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Both fly and spinning gear have their advantages.

Spin or Fly: It’s Time to Think Outside the Box

I have a confession to make: I bought my first spinning rod and reel in more than 20 years.

I admit it. I’m a diehard fly-only, fly fisherman. I grew with the old closed face, Zebco reels, but once I got the long rod in my hand, I never wanted to let it go.

Was I stubborn? Maybe. The truth is I fell in love with making a rod bend and forming a loop.

However, my passion for fly casting recently ran smack into a dose of reality. Traditionally, I’ve fished the Florida salt — in Tampa, Jupiter, St. Augustine, but recently switched to freshwater when I moved inland —- to the banks of the Santa Fe River in North Florida.

My river house has a platform on the water that backs up to a treeline. There’s no floating dock and no way to cast a fly. If I wanted to fish in my backyard, spinning gear was the only way to go. Passion yielded to pragmatism and I bought a spinning outfit and a batch of Rooster Tail spinners from the local True Value hardware store, a development that led to the idea for this blog post: What can gear fishermen learn from fly fishermen and vice versa?

I called upon Collins Illich, Vice President/Bass Category Manager of TFO, for a bit of insight on how fly and gear anglers can learn from each type of fishing. Collins is a former fly shop owner and fly fishing guide. He also fishes with traditional gear. Below are a few excerpts of our conversation.

TFO: What can gear fishermen learn from fly fishermen?

CI: “The number one thing fly fishermen have that gear fishermen are trying to do. … There’s a whole category of gear fishing that’s called finesse fishing. No matter how finesse you get with a baitcaster or a spinning reel, you are never going to be as finesse as you are with a fly rod. Fly fishermen represent the ultimate in finesse fishing. Associated with finesse fishing, I would talk about precision. Gear fishermen in the bass category, they’re going to cover a lot of water quickly. They make a lot of casts. Fly fishermen are much more precise, more methodical traditionally. One thing that I try to visualize when I’m trying to get guys to cross over is if I’m fishing a specific piece of water, but I only care about the first three feet of the retrieve, if I fish with a fly rod, I can cast, make the first few feet of the retrieve and cast again. You can’t do that with a baitcasting rod. The methodical nature of fly fishing is a good lesson. The finesse of fly fishing is a good lesson for the gear fisherman. You’re seeing a lot of techniques in the gear side adapted from the fly side. You’re seeing bass fishermen use bucktail jigs.”

 TFO: Is it realistic to expect the gear fishermen to acquire the finesse without the fly rod and fly?

CI: “It’s how you use a rod, how you use a bait. They’re all realistic. Studying other fishermen is going to make you a better fisherman. There’s an expression Rick Pope uses here at TFO: A master mechanic has more than just a crescent wrench in his toolbox. You can literally take a rabbit strip fly — rabbit strip is one of the most effective materials in terms of enticing a fish to bite —- you can take that instead of a soft plastic and drop shot it on 6-pound mono or 6-pound fluoro and catch fish that you would have never caught (before), heavily pressured fish.

TFO: I know (pro bass fisherman) Shaw Grigbsy is a big fly fisherman:

CI: “Best sight fisherman in the world.”

TFO: I heard Roland Martin is a big fly fisherman as well.

CI: “I’ve fished with Roland Martin. That’s cool. It doesn’t surprise me that Shaw Grigsby is a fly fisherman. As you slow down and as you get more precise with you casts, you’re going to become a better fly fisherman. No one questions whether Shaw Grigsby is the best sight fisherman among the elites.”

TFO: Now for the second half of the equation: What can fly anglers learn from gear fishermen?

CI: “The first and most effective thing is to fish deep. The number one limitation that people complain about in fly fishing outside of the wind is fishing deep. Seeing how a gear fisherman positions himself and studies the water and uses various columns and how he uses electronics, you don’t see a fly-fishing guide with $3,000 graph on their boat very often. There’s a reason the gear fisherman has that; he’s looking at water; he’s looking at water temperature; he’s looking at structure. He’s looking at ways to present a bait in 30 feet of water, in 20 feet of water, in 12 feet of water that the fly fisherman would have never even tried without watching a gear fisherman do it.

