Voices from the river

Voices from the River: The case for (sometimes) using spinning gear

By Mark Taylor

The reaction was subtle but obvious.

A sideways look. A head shake. A grimace.

Then came the single word.

“Really?” my buddy said looking at the fishing rod in my hand?

We were loading up for a short float-fishing trip on a mi

d-sized Virginia trout stream.

My friend had a couple of fly rods, one rigged with a streamer and another set up for nymphing.

I had a fly rod, too. But I also had a light-action spinning rig, set up with a 3-inch-long Rapala plug.

Yep. I sometimes fish for trout with spinning gear. Not during hatches. And not on small streams, where there’s no better way than a fly rod to present something a trout might want to eat.

But while prospecting on bigger waters? Sometimes, yes.

And it’s not because I think that spinning gear can sometimes be more effective for trout fishing. I just like fishing with spinning gear.

Call me a heretic. I can take it.

alt=”” title=”” />A spin-fishing angler prospects for trout in the stocked section of the Roanoke River in Roanoke, Va.

In fact, my gear-poo-pooing fishing buddy has a good time doing just that. He harasses me. I laugh it off. We go fishing.

OK, there is sometimes a practical aspect to this choice.

My float-fishing craft is a canoe. Would I rather have a raft or drift boat? Yes. Can I afford a raft or drift boat? No.

So, I’m stuck with my old canoe, which is fine for getting from wading spot to wading spot but not the best fishing platform.

If I’m sitting in the back—which I usually am, because I like to “drive”—I’m not fly fishing while we are under way. Simple as that. The front-seater fly fishes. When I’m able to take a break from paddling to make a cast or two, I use spinning gear.

That said, even when wading I sometimes opt for spinning gear (where it’s allowed, of course). And it’s not because I think I can catch more and/or bigger trout. I actually think that under most conditions around these parts, fly gear will usually catch more fish.

Again, I spin fish because I enjoy it.

Maybe part of it is that’s how I grew up fishing, casting for smallmouth bass and stocked trout in southern Oregon with my trusty Eagle Claw rod and Mitchell 300 reel. I appreciate the engineering of a smooth spinning reel. I relish the challenge of making accurate casts with spinning gear. I find beauty in a well-constructed, prettily painted lure. I love feeling the steady pulse of a true-running plug.

The crushing strikes those plugs sometimes elicit? I don’t mind that, either.

alt=”” title=”” />A small plastic Fin-S Fish on a jig head is not unlike some popular modern “streamers.” This one fooled a stocked brown.

A word about plugs. I sometimes switch out hooks. Some plugs run well with singles. Others need trebles to maintain intended action. Pinching barbs doesn’t seem to hurt catch ratios, just like when fly fishing.

The idea of using plugs with treble hooks doesn’t sit well with some. I get it. When catch-and-release fishing I certainly don’t want to unduly injure fish with hooks outside the mouth. Honestly, I rarely have that happen. And, because I’m typically catching fewer fish than I would be when using fly gear, a day of casting plugs typically results in fewer hooks in fish overall anyway. Maybe that says more about my fishing ability, or lack thereof.

Here’s another thing. Plug-hooked fish are actually a bear to keep buttoned. There is some kind of magical leverage thing that allows fish to throw those plugs at a much higher rate than fish hooked on single-hook flies. (It’s no accident that many tournament bass anglers are loath to use plugs and crankbaits.)

And here’s one more thing: A lot of “flies” we all use really aren’t flies. They are lures, albeit lures that have been designed to allow them to be cast using fly rods.

Some fly fishing we do really isn’t even fly fishing, is it? For example, when Euro nymphing we often don’t even have fly line outside the tip of the rod.

Is the matter of delivery really enough to make one type of trout fishing more noble than another?

I mean, it’s not like we’re talking about using bait.

Although, the other night it was warm and damp and I did see a bunch of nightcrawlers on the lawn. It kind of got me thinking….

Mark Taylor is Trout Unlimited’s director of eastern communications. He lives in Roanoke, Va., and is open-minded when it comes to fishing techniques and species, but an unapologetic snob when it comes to beer.

By Mark Taylor. A native of rural southern Oregon, Mark Taylor has lived in Virginia since serving a stint as a ship-based naval officer in Norfolk. He joined the TU staff in 2014 after a 20-year run as a newspaper journalist, the final 16 as the outdoors editor of the Roanoke Times. A graduate of Northwestern University, he lives in Roanoke with his wife and, when they're home from college, his twin daughters.