Fly Fishing vs Regular Fishing: Key Differences and Pros & Cons

Fly fishing and lure fishing are both popular and effective ways to catch fish. Comparing fly fishing vs regular fishing it really comes down to personal preference and the species …

Fly fishing and lure fishing are both popular and effective ways to catch fish.

Comparing fly fishing vs regular fishing it really comes down to personal preference and the species you are after.

Say for trout fishing, I think fly fishing allows you to catch more fish, larger fish, and to be successful in a far bigger range of circumstances than spin fishing.

But for fish that need deep presentations to the vertical structure, or are best caught on large bulky surface lures, regular fishing is probably a better choice.

Ultimately it is a matter of the individual, and many fishermen and women practice both forms.

The aim of this article is to explain for anglers starting out what’s involved in fly fishing and regular fishing and where each one really shines!

Fly Fishing vs Regular Fishing: Technique

Fly Fishing

Fly fishing involves casting a fly made from fur, feathers and sometimes foam to resemble a particular insect or aquatic insect or animal (bait fish, crab, nymph or crustacean) with a long rod.

Since the fly has next to no weight, the fly is cast with the aid of a heavy opaque fly line that loads the long rod and allows the angler to propel the fly, which is attached to the line via a long transparent leader, to the spot where the fish is holding.

To cast longer distances, fly anglers often need to make a series of “false casts” (casting back and forth) to get more lines out. Good fly casters can easily cast 50 yards or more in a wide range of conditions.

Regular Fishing

The term “regular fishing” can surely include a wide variety of techniques, but for our purposes, we are going to be talking about lure fishing, which is the form of fishing most comparable to fly fishing as it involves using a lure to imitate likely prey for the target species (or occasionally just annoy the sh^t out of it!).

Lure anglers use shorter rods with either baitcasting or spinning reels attached. Lures are chosen not only for their ability to resemble food, but for the depths, they can reach or their ability to float, as well as the action they make when they are retrieved back to the angler through the water.

Fly Fishing vs Spin Fishing: Gear

Fly Fishing

Fly fishing involves using a carbon fiber (or sometimes fiberglass or bamboo) fly rod paired with a fly reel. Other essential fly fishing equipment includes the line itself, a variety of flies, a net, leader, and tippet. For a full list of required things to pack for a day’s fly fishing check out our article on this topic.

Artificial flies can be tied to accurately represent a wide variety of aquatic insects and other prey items and fly tying is pretty much a sport – or hobby – in its own right.

Lure Fishing

As discussed, lure anglers choose either a spinning combo or a baitcasting combo matched to both the pulling power of the target species (the more powerful the fish the stronger the rod) and the weight of the lure that you need to cast.

It’s hard to cast light lures with a heavy rod, and equally, it is hard to fight a powerful fish with an ultralight rod, so it’s not always easy to select the ideal outfit, and most serious anglers with having three or more rods and reel combos to allow them to have a setup that suits a wide variety of fish species and fishing situations.

Fly Fishing vs Regular Fishing: Pros and Cons

Fly Fishing

  • Harder to learn but very satisfying
    Fly fishing is difficult to learn, there is no getting away from it. When you are learning it can be a very frustrating sport as you struggle to consistently deliver the fly in the right way to the fish. But when you master the casting stroke and can deliver the fly to the target on a consistent basis it becomes fun. Throw in the opportunities for sight fishing and it can very quickly become a very addictive form of fishing.
  • Can be very effective on certain species
    Trout and various flats species such as bonefish, permit, and tarpon are arguably easier to fool with a fly than any standard type of lure. Taking trout as an example, anglers can imitate every phase of the life cycle of insects trout feed on such as mayfly and caddis flies. You just can’t do that lure fishing, so in that way, fly fishing is a more effective and versatile way to fish for trout in most circumstances.
  • Gear is more expensive
    There is certainly a rich guy (and gal) tax applied to fly fishing gear. Because it has historically been a sport favored by the wealthy tackle companies do charge premium prices for pretty much everything – fly rods, reels, fly line, right down to the materials needed to tie your own flies.
  • Difficult in the wind
    Fly fishing can be difficult in really windy conditions, especially when you are learning to cast with a fly rod. That said, I will fish in pretty much any wind as you can adjust by choosing your spots carefully and focusing on your technique. Plus the rippled water surface often allows you to get a lot closer to the fish without being detected so you don’t need to cast as far. The waves that wind generates can sometimes make seeing the fish easier!