“The other thing would be (to speed up) and it’s the inverse of teaching a gear fisherman to slow down. Well, a gear fisherman can teach a fly fisherman to how to speed things up. If you fish a bait efficiently, you can fish it very, very quickly, especially if you’re skipping spots. Learn where the fish are. Don’t fish the open water. Fish the water with the fish in it. Both can teach efficiency, but on a different spectrum. One faster. One is slower.

“I would talk less about teaching it and more about enjoying it. If I’m a fly fisherman fishing Toledo Bend with a fly rod, I’m enjoying it. I’ve got a three-day trip. This is awesome. Then day three, it’s raining and the temperature’s dropped 10 degrees overnight and we’re blowing 30 miles an hour, and I don’t know how to gear fish, I’m not going to be able to fish effectively. Learning how to broaden your scope will make you a better fisherman, let you fish in more conditions and let you enjoy more of it.”

10 comments

  1. Semper Fly says:

    Some interesting perspectives and, while I do not like to admit it, at one time I used to cast a spinning rod and baitcaster off a “Glitter Boat”. I switched to fly fishing only for some of the reasons mentioned here, but mainly because my interaction with the water and the fish became more intimate. I found myself enjoying fishing more and not rushing to beat banks with rattle traps and triple treble hook lures….Not that there is anything wrong with this style of fishing, to each their own. I just enjoy the pace of fly fishing much more than I do or did lurching baitcasters all day long. I KNOW I catch less fish, I can’t access certain areas of the water table I used to, and I am limited where I can fish if I wade or use a Kayak. That’s okay for me because I simply enjoy treating the water and the fish better, knowing I am treading lighter on their habitat, hopefully causing less damage using single hook barbless flies, releasing everything I catch. I have even transitioned my 4 year old daughter over from her Zebco to a 3wt and she is starting to cast better than me, which is not saying much, but she enjoys the fly more than her spinning rod. There are a lot of times I wish I could get the depth needed on the fly and maybe this is something I still need to learn in my pursuit with the long rod, but for me there is no comparison to a catch on the fly rod vs one on conventional gear.

  2. Andrew Wakefield says:

    I mainly fish with a bait caster using surface lures for Australian Bass in summer but have been fly fishing swell for a few years.Interesting comments here thanks for that i find fly fishing makes me slow things down a notch and teaches me patience except for when its windy ha ha then i grab the bait caster.I also enjoy tying my own flies thanks for the article

  3. Geoff Roznak says:

    I switch back and forth between flies and gear a lot – often on the same day.

    Last Sunday, the bass in a local lake were on a finesse bite and subtly fished presentations were catching fish – whether it was a Senko tossed into a pocket under a dock, an Ol’ Mr. Wiggly fly twitched in an opening in some lily pads or a baitfish pattern fly suspended in the branches of a sunken tree 8 feet down. I picked up a bonus musky with the baitfish pattern by letting it hang in the water column under a swim dock and giving it a few subtle twitches.

    I am a one of those fly fisherman with electronics (I wish it was that inexpensive) on my boat and I do use them to study structure, look for baitfish and spot likely spots for fish.

    On those days where conditions are like the ones Mr. Illich describes, the fly rods are likely to get left in the rod locker…until I can find a protected bay to use them in.

    There is a lot to learn on both “sides” of fishing, being stuck in one world or the other doesn’t appeal to me.

  4. Ryan Shea says:

    Awesome article. I was an avid/100% committed fly angler for well over a decade. When I moved back to Buffalo, NY last spring and began guiding here I had to rethink my approach. There are huge slices of the year where fish are deep in the Niagara River and Lake Erie. Sure – you can get a fly there but catch rates are ridiculously, I’d say prohibitively low. The physics of fly fishing in those conditions don’t support it. I’ve since diversified my arsenal to include TFO Beast and Professional conventional rods. Now – I use the right tackle for the right occasion. There are times when a fly is best, times when conventional is best, and times when it can go either way. I’m having the time of my life. Call it angling Nirvana – when you’re the jack (and maybe a master) of all approaches. Thanks for putting this out there!

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