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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
Francesco Pietra says
In order to have an invisible buoyant bubble, it should be built with material having the same refractive index as salt water, like fluorocarbon. Any other common plastics do not meet these requirements.In addition, what we see might not be directly transferable to what a trout sees. That said, probably cork + lead or tungsten is better than any other buoyant device for flyspin; cork is similar to what a trout can meet.
I’m saying that without any experience with flyspin. I am based in Italy, Lucca, an over polluted town (mutagenic and cancerous oily aerosols from the flues of so many restaurants, I am directly suffering from that). In this overcrowded region, torrents see their waters taken by so many electricity power plants, so that we are left to only the highest parts of the torrents, with very small trouts.
Italians believe to have invented flyspin, by building flies with both lead and buoyant material together. Huge size, never tried by myself. There is a commercial activity around, as I can see from Internet. Given the extreme difficulty to find a dry fly that can work in your area, I strongly doubt that such Italian flies will ever work.
I read this blog with interest, surely I’ll try the described flyspin, with cork+lead, however. As to the legal question, