I don’t claim to be a great angler or even very smart about it sometimes, but one thing I am is observant and open-minded in my fishing. I am constantly looking for patterns and principles that can be consistently applied, or that can be applied across multiple species, locations or conditions. Beyond just observing, I try to find little details or concepts in angling that will carry over to other scenarios. Sometimes it may be for a different species altogether, like an inshore saltwater snook technique that works well for smallmouth or pike roaming flats. Sometimes it’s just a nuance of some technique I already know, like when I noticed the national crappie fishing champion holding his jig completely motionless over suspended crappies, and then suddenly dropping it six inches to trigger the bite. I was working the traditional lift and drop with my identical jig and getting no bites while he was wrecking them with his slo-mo lift, hold steady, sudden drop. Nuances.
An observation and technique transfer that I feel is virtually universal yet hardly considered is between a spin guy and fly guy on a trout stream. I’ve fished both fly and conventional tackle in trout streams since my early teen years, yet it took about 20 years to make me realize that the extremely consistent and successful spin pole techniques could easily be applied to the fly pole, and that the only real difference between the fly and lure is the delivery method. It matters not whether you cast the weight of the line or the weight of the plug when it comes to provoking strikes.
Historically, fly fishing was built around the dead drift. Really, the whole concept of a drag-free drift is the heart of fly fishing. Long leaders, tiny bugs, and considerable patience were the norm back in your grandpa’s day. Spin guys utilizing lures have always relied on motion more than anything else, so it stands to reason that there has been a significant advancement in their presentation retrieves over time. Given my almost equal background with conventional and fly tackle, I’m very willing to add motion to my fly to generate extra bites.
Now, here’s the part some traditional fly guys don’t like to hear; a skilled spin-poler with a hard plug or a jig can catch trout, basically any trout, regardless of the conditions. High, muddy, run-off conditions? No prob. Mid winter, half frozen river? Jigs will get bit. Warm summer flows? Simple stuff. Mid fall, low clear water? Fast plugs will get smashed. I say all this not to ruffle anyone’s feathers, but to point out that if you’re a fly guy that desires more consistency in your catching, pay attention to the spin-poler’s techniques. If you’re a traditionalist, more power to you. The beauty in fishing is that there is no wrong answer; fish however you find enjoyment.
I’d also like to clarify that I referenced a “skilled spin-poler”; accuracy, line control, lure selection and detailed retrieves are paramount to conventional tackle success just as they are with fly tackle. I’ve handed my spinning rod over to very good fly guys on the river only to watch them flounder with presentation details and ultimately wreck my gear, just as I’d expect if a fly guy hands his tackle over to many spin guys. The bottom line is that each method has its learning curve and while spinning tackle is perceived to be easier, to excel with either method takes practice.
So, what exactly makes good spin guys so successful? In a word, speed. Spinning tackle can generate far higher lure speeds, either vertically or horizontally. I’ve been working trout filled demo tanks in front of crowds for many years and without fail, when the trout won’t bite and the crowd gets bored, I speed up my retrieve a whole bunch and viola, they bite again. Speed is obviously the opposite of the dead drift and probably why I hear very few fly guys reference speed.
Trout are predators. Predators, by nature, are inclined to chase whatever runs from them. Even better, make it fast and erratic. Then their inner piscivore is really piqued. They’re also opportunists. If something that looks more or less edible comes crashing into their world from above, well then perhaps a quick bite is in order. And I do mean quick. A jig landing in a deep plunge pool or pocket will often get smoked so fast that many spin guys haven’t even closed the bail yet.
How do fly guys take advantage of speed? First, use the current to your advantage. Swinging streamers is all the rage. Take it to the extreme by casting across fast current and landing your fly in slow water, allowing a big down stream belly in the line. The current will rip your streamer down stream. Perhaps cast your fly 45-degrees across and down, clamp the line with your rod hand, and use the rod to aggressively pull the fly as it is swept across the current rather than only stripping. Geez, get crazy with it and jiggle the rod tip at the same time to increase erraticness. Some of it even comes down to fly selection. Flies that are heavily weighted yet feature a thin, hydrodynamic profile and less buoyant materials are inherently faster in the water than bulky streamers with parachute qualities. To this point, I have Clouser Minnows tied with tungsten eyes and synthetic materials with a thin, sparse profile. They commonly exceed five inches long, but have no bulk to slow them in the water.
This column is the epitome of fishing with an open mind. We all want to catch more fish and learning from one another is the easiest way to do that. Try breaking the rules so to speak. Swing your flies, overpower casts to drive streamers crashing into the surface film, perhaps even try a saltwater pattern or two. You may find that breaking the norm is a fun and great way to improve your catching!