Fly Fishing with a Spinning Rod

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Video fly fishing with spinning reel

Trout and bobberFly fishing with spinning gear may sound a bit funky at first, but it’s one deadly trout technique!

And what’s really cool is you can take just about any popular fly fishing technique – be it floating dries, indicator nymphing or stripping leeches and streamers – and you can get it done with spinning tackle. In some cases, you can do it in a much more efficient and accurate fashion, too. That’s right, you can do just as well – or better – tossing little wads of feathers and glue on light spinning gear. Welcome to the brave new world of fluff chucking with the short rod.

Dry Flies

When a hatch is coming off, trout can get single-mindedly dialed into those particular bugs and won’t eat anything that doesn’t match that exact size and color profile. In those circumstances, you could toss every piece of hardware in your box until you turned blue and not get so much as a sniff from a fish.

Crystal Cast bobber and flies
The Crystal Cast is a great bobber for dry fly fishing with a spinning rod

The good news is you can get to those surface sippers with spinning gear and the right setup. First off, figure out what pattern the fish are feeding on and then tie on a clear float (the ball point pen-shaped Crystal Cast is the best I’ve found). From the other end of the float, run as much leader as you can comfortably cast – usually 3 to 5 feet – and then tie on your fly. As with any sort of dry fly fishing, you’ll greatly enhance your effective fishing time by liberally coating your bug in floatant to keep it riding high and dry. In moving water, cast upstream of the fish, pick up the slack between the fly and float and allow it to drift with the current naturally.

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Yep, this is fun!
Yep, this is fun!

Now, you can also catch trout on dries on lakes. When using this rig to target rising trout on stillwater, you actually have the advantage over traditional fly gear because you can cast farther and require less room for back casts. Toss out beyond the fish and work your offering back through the feeding zone with a steady, molasses-slow retrieve. If fish start blowing up around you, stop cranking and let the fly sit.

“Spin”dicator Nymphing

When the trout are feeding below the surface, many Western fly fishers turn to indicator nymphing, which just may be the deadliest of all trout techniques. With a few slight modifications, the spinning crowd can also get in on the fun. To rig up for spindicator nymphing, slide a cigar-shaped sliding or slip float to your mainline. Every float has a weight rating and you need to pick one that will handle the amount of lead you’ll be using. I generally only use a splitshot or two and maybe a bead-head nymph, so small bobbers like the Shy Bite and Mini Stealth by Thill work great.

Indicator Nymphing is actually more effective on spinning gear
Indicator Nymphing is actually more effective on spinning gear

Next, tie a nymph to the business end of your main line and add just enough splitshot 12 to 18 inches above the fly to keep it near the bottom and your bobber riding straight up and down. Fly selection, of course, is a day-to-day and water-by-water type of deal. However, there are several bugs like Hare’s Ears, AP Nymphs, Birdsnests, Zug Bugs, San Juan Worms and Glo Bugs that fish will eat in a wide array of conditions.

One good way to get started is to buy a trout assortment fly kit that will give you several popular dry and sub surface patterns.

You can start with some of those patterns until you figure out what the trout are onto on a given day. The key to making the whole deal work lies in your ability to make a drag-free presentation. In other words, your rig needs to drift naturally downstream at the speed of the current. If a belly forms in your line between the rod tip and the float, the current will grab it and drag your line downstream too quickly.

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Big Buggin’

So maybe you want to target larger trout with streamers and leechy-type stuff. No problem! There are several ways to throw big bugs on spinning tackle.

Muddler Minnows + spin gear = Big Trout!
Muddler Minnows + spin gear = Big Trout!

One of my favorite stream trout methods for browns is to cast Muddler Minnows, smolt patterns and dark Woolly Buggers and Zonkers. You can get a mixed pack of them HERE. I’ll use just enough splitshot 12 to 15 inches above the fly to get it down near the bottom and then cast slightly downstream and across. As the fly sinks and begins its downstream arc, I’ll twitch it along with subtle pops of the rod tip. Most strikes occur right at the end of the swing, and believe me brother when I say hang on to your rod!

There’s nothing subtle about the way salmo trutta slams a swung fly. A variation on this theme also works well in lakes. Instead of running the weight up the line, I will crimp a single splitshot onto the leader just ahead of the eye of the hook, making my own “poor man’s” beadhead. I’ve had some days for the record books in the High Sierra, hopping buggers right along the bottom. When the trout are near the surface in the spring and fall, the old school Bug and Bubble is the ticket.

Wolly Bugger and Bubble
Wooly Bugger and bubble

To rig up, run a clear casting bubble or a Crystal Cast float up your mainline and then attach 3 to 5 feet of leader with Woolly Bugger, Bunny Leech, Matuka or Zonker on the end. If you need to get down a bit, affix a small shot 18 inches up the line. The idea here is to whip the thing out there and work it back to you with a slow, steady grind punctuated with an occasional pop of the rod tip.

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Gearing Up

For general spin-fly purposes, I like a 5’4″ St Croix ultralight stick for small overgrown streams and the 7-foot Okuma SST makes a nice affordable choice for fishing on larger rivers and lakes.

Line choice is dictated by the style of fishing you plan to do. For fishing dries or dead-drifting nymphs with floats, go with 10-pound braid and 4-pound P-Line Fluorocarbon for a leader. When fishing without a bobber, I run straight 4- to 6-pound fluorocarbon.

Come on baby...go down!
Come on baby… go down!

There are many quality spinning reels on the market these days and I’d look for one that has a a smooth drag system, like the Shimano 1000 Syncopate, which is a nice reel for the price. A little nicer (and more expensive) one is the Diawa BG 1500.

Well, there you have it – trout fly fishing from a spinning point of view. It’s not just a novelty, either. I guarantee the techniques outlined above help you improve you scores this spring and summer. And you don’t need to spend a fortune to get started.

When you’re ready for some bigger game like steelhead fishing, check out my huge 6+ hour online course: Catch More Steelhead. It will teach you everything you need to know to get good!

And of course, guided fishing trips on Lake Tahoe, Pyramid Lake and Alaska with JD are available year round HERE

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>