Stick Fight: Spin Fishing vs. Fly Fishing
Is fly fishing more fun than spin fishing or just a waste of time?
Editor’s note: As hunters and anglers, we don’t agree on everything. We’ve even been known to argue on occasion. That’s why this week is all about figuring out who’s right and who’s just plain wrong. Every day we’ll be posting stories to declare a winner on hunting and fishing’s most important debates—like 870 vs. 500, fixed-blade vs. mechanical broadheads, and in this case, spin fishing vs. fly fishing, in which hunting editor Will Brantley and executive editor Dave Hurteau go head-to-head.
The Case for Spin Fishing
Dave Hurteau has been my editor at F&S for more than 12 years. In that time, we’ve argued about every conceivable topic: Bows. Broadheads. Rifles. Turkey calling. The qualities of a good western movie. The keeping of cats and calling them “pets.” Cussing. Music. Who’s best, Nickens or Heavey or Petzal.
That we both love to antagonize and argue may in fact be the strongest glue of our friendship. But close behind is our near mirroring attitudes toward fishing. We both love fishing because we both like to eat fish. Hurteau has regaled me with tales of wading the famous Upper Delaware River with a club clipped to his belt, so as to smash in the skulls of trophy brown trout. They’re especially good smoked, he says.
I’d fly a flag, if I had an appropriate one, to show Hurteau my support for this behavior. Me, I live on the shore of Kentucky Lake, one of the most popular tournament fisheries in the country. I love eating prize-winning largemouth bass, too, particularly when they’ve been flipped over the gunwale of my camouflage john boat within eyesight of a glittering fiberglass bass boat. I might holler something like, “Never give up! That’s four keepers for the skillet! Just need a kicker for the grill!”
On the subject of fishing, if nothing else at all, Hurteau and I have lived for years in relative harmony. So, I was disappointed when just the other day, he said he prefers fly fishing over spin fishing because “fly fishing is more fun.”
“As proof, you never see anyone casting a spinning rod for the fun of it in a yard,” he said.
I’ve never seen anyone cast for fun in the yard with a fly rod, either. Around here, acting like that would draw a crowd of concerned neighbors, to gawk and point. “The lake is over a mile away,” they’d say.
Using a fly rod proves that your motivation for casting isn’t necessarily to catch a fish, and that’s dumb. But if that wasn’t true, there’d be no such thing as a “false cast.” Why would you make a bunch of fake casts before firing your good one out there? I’ve watched fly anglers false cast five or six times before making the real one (a distance performance that can usually be outdone with a Snoopy pole).
Shoot, my favorite fishing days are the ones when I catch six fish on six casts. I have even more fun when I don’t have to cast for them at all. Once the water gets good and warm, I’ll shoot them with a bow and arrow, or just jump in and wrestle them by hand. Know how many expensive rods I’ve broken out catfish noodling? Not a one.
Now if I know Hurteau, he will stoop low enough to talk sh*t about my own skill with a long rod, so I’ll just say right now that I’m not a good fly caster. Also, I cannot play the flute. He likes to claim that he outfished me the one time I met him and other F&S staff up North on the Delaware, and while I don’t have proof that he didn’t, the only fish I saw that weekend were a pair of nice browns I caught on a Panther Martin, and I wasn’t allowed to eat either one.
The other problem with fly-fishing is that it’s selfish, and that’s no fun for anyone. No one else around you is allowed to fish because you need room to cast. Look, I like to reel up a big ‘un while my wife and kid cheer me on, same as anyone, but asking them to sit quietly in the boat while I flail about like Zorro seems like a good way to hear some complaining—and there’s no complaining quite like that of a wife and kid savaging Old Dad in the confines of a boat.
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Speaking of kids, my boy is going on 8 years old. Show him a pond with a bass in it and tell him the shoreline is too thick for casting. That kid will crawl through briars, if he has to, and find an opening just big enough to launch a quarter-ounce Rat-L-Trap clear to the other bank with his Zebco 33. He’ll only consider the inconvenience of the thicket when he emerges back out of it, and his mom is chewing at his ass to check for ticks.
Try wielding a fly rod in that same thicket, and tell me again how much fun you’re having. You’ll still need to check for ticks when you’re done.
The Case for Fly Fishing
The truth is that Brantley and I agree on a lot. But that’s boring. So, we focus on the things we disagree on. Whenever I do find myself agreeing too much with him, I make it a point to change my mind, or at least the subject.
For example, I agree that everyone needs to whack a certain number of fish on the head and put them in the smoker or fryer to remember why we do this and to keep from becoming insufferable. And, in the same spirit as Brantley with his fellow bass fishermen, I do think it’s fun to slide a limp 20-inch brown into a plastic bread bag and then give any fellow fly guys watching in horror a nice thumbs up.
But that’s already too much agreeing. So, let me tell you why Brantley is wrong, again. This should be easy, but I’ll need to ask a couple of questions to those of you who have caught more than a few fish both ways. (Which doesn’t include Brantley.) Now, suppose you’re going to catch a fish. Any fish. Would you rather catch it with fly gear or spinning gear? Right. I like spin fishing, too, but catching fish with fly gear is just more fun. Now, let’s suppose you’re not going to catch a fish. You’re just going to cast and cast and go home empty-handed, which happens sometimes. Would you rather do that with fly gear or spinning gear? Right, again. Fly-casting, all by itself, is a pretty good time on a nice summer’s evening.
So, catching fish is more fun with fly gear and not catching fish is more fun with fly gear. That seems like a pretty good recommendation. Now, Brantley could argue that a person will catch more fish with spinning gear, which might even be true where he fishes. But it isn’t true where I fish. So, maybe he’s just fishing in the wrong places.
I suspect he would also say that fly fishing’s ranks are comprised of too many cigar-chomping, Walden-quoting, Plum-colored-fishing-shirt-wearing, sanctimonious Yankees. And there’s probably some truth to that. I mean, if you really wanted to find the nearest asshole, I’d probably point you to either a golf course or one of a few certain trout streams. But, as with golf, it’s not fly fishing’s fault that it’s enjoyed by jerks and non-jerks alike. Anyway, you can spot the former a mile away, so they’re easy enough to avoid.
In the past, Brantley has argued that he can knock over beer bottles with a jig on a spinning rod and that I should just try that with a Partridge and Orange. I have to admit that this did seem like a pretty good point at first, until I remember that I can knock beer bottles over and back without any fishing gear at all.
And while I’m admitting things, I’ll say that it was a mistake for me to let slip to him that I sometimes fly cast in the backyard. (Fly casting requires practice to get good at, unlike casting a spinning rod, which anyone can do—even Brantley.) He had some good fun with that information, so I’ll just tip my hat. But he revealed something, too, when he came North once for an editorial meeting. I almost hate to bring it up. I mean, no one wants to be accused of hitting too fat a pitch. But, er, have you seen Brantley fly cast?
Let’s just say that, in his shoes, I wouldn’t like it either. Nevermind getting outfished by a sanctimonious Yankee.