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Fly Fishing Vs Regular Fishing (Fly Vs Spin)

There is a lot of confusion between regular “spin” fishing and fly fishing. They can both be very effective, but they are quite different from one another. Fly fishing tends to be most common for trout fishing, while spin fishing is used for other species. However, there is plenty of crossover as well.

This guide will cover the differences between fly fishing and regular fishing – and will hopefully clear up some confusion. Obviously, this site is biased towards fly fishing – but I have nothing against spin fishing and I grew up doing it!

There isn’t one main difference between the two – there are quite a few differences. The reels, the rods, and the lines are all different! Let’s dive in.

Differences In Rods

Fly Fishing Rods

Fly fishing rods are designed to cast a certain weight line. Varying from a 0 weight to a 16 weight, there are tons of rod options available. You choose your rod weight based on what fish species you’re targeting. Larger gamefish and saltwater fishing will require heavier weights.

Fly rods are also generally longer than spinning rods. The most common length is 9 feet. But they range from 7-11 feet for single hand rods. Spey and switch rods can be much longer.

  • 0-3 weight – These rods are best for small trout, panfish, little creeks and small ponds.
  • 4-6 weight – These rods cover most trout fishing applications. From small trout to trophy trout.
  • 7-8 weight – These rods will throw streamers for trout, they will work for bass and carp as well. They are also good for smaller saltwater fish: bonefish, smaller redfish, snook.
  • 9-11 weight – These rods can handle large northern pike and musky, saltwater permit, smaller to medium tarpon, peacock bass, barracudas.
  • 12 weights – This is the go-to tarpon rod. It can also handle giant trevally, some tuna, smaller sharks.
  • 13-16 weights – These rods are for the biggest fish that swim. Sharks, tuna, sailfish, etc.

As you can see, fly rods are pretty specific and are targeted towards certain species. They are meant to match with a fly line of the same weight. You must select a fly rod based on the fish species you plan on targeting.

Spin Fishing Rods

There are definitely different sizes of spinning rods, but they aren’t as specific as fly rods. You can certainly buy a small panfish rod or a large saltwater rod, but you won’t get a specific “weight” like with a fly rod.

Since you don’t have to match a spinning rod to a specific line weight, the sizing is more vague. This can be beneficial for anglers that want to catch many species with one single spinning rod. It also makes spin fishing more affordable. Instead of needing a quiver of fly rods, you can just have one spinning rod.

Differences In Lines

Fly Fishing Lines

Fly lines have mass to them, also referred to as grain weight. This is what makes fly casting possible. The mass of the fly line flexes the fly rod to propel the cast. Since a lot of flies don’t have any weight to them, we need the line weight to make our casts.

This is why it’s so important to match the fly rod weight to the line weight. If you have too much or too little line weight, the rod will not flex properly. This can make it very difficult to cast a fly rod.

As the rod weights increase, so does the fly line grain weight. A 12 weight line is much thicker than a 5 weight line, because it has more grains per foot.

Regular Spinning Lines

Spin fishing lines are much thinner than fly lines, and they have no mass or grain weight to them. Spin fisherman rely on the weight of their lure to make their cast. Weighted lures and baits pull the line off the reel to make the cast. This is why it’s essential that all lures, spinners, and power baits have weight to them.

Due to this, spin fisherman can use any type of nylon or fluorocarbon line they want. They choose the right lb test based on which fish they’ll be targeting. There is no need to match grain weights or get too specific, like with fly fishing.

Differences In Reels

Fly Fishing Reels

Fly reels are designed to hold fly line and backing. Backing is a dacron line that is spun onto the reel before the fly line goes on. If a fish takes the full 100 foot fly line, the backing is extra insurance that you can still fight and land the fish. Trout reels hold about 100 yards of backing, while saltwater reels can hold 300 yards or more.

Fly reels are very simple in design. There is no anti-reverse mechanism, so the only way to let the fish run is to let go of the fly reel. If the fish wants to run and you keep holding the reels handle, it will break the tippet.

Spin Fishing Reels

Spin reels are designed to hold spinning line only. Once you pick your nylon or fluorocarbon line, it is spun onto the reel and it’s ready to fish.

Most spin reels have anti-reverse, so they can engage the drag while you’re reeling in the fish. This makes it a lot easier to fight a fish, because the spinning reel does all of the work. This makes spin reels better for novice anglers who just want to catch fish. There is less coordination involved.

Differences In Flies vs Lures/Bait

Flies

Flies are generally tied with natural materials or synthetics. They can imitate insects, baitfish, frogs, worms, eggs, etc. They all fall under the category of “flies”. These imitations are used to replicate the food sources that fish feed on. For trout fishing, most flies are insect based. For warm water fishing, baitfish and frog patterns will be more effective.

Some flies are weighted, and some are unweighted. Some flies are meant to be “dead drifted” with the speed of the current. Trout tend to eat lots of insects that are naturally floating down the river. They also eat eggs and worms during certain times of the year. Baitfish flies or “streamers” are meant to be stripped in and retrieved with some speed. This imitates minnows or other small fish. Streamers are the fly equivalent of a regular fishing lure.

Lures/Bait

Lures are made of plastic, metal, wood and other components to imitate food sources. These can be Rapalas, spinners, poppers, jigs, etc. You have probably seen these before at sporting good stores or bait shops.

Bait is also really popular with spin fisherman. Using real worms, leeches or minnows can be extremely effective. If you put a bait fisherman and a fly fisherman in the same spot, the bait fisherman will pretty much always do better! Bait just works because it is actually the real thing. Fish will always prefer the real food source over an imitation. Power bait is also popular, which is a synthetic, scented bait. It emits a real odor, but it is usually plastic or rubber.

As mentioned before, lures and bait must have weight in order to be casted properly. Spin fishing rods rely on lure weight to make the cast.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that fly fishing and spin fishing are extremely different. They are both different methods that produce the same result – catching fish! Fly fishing is probably the hardest way to go, but it can be very rewarding.

Whatever method you choose, the main goal is to have fun and spend some time outdoors.