Fly Fishing vs. Spin Fishing (Learn What is Right for You)

As fishermen become more experienced on the water, they tend to look for ways to progress. This begins the fly fishing vs. spin fishing considerations. For many, it becomes less about catching fish for food and more about the sport of tricking fish. There is nothing more challenging than tricking a fish to eat with a fly rod. Therefore it makes sense for experienced spin fishermen to take the next step up to the art of fly fishing. 

Female spin fishing in deep waters.

What are the key differences between spin and fly fishing?

Learning to fly fish is not going to be suitable for everyone. Many fishermen enjoy simply relaxing on the boat and enjoying catching fish to eat. For these fishermen, fly fishing does not make sense. The key differences between spin and fly fishing are:

  • Spin fishing will typically catch more fish.
  • Fly fishing has a steep learning curve and requires a greater angler skill set.
  • Fly fishing is labor-intensive and involves continuous casting.
  • Spin fishing makes more sense when fishing deep water.
  • Fly fishing is similar to hunting, where stealth and sight are important.
  • The ability to fly fish is more susceptible to weather conditions than spin fishing.

As you can see by the outlined differences, fly fishing is a more technical way to catch fish. This is primarily because fly fishing involves casting a weightless lure using the inertia of the fly line. Spin fishermen, on the other hand, use a weighted lure to propel the bait forward. Unlike spin fishing, fly fishing involves managing the line at your feet, adding another layer of difficulty. So why would anyone want to fly fish?

Fly fishing vs spin fishing comes down to fishing for fun or survival versus sport.

Why do people choose to fly fish?

Fishermen tend to start by soaking live baits, and as their skill level grows, they will graduate to artificial lures such as topwater baits and soft plastics. Spin fishing can become quite technical in nature but will never match that of fly fishing. 

For many anglers, fly fishing is the next step in the journey of progressing in the sport. Fly fishing will test your skills as an angler by requiring you to cast weightless flies accurately and trick fish into eating by moving the fly with your hand. For people who like to fish for sport, there is no greater accomplishment. 

What starts as a progression in the sport will often quickly turn into an addiction. There is something about feeding fish with feathers that will make you feel closer to nature. Fly fishing becomes less about the number of fish you catch and more about how you trick them to eat. When fishermen turn to the sport of fly fishing, they typically never go back.

In some situations, throwing a fly is the most sensible way to fish. For example, when trout fishing in small streams and rivers, the fish tend to eat small insects. The ability to throw a tiny lure on a spinning rod becomes more complicated than using a fly rod because of the lack of weight. Spinning rods use the weight of the lure to propel forward, whereas fly fishing uses the loop of the line to cast the fly, similar to using a bullwhip. This technique allows for the fly to be weightless. In these situations, throwing a large lure on a spinning rod will not only be refused but will usually spook the fish. 

Sight fishing

One of the most popular ways to fish is by sight. Sight fishing involves looking for fish in shallow or clear water and casting to a specific fish. This is by far one of the most exciting ways to fish and will get your heart racing. There is nothing like watching a fish eat your bait. Throwing a weightless fly provides for a stealthier presentation when sight fishing. Flies land softly on the water, whereas a lure tends to make a large plop. This can be a significant disadvantage when fishing in clear water or fishing for spooky species such as bonefish. 

Does fly fishing catch more fish?

Before you start fly fishing, you should consider your goals when you are on the water. Fly fishing is more about connecting with the fish rather than filling a cooler. 

Considering all bodies of water, spin fishing will catch far more fish than fly fishing. This is due to the added complexities of fly fishing and the ability to cover more water with a spinning rod. If the goal is to catch large numbers of fish, it is recommended to spin fish. 

Man holding redfish.

Although spin fishing tends to be more productive, there are times when fly fishing will outshine traditional spin fishing. As mentioned above, fish that are feeding on small prey, such as insects, will eat a fly over larger traditional baits. Paying attention to the bait present in the area will help you decide if fly fishing will be more productive. 

In my experience as a fishing guide, fish tend to eat a well-placed fly more than any other presentation. The difficulty becomes placing the fly where it needs to be and moving it correctly. Factors such as casting distance, wind, and line management will play a prominent role in how many fish you catch on fly versus throwing a spinning rod. The more experienced you are at using a fly rod, the more fish you will catch.

For a more detailed review of the effectiveness of fly fishing, check out Is Fly Fishing Effective? Why Fly Fishing Is So Popular

How to get started in fly fishing?

Fly fishing is not for everyone and requires time and a lot of practice to become proficient. Many people will find the sport too frustrating and will simply not enjoy it. For others, they will develop a deep passion for the sport that, frankly, can be life-changing. Catching your first fish on a fly rod can take quite a long time, so be prepared to endure some frustration. I promise you it is worth it.

Take some lessons

 Before you dive deep into the world of fly fishing, it is recommended to take casting lessons. Casting lessons will help you build solid fundamentals and provide insight into whether you wish to pursue it. Investing in casting lessons is worth every penny. Learning the sport on the water will only add to your frustration and often develops bad habits. Even after you have been fly fishing for quite some time, it never hurts to get a lesson from a professional to review your cast. 

The best source of finding a casting instructor is by contacting your local fly shop. Most fly shops have an in-house instructor or will be able to refer you to one. If you live in an area with no fly shops, Youtube can be an excellent source for learning to cast. I learned to cast by watching Orvis casting videos repeatedly. 

