Does fly fishing catch more trout than spinning?

A question many new trout fishermen ask: does fly fishing catch more trout than fishing with a spinning lure? The answer, like most things in fishing, depends on many variables.

I been trout fishing most of my life, like many I started with a spinning rod, but at the start of my second season, I gave fly fishing a try. On average, I spend more time fly fishing than spinning, but unlike many fly fishermen, I never completely abandoned the spinning reel and continued to develop my skills.

I have had this discussion with many experienced fly anglers, the type of purists which place fly fishing on a pedestal. They honestly believe that fly fishing not only catches more trout, but bigger trout and in a more sporting way. They have no doubts over the superiority of their sole technique.

In their hands, they are correct. Most have not tried spinning for trout in decades, or only reach for their vintage spinning in desperate situations, such as gale force headwinds or if they are teaching their grandchildren to fish.

They are great trout anglers, but they are all still novice spin fishers and their results show. If you dedicated one’s life to perfecting fly fishing, it is not at all surprising that is how they catch most of their fish.

But, when you compare the catches from an experience fly fishermen, with that of an equally capable spin fishermen the numbers are quite different. I use to belong to a freshwater angling club with close to 50 members. All but a handful fished for trout with nothing except a fly rod.

Now, what if I were to tell you, the angler with the most number of trout caught, and usually the biggest used spinning gear. Yes, he spent a lot of time fishing, but his results spoke for themselves. In capable hands, spinning gear can easily keep up, if not surpass fly-fishing.

River Mouth Fishing – A comparison of two styles.

Near where I grew up, one of the most traditional style of fishing is to stand at river mouths and cast as far out to sea as possible. Hoping to intercept fish returning to the river. Depending on the time of year fishermen catch, Sea run brown trout, Salmon and various saltwater species.

Some days, the fishing goes wild with everyone hooking up. Other times, the fishing is dead. There is simply no fish there, or they are not biting. What is interesting, is the in-between times, where a few fish are caught but they are not really feeding. This time really highlights the differences between styles.

The traditional style of fishing was to use a long rod, with about 12lb line and cast a heavy metal spoon, such as a 2oz kastmaster as far as possible. They then let it sink before reeling it in. It is not all just blind casting, some anglers target bars, currents, holes and various parts of the mouth. This method catches fish, and might even be the best way to target salmon. But most of the anglers are not targeting them.

About 15 years ago, a few people started fly fishing, and they had a blast. When the fishing was a bit slow a single fly fisherman could easily out fish an entire wall of spin fishermen. It was not long until I joined in, and I do not doubt that fly fishing was surprisingly effective.

But, I am always one to experiment. So I decided to bring along my ultralight spinning rod and Rapalas and soon, I was hooking fish after fish and was easily keeping up with the fly anglers. A few weeks later, on one windy day where casting rapalas was difficult and fly fishing impossible I decided to cast out 1/4oz Kastmasters on my ultralight rod. They had the mass and aerodynamics to punch into the wind. I had nearly instant success.

Joining the dots was easy. Fly fishing was not more effective than spinning, but most spin anglers were using lure which were much too big and potentially unlifelike. When I dropped down to Rapalas and even spoons similar in size to the streamers the fly fishers were casting, I had comparable success. The fish were simply feeding on small baitfish.

Now, it is not that black and white. When the fish are shoaling with a few yards from the shore, and the beach is not crowded I usually reach for my fly rod. Rigged up with a sinking shooting head and my streamers of choice. I simply find the fight much more enjoyable. But when the fish are holding far from shore, I still rig up with 1/4oz kastmasters. I can actually cast them far enough to reach the fish. A kastmaster, fished where the trout are, is always going to outperform a streamer fished over empty water.

Now, I do not feel there is a big difference in effectiveness between spinning with lures versus fly fishing with streamers. They both represents small baitfish after all. This bring me onto the next section comparing spinning against nymph and dry fly fishing.

Lure vs Nymph and Dry fly


To catch a feeding trout, you have to present it ‘bait’ which resembles what they are feeding upon. If a trout is sipping mayflys off the surface, casting a tungsten bead pheasant tail nymph or Rapala is unlikely to have much success. But drifting a #12 parachute adams might just be the ticket.

Trout do not care how you cast the fly to them. All they care about is that the fly looks like food, and does not move unnaturally. I personally feel, that the presentation is cleaner with a fly rod. It is possible to presenting a dry fly on the end of a 12ft leader causing barely a ripple. With the correct mending, their should be no drift.

Casting a dry fly behind a bopper, is effective.. but less clean. The bopper is going to splash when it hits the water, which can put the trout on guard. The bopper is also much closer to the fly, then the fly line is. The margin of error is simply smaller. It is a similar situation when fishing nymphs beneath a bopper. It is simply less precise, then presenting the same on a fly rod.

So, without rumbling on to much. If trout are feeding on nymphs or hatching flies.. Then Fly Fishing certainly has an edge. The degree of precision and control it offers is difficult to replicate with spinning gear.

Situations where spinning is better than fly fishing

– When there is a strong wind. It is simply more difficult casting a fly into a strong head wind.

– When trout are holding far from the shore. Most fly fishermen will be lucky to cast 60ft. That is a problem when the fish are feeding 90ft from the shore. Meanwhile, with the right lure long casts are easy with spinning gear.

– When trout are holding very deep. It is easier to sink a spoon, than it is a streamer or fly.

– When the stream is overgrown. Roll casts, bow and arrow casts, and dapping with a 7ft fly rod can only get you so far.

– When trolling

Situations where fly fishing is better than spinning

– When the trout are feeding on nymph, flies or insect life. It is very hard to get a trout to grab at a ‘baitfish’ when the are focusing on tiny insects.

– When the water is super clear, and the trout wary. Large splashes, or even spinning size lures can cause them to scatter. In clear conditions trout can also see the lure much easier, increasing the chance they will regret anything not natural looking.

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