Spin fishing vs fly fishing: Anglers spend more time than is necessary debating the differences between them and what makes one better than the other.

The reality is, spin fishing and fly fishing are simply two ways to present something that will look edible to a fish. It’s entirely up to you whether you prefer to fly fish or spin fish, or do both interchangeably. This article intends to show the strengths and weaknesses of both.

I’ve spent many years fishing both methods. I fish both spinning and conventional gear, though I never got into bait casting much. I’ve certainly devoted most of my time in the last 10 years to fly fishing.

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What Is the Difference Between Fly Fishing and Spin Fishing?

The differences between fly fishing vs spin fishing are many. In some cases, these differences mean one can do something the other can’t. In other cases, it simply means one presents the same sort of imitation with a very different method.

What Is Fly Fishing?

Fly fishing is a form of fishing wherein an artificial fly is cast and presented using the weight of a fly line (or, in some cases, heavy monofilament).

what is fly fishing

The reel, the fly itself, the line and the way it is cast, and the rod all distinguish fly fishing from other forms of fishing.

What Is Spin Fishing?

Spin fishing is a form of fishing in which a lure or bait is cast using its own weight and the action of the rod to propel it.

Spin Fishing Farmington River

The line leaves the spool of the reel with minimal friction and the spool itself does not spin when a cast is made, unlike bait casting reels.

Fly Fishing vs Spin Fishing Casting

Fly casting is distinguished by the fact that the weight of the line plays the most integral role in the casting. This differs completely for spin casting because the weight of the lure or bait is cast, not the line. The line merely trails along behind it.

Fly Rod vs Spinning Rod

Fly rods and spinning rods differ in a few ways. The blank of a spinning rod is designed to be able to cast a lure or bait, and a fly rod blank is designed to cast a fly line.

The guides differ, as spinning rod guides are generally larger. The reel seat is right above the butt of the rod on a fly rod and just below the top of the handle on a spinning reel.

Fly Reel vs Spinning Reel

The big difference between a fly reel and spinning reel is retrieve rate. Fly reels nearly always retrieve at a much slower rate. One crank of the handle puts one turn of line on the spool. Spool diameter affects retrieve rate, as wider spools retrieve faster.

Spinning reel retrieve rate is determined by gear ratio. Cranking the handle spins a bail that spools line on the reel. One crank may spin the bail two, three, four, or even more times. The higher the gear ratio, the faster the retrieve.

Flies vs Lures

Flies are artificial imitations of baitfish, insects, or other things fish eat. They’re made by tying natural or synthetic fibers or material to a hook with thread. They may be made from animal hair, feathers, foam, tinsel, or other materials. They rarely weigh more than 1/8th of an oz and generally far less.

a variety of flies and lures

Lures are any artificial bait designed to deceive a fish. This means that flies are lures. However, lures made for spin fishing usually weigh enough to be cast without adding anything more to the rig. In some cases, additional weight may be used to better cast and present a spin fishing lure.

Size

By now, fly and lure design has advanced in such a way that there are both very tiny lures and very large flies. There was a time when fishing a really big presentation demanded lure fishing. Conversely, if you wanted to fish something very small, you needed to fish flies.

Tungsten jigs and fiber diameter braided lines have made it possible to cast very small lures on spinning rods. Weight balancing, long fibers and new tying techniques, water loading, and newer, beefier fly rods have made giant, long flies a reality as well.

Weight

Most fly fishing patterns weigh less than 1/16th of an oz. Some weigh significantly more, including streamers tied on jigs. Very large flies also need to be weight balanced in order to overcome wind resistance.

Spinning lures can weigh as little as an 1/32 of an oz or as much as 8 ozs or more. It takes very different rods to cast such small and such heavy lures, but rod companies build spinning rods that work for each purpose.

Action

It’s nearly impossible to get a small spinning lure to float nearly weightlessly in the current, which is something very easily achieved with flies. It’s also almost impossible to accomplish something remotely akin to dry fly fishing.

By contrast, getting a large fly to walk back and forth and have a lot of action has proven very difficult if not impossible to achieve. This is something spin casting excels at.

Fly Line vs Spin Casting Lines

Fly fishing and spin fishing typically use different lines. This is because in spin fishing, the line is not integral in casting and can, in fact, hamper the distance of the cast if there’s too much friction.

fly fishing salmon

Of course, it would be just as silly to try to fly cast with braid as it would be to spin cast with a fly line. It’s very helpful to know the strengths and weaknesses of both.

Fly Line vs Monofilament

Fly line and monofilament both stretch and have weight to them and both are used in fly fishing. Monofilament is used as a leader and as a lighter, finer diameter stand-in for a fly line in some fishing situations.

In spin fishing, monofilament is used as the main line and as a leader. Although braid is better for casting, monofilament is often less detectable to fish in flats fishing scenarios. Monofilament is also stiffer than braid and therefore good for close-range presentations for trout or steelhead.

