Which technique rules supreme?
Fly fishing may be all the rage these days, but it wasn’t so long ago that spoon-slinging spin fishermen ruled the rivers around here. Which raises the question: in the grand scheme, which one’s better? Let’s find out.
Entry-level rod-and-reel combos cost about the same on both sides, but the equilibrium stops there. A spin fisherman can load up on hooks, weights, bait, and a few key lures for the price of a single night’s bar tab. Fly fishing, on the other hand, requires dozens of flies, tippet, floatant, nippers, forceps, a vest or chest pack, and numerous other items that you’d be lucky to land for under $150. Not to mention that the upper echelon of fly fishing is reserved for the aristocracy, with $500 reels and rods costing well over a grand.
From Izaak Walton to Norman Maclean, Thomas McGuane to David James Duncan, authors near and far have extolled the virtues of fishing with flies. Nick Adams may have chucked grasshoppers in Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River,” and Papa’s literary heft outweighs the above authors combined; but for the sheer volume of work dedicated to each style, spin fishing just can’t reel in enough support.
Fly fishing boasts such luminaries as Lee Wulff and Bud Lilly, at once masters of their craft and pioneers of cold-water conservation. Spin fishing’s got... some old guy named Al? While there are plenty of bass fishermen on TV, we can’t think of a single famous trout fisherman who uses a spinning outfit.
Despite their ubiquity, or perhaps because of it, fly fishermen can be spotted from a mile away: fly-flecked cap, Crokied sunglasses, tech shirt, nose high in the air. Good luck picking out the spin fishermen in a given bar on a given Saturday night—they’re all different, and they don’t wear their avocation on their sleeves.
Banality aside, a skilled flycaster is a joy to watch: the rhythmic motion of the arm, the long arc of line as it glides through the air and rolls across the water. It’s a form of poetry, a delicate commingling of human and natural worlds—and thus the gallant fly fisherman stands tall and proud before adoring onlookers. Woe be the barbaric spin fisherman—there’s nothing pretty about squeezing a greasy nightcrawler onto a hook and wiping the slime on your shorts.
What fly fisherman can keep pace with a spin fisherman of similar experience and skill? If you want to catch fish, put a worm on a hook, period. Then again, for that rare moment just before dark, when the surface is a-boil with rising trout, even the most resolute spin fisherman would give his kingdom for a fly. So it really depends on what you’re after.
Score: 3 to 2
Well we can’t say we’re surprised. While each technique has its purpose and value, fly fishing reigns king in southwest Montana.