Lure Fishing

  • Easier to learn
    Lure fishing, especially with a spinning reel is relatively easy to learn. The casting technique is simple to pick up at a basic level, although it takes long to achieve the real skill of casting accurately. Casting a baitcaster is trickier than spin fishing gear, but has its advantages in terms of being able to thumb the spool to stop the lure to let it drop into the slot where you think a fish might be waiting. See here for the pros and cons of spinning vs baitcasting gear.
  • The Gear is Cheaper and more durable
    Spin fishing gear is really affordable and even a decent baitcasting combo (get one here) will come in well and truly cheaper than an entry level fly fishing rod and reel set up. Spin rods and casting rods are tough and durable too. Selecting the fishing line is much simpler too – you choose the type (braid, mono or fluoro – or a combination) and the breaking strain and away you go, whereas fly fishing line choice is harder because there are many different types of fly lines (floating, sinking, sink tip and different weights and profiles).
  • It is typically very effective across a range of species and situations
    Lure fishing is very versatile. There is such a wide variety of lure types (from topwater poppers to jigs, soft plastic swimbaits and spoons) that you can imitate a wide variety of bait fish and other creatures that fish love to eat. Other lures such as spinners and spinnerbaits, don’t imitate anything in particular, but drive fish nuts so they lash out at them! Lure makers are getting more and more ingenious by the day and there are a wide variety of crab lures nowadays and we recently saw a new kind of vibe released that imitates a mussel that’s just been dislodged from a dock pylon – it is very effective!
  • Can fish a variety of depths including very deep water
    While fly fishers can use sinking lines and weighted flies to get down to fish, realistically they are fishing the top three or four yards of the water column only. Whereas lure fishing, with heavy lures and braided or fluoro lines, allows anglers to get their lure right down deep to where many fish are found. Deepwater jigging is a good example of this where you can target fish on a reef even 50 or 100 yards or more beneath your boat – these are fish you just cant reach on fly tackle.

Fly Fishing vs Regular Fishing: Which One is the Best Way to Catch Fish?

One way to look at this is that it can be a transition. As a child, you will probably begin your fishing career on spinning gear (or even spincast or closed-faced reels) – it is easy to learn, it’s fun and it is effective.

Many anglers will add a baitcasting outfit – and the ability to use it well – to their kit bag as their skills develop.

And some will go on to pick up fly tackle and give what’s arguably the most challenging form of fly fishing a go.

For me, the key to it is to not look at it as a strict choice – you aren’t either a fly angler or a lure angler, most of us are both.

I fish a lot for trout and when I fish for trout I only use fly gear as I believe this is the most effective and fun way to catch them. I love shallow water sight fishing and fishing with dry flies for trout.

But it is about horses for courses for me. We’ve found a great spot to target a tasty snapper species near home – it is an abandoned ferry dock with scores of wooden pylons in about five meters of water. We access it on kayaks. I wouldn’t dream of using fly tackle there – but it is a perfect lure fishing spot, so that’s what I use. In other spots we will target the same species by baitfishing as that’s the best method for that location.

Don’t allow labels like “spin fisherman” or “fly fisherman” to define you and take advantage of the freedom to pick the type of fishing that you enjoy and is aligned to the greatest chance of success. I don’t know about you, but above all, I want to be catching fish when I go out fishing! 

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Rick Wallace is a passionate angler and fly fisher whose work has appeared in fishing publications including FlyLife. He's appeared in fishing movies, founded a successful fishing site and spends every spare moment on the water. He's into kayak fishing, ultralight lure fishing and pretty much any other kind of fishing out there.
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