Purchasing a rod

You will quickly learn that fly fishing is an expensive sport. When first starting to fly fish, I highly discourage you from purchasing a high-end fly rod. You may not be sure if this is something you will enjoy, for starters, so buying the best fly rod model isn’t necessary to catch fish. My first fly rod was a $50 Reddington, and I caught quite a few fish on this rod before moving up. 

With high-end fly rods ranging up to $800, there is no reason to invest that kind of money until you are sure you have a passion for the sport. When you are first starting, you will be unable to tell the difference between the casting performance of a high-end rod versus a lower-end model. A good price point to consider is $300. A rod in this range is not the cheapest but will provide you with a quality rod that you can use for a lifetime. 

When looking to purchase a rod, visiting a local fly shop will allow you to cast different rods before purchasing. Additionally, they will be able to steer you in the right direction as far as size based on the type of fishing you are looking to do. 

For a list of my three favorite budget-friendly saltwater rods, check out Best Saltwater Fly Rod Under $300: 3 Killer Rods Tested and Reviewed

Purchasing a reel

Similar to purchasing a rod, you do not need an expensive reel to get started. In fact, for most species, the reel isn’t important at all, and it will simply act as an expensive line holder. When purchasing a reel, durability is the most important factor, and you want a reel that can hold up to the elements, including salt, and land the species you are targeting. 

Reels can be very expensive and come in a variety of different colors and styles. I assure you, these fancy reels will not make you a better fisherman. One of the best reels on the market for value is the Lamson Liquid. Priced at around $100, this reel offers a sealed drag and exceptional durability. This reel is suitable to catch small fish up to most saltwater species.

For an in-depth review of the Lamson Liquid, check out The Best Fly Reel For The Money: Lamson Liquid Gets Battle-tested.

Leader material close up.

Fly Line and Leader

One of the most important aspects of fly fishing is the fly line. Fly line is available in a variety of different sizes and colors. Fly lines are offered in floating or sinking options, which allow you to fish different water depths for varying species. 

The forward portion of a fly line is referred to as the head. The thickness and length of the head will vary the quickness and distance in which the line can shoot. Some fly lines are designed for quick, short casts, while others cast long distances. Picking a fly line will take some experimenting, and it is often recommended to have a few different fly lines on hand. When you first purchase a fly reel, it is best to have your local fly shop recommend a line and spool it for you. This will allow you to learn all of the pieces of a fly line and the knots used to make them. 

Lastly, you will need a leader before you can start fishing. The leader is a clear portion of monofilament or fluorocarbon connected between the fly line and the fly. The leader’s purpose is to hide the visibility of the fly line and make your fly presentation look more natural.

Be aware of spooky fish

Many species are quite spooky and will run away quickly if they get a sense of your line. The size of your leader will need to be adjusted to create a balance between strength and visibility. The thinner the leader material, the weaker it is; however, it is also less visible. 

Leaders are constructed by tapering down thicker pieces of leader material to thinner pieces. Leaders can be purchased pre-made or can be tied by you. The different sizes of pieces used are referred to as the formula. Leader formulas will vary depending on the size of the fish, the clarity of the water, and the coarseness of the fish’s mouth. In my article, What Size Leader For Saltwater Fly-fishing? Tips From A Captain, I outline different leader formulas for various species. 

Close up of flies.


The last piece of the puzzle is the fly. The fly is the actual lure that entices a fish to eat. Different species will eat varying prey depending on what body of water you are fishing. 

Saltwater flies are generally larger than freshwater flies and imitate baitfish, crabs, and shrimp. Freshwater flies tend to be smaller and will imitate insects, leeches, and small baitfish. Paying attention to prey in a particular area will help you choose the correct fly size for a specific region. 

Choosing the correct fly pattern will vary quite a bit. Therefore it is best to consult with local fly fishermen for the best flies to use.  

Flies can be purchased or tied using various materials and hooks. When first starting, it is best to buy flies before learning to tie them yourself. 

Hire a guide

After taking lessons and practicing for some time, it is always a good idea to hire a guide. A guide can help show you what to look for in an area and teach you how to feed the fish. Hiring a guide is your best option for catching fish as a beginner.

A guide cannot teach you how to fly fish on the water. Do not waste money hiring a guide until you have taken lessons and practiced extensively on land. A guide can show you fish and how to fish them, but they are not miracle makers. If you have not put in the time beforehand, there is a good chance you will not catch a fish, even with a guide. The goal of hiring a guide is to practice what you have learned with an instructor on fish. 

Final thoughts

Both spin fishing and fly fishing are great ways to fish. Depending on how you like to fish, you may decide to step into the world of fly fishing to challenge yourself further. For some, just enjoying a day on the water and relaxing is the ideal fishing picture, and for them, spin fishing is the best option. 

If catching a lot of fish or feeding your family is your goal, then spin fishing is the way to go. Fly fishing is highly technical and is designed to test the angler’s skills, and therefore the success rate of fly fishing is much lower. 

If you are thinking of learning how to fly fish, the best thing you can do is take lessons. After you have practiced for some time, you will be ready to take your efforts to the water. Before you can start fly fishing, you will need to purchase some gear. When starting, avoid buying high-end models until you are sure this is a hobby you wish to pursue. Consulting with a local fly shop can help steer you in the right direction. 

Lastly, consider hiring a guide once you have practiced your fly cast for some time. Guides will better your chances of catching a fish once you have put in the practice.