so many spinner colors?

    I agree with Jackster that if you are going to have a single body color, rusty brown is the most important. I will also agree that if the spinner fall is during dusk or at night, the fish see a silhouette, and body color is not all that important.

    However, I will disagree that in some situations that I fish, trout are not selective to body color.

    Here is an example from this summer in Montana on the Madison River. I was fishing the Colonel's Pool with Gary Borger. The Colonel's Pool always contains fish and they are feeding on a smorgasbord of insects - both caddis and mayflies in various stages.

    Here is the what the Colonel's pool looks like from downstream. The current flow enters the pool along its left edge and creates both upwelling current and a counterclockwise eddy.

    Here's Gary fishing it from the upstream position to fish feeding on caddis emergers. The main downstream current is to Gary's right but there is also and eddy current that rotates upstream to his left.

    I was close to Gary's position and fishing to the eddy current on his left side. There were fish feeding on Epeorus (pink lady) spinners. The Epeorus spinners are not rust or sulphur in color. They are a tannish pink. This was during the day and the fish can see the color of the spinner just like they can see the color of an adult PMD during the day. I would not fish a rust colored pattern during a PMD hatch and the rusty spinner does not work well when fish are feeding on pink lady spinners during the day. This is especially true when they have forever to examine the fly as in this situation.

    Here's the Epeorus spinner pattern from BRF. If you look at the color of the dubbing at about 2:30 in the video, it matches the color of the spinner in the photo below the video.

    [ame=]Blue Ribbon Flies Hi Vis Ep Spinner.mpg - YouTube[/ame]

    Here's a photo of a pink lady spinner from troutnut

    I think spinner color is one of those common instances in fly fishing that is situationally dependent. The answer will vary with the person answering the question. The correct answer for you depends on what situation you find yourself in.


    "Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought"..........Szent-Gyorgy

  13. Default Re: Why so many spinner colors?

    Actually, the UV wavelengths might have a great effect on the feeding habits of trout at dawn and dusk. During these periods the percentage of available light shifts more to the ultraviolet wavelengths. So, since the ultraviolet markings on the mayflies differ by species and gender, the trout can select on those UV characteristics that are, alas, invisible to most of us.

    We can meet this challenge by using body materials with some UV reflectivity, or , in the case of dubbed bodies, choose a UV reflective thread. The wings should, IMO, always have substantial UV reflective components. The mayflies themselves rely on these UV markers in order to see their potential mates in the dim light. With only one night of love, they want to be able to identify the partner of the proper sex and species (don't we all?).


  14. #10
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    quiet corner, ct

    Default Re: Why so many spinner colors?

    Quote Originally Posted by silver creek View Post
    The red/orange light at sunset and dusk causes the naturals at this time of day to take on an orange reddish tint. Flies of this color fished at or near dusk will catch more fish than flies that are identical the color of the naturals. An orange spinner fished at sunset will "match the hatch" no matter what the color of the natural.
    Gary LaFontaine covered this extensively in (I believe) his book The Dry Fly: New Angles in the chapter about his theories of attraction.
    I've applied these same principles to my saltwater fishing and matching your fly color to the color of the sky brings noticeable results not only at dusk but at all times of the day and night.

    ---------- Post added at 10:39 AM ---------- Previous post was at 10:16 AM ----------

    The internet is wonderful thing

    The Dry Fly: New Angles - Gary LaFontaine - Google Books
    The simpler the outfit, the more skill it takes to manage it, and the more pleasure one gets in his achievements. --- Horace Kephart

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