Fly Line vs Braid

Braid has little place in fly fishing other than as a backing. It’s too limp to use as any part of a leader, and far too light to do a fly cast with.

In spin fishing, though, its thin diameter and strength make it a great choice. It allows for longer casts. It also has almost no stretch, so maintaining contact with a lure or bait and setting the hook is very easy with braid.

The Difference in Presentation

Presentation is perhaps the biggest difference between fly fishing and spin fishing. The way the lure or fly is cast, the way they’re worked, and the way they act in or on the water are all different.

Two fly fisherman casting out their line in hopes to catch steelhead on the river

There are ways to accomplish the same thing with both types of fishing, and I’ll discuss that a bit as well. This is also where the pros and cons of each style are clearest.

Casting Range

A great caster with a heavy jig on a well-balanced spinning outfit can cast leaps and bounds farther than the longest fly cast ever made. That is unquestionable. So, in some cases, spin casting distance is necessary just to reach fish, and a fly caster will be out of luck.

However, there’s no better tool for casting offerings in a wide variety of sizes than a fly rod. A 10 weight fly rod can cast something as small as a size 20 and something as big as 12 or even 14 inches. Although there are better fly rods to fish presentations at those far ends of the spectrum, you wouldn’t have that much of a range with a spinning rod.

It’s also extremely difficult to cast anything very small and light with a spinning rod. At close range with a fine diameter line, it just isn’t impossible. However, casting something small a long distance requires adding weight to the line or something called a casting egg. Neither of these completely replicate the presentations possible with a fly rod.

Depth

Although sinking fly lines have made it possible to present flies into depths down to more than 40 feet, fishing deep with a fly rod is much less effective because of current and the need to keep contact.

fly fishing for trout

Fishing jigs on a spinning rod, however, is an excellent presentation for water 100 feet or shallower. For deeper water, conventional and slow-pitch jigging gear is more effective than either spinning or fly gear could ever be.

Regardless of the outfit, braided line is often key in fishing so deep. Its lack of stretch makes it much easier to keep in touch with and feel bites on your presentation.

Lure Action

Some lure actions can’t easily be accomplished with a fly rod and flies. “Walking the dog,” or getting a lure to walk back and forth, is possible with flies, but not with ones longer than about eight inches. The larger the fly gets, the harder it is to give it a lot of side to side action.

By contrast, lures are perfect for this. Giant spook-style plugs swing from side to side and make a lot of noise. These are great for attracting really big predators to the surface.

The way that action is given to a fly is often different than the way it is given to a lure. In both spin fishing and fly fishing, the tip of the rod can be moved to give action. In fly fishing, though, most of the action involves some amount of working the line by hand. This can be done by stripping the line in or by doing a figure eight retrieve with your fingers.

In spin fishing, manipulating the line with your hand is rarely ever the way action is added to the presentation.

Bait

Although it’s sometimes perfectly possible to present live or dead bait with a fly rod, this is not something well viewed by the fishing community. You’d be looked down upon by a lot of fly fishers. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it if you want to, and admittedly I have done so, but simply casting bait with a fly rod isn’t actually fly fishing.

Spin fishing is a perfectly acceptable way to present live or dead bait, and it’s also usually more effective for doing so. It can be used with weight and a bait static on the bottom, or a live fish or some bait on a hook, “free-lined” and cast towards structure or an area where you know some fish are holding.

The Difference in Intent

Many anglers conflate different types of fishing with different ethics. Spin anglers are often thought to be less conservation-minded than fly fishers. This is unfortunate, and it paints anglers in a bad light. On one hand it makes them seem pretentious, and on the other, careless and destructive.

fly fishing salmon

There isn’t always something wrong with taking fish to eat. Many fisheries sustain a harvest at some level or another with no issues. At times, it can even be necessary to depopulate invasive fish species.

It’s true that things like treble hooks and live bait can increase the chances of a released fish dying. But that doesn’t mean that spin fishing can’t be done just as ethically, sometimes even more ethically, than fly fishing. In the end, the intent of each method is what you make of it.

When to Use Spin Fishing?

The short answer is, when you want to.

Spin fishing is definitely better for casting heavy lures long distances and for fishing deep water. It’s also better when you want a big, loud topwater presentation with a lot of action, and for fishing bait.

When To Use Fly Fishing?

Again, you should use fly fishing when you want to.

Fly fishing is definitely more effective for subtle presentations at a distance. It’s also better for fishing something very small and for imitating both submerged and floating insects.

How To Fly Fish vs Spin Fish?

Practice, practice, practice. No matter what fishing method you chose, the best way to learn how to fish is to do it a lot. Pick up books, read online articles, watch videos, and chat with folks in the tackle shop. Experience on the water, though, is the best teacher.

Also, don’t miss our full guide to fly fishing around Rhode Island.

Now You Know the Difference Between Fly Fishing & Spin Fishing

Hopefully this article has been helpful in distinguishing the differences between fly fishing vs spin fishing. Both are valid and rewarding ways to catch fish. Choose whichever you like best, or even try both!