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Fly fishing versus spin fishing

Which is the more challenging way to catch fish

landing a trout on fly at my favorite fishing hole

I recently watched a few videos that overdramatized the stereotypes of fly anglers versus spin casting anglers. Sure, they made me laugh, but clearly the approach in all cases was tongue in cheek and just poking fun at the distinctions between the two angling types. As someone whose fishing evolution comprises both, it had me thinking about whether I have ever felt one to be more challenging than the other in terms of actually catching fish.

Angler population in the USA

The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation of the Outdoor Industry Association produces an annual report on fishing. The 2021 Special Report on Fishing identified that 55 million Americans fished at least once during 2020, but the great majority of these were regular fresh and saltwater anglers. These outnumbered fly anglers by 9:1 in terms of fishing outings in the year. Fly anglers, however, which numbered 7.8 million in 2020, had registered the greatest growth rate over the previous decade (42% increase in numbers) and nearly 20% of those fly anglers in 2020 had picked up a fly rod for the first time.

So, by the numbers, it would appear that fishing with conventional gear seems more accessible. I would argue that potentially it is the opposite – with less than 15% of the U.S. angler population dedicated to fly fishing, there is not enough sponsorship of the sport to get noticed. That also presents the sport of fly fishing as elitist or eccentric. I do not see myself, or my fellow fly anglers as either, to be honest. To the contrary, the numbers suggest that interest in fly fishing is increasing at a greater rate than other types of angling.

covering the whole pool in search of a hook up

Is fly fishing better?

But is fly fishing more challenging? Let’s unravel that question by examining some of the fundamentals. Regardless of how you are fishing – with fly, lure or bait – you still have to read the water. Depending on the species of fish you are targeting, you will likely be searching for tell-tale signs that fish may be present. That could be water movement/flow, structure or evidence of predators and/or prey. Structure is a big consideration in this argument. I use structure to my advantage whether I am bait fishing for stripers, spin fishing for bass or fly fishing for trout.

fish food takes many forms

Fly versus lure versus bait

And then there is the selection of what you will use to catch the fish. As anglers, we all have that conundrum of what fly, lure or bait will get a hook up on that day. If you are fly fishing, you could be matching the hatch and that may seem enigmatic to anglers who use conventional equipment. Having said that, any seasoned angler will likely stop in the local fly shop or bait store and ask the guy behind the counter what is working that day on the water they will be fishing.

small mouth bass on fly

Rod and reel versus fly rod

And while the reel component is distinct, particularly in the nomenclature - bait casters vs spin casters vs fly arbors – these are all still mounted on a rod, and precise casting of the line is the goal. If you have been taught how to throw a football or a baseball, you can cast any combination of fishing rod and reel. Sure, there are complexities of timing and tempo to each type, and it has definitely taken me time to find the rhythm of casting for each. That does not mean to me that one method is more challenging than the other in terms of catching fish.

At the end of the day, it is all fishing!

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