Fly 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 AP nymphs, stoneflies, Birdsnests, Hare’s Ears, Glo Bugs and Zug Bugs that fish will eat in a wide array of conditions.
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.
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.
One of my favorite stream trout methods for browns is to cast Muddler Minnows, smolt patterns and dark bunny leeches. 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.
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 a Wooly Bugger, Zonker or Matuka 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.
For general spin-fly purposes, I like a 5- to 6-foot stick for small overgrown streams and a7 to 8 footer on larger rivers and lakes. The 7 1/2-foot TSR 901-2 by GLoomis is pretty slick. This 5 1/2-foot St. Croix Trout Series rod is a bit cheaper.
On small waters, a 1- to 4-pound line rating is fine but I’ll usually bump that up to the 2- to 6-pound range when working areas where there may be bigger fish.
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 SY500FL Symetre FL. Line choice is dictated by the style of fishing you plan to do. For fishing dries or dead-drifting nymphs, go with a light-gauge braid in the 4- to 8-pound class; for all else, 2- to 6-pound mono will do the trick.
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 outline above help you improve you scores this spring and summer. And you don’t need to spend a fortune to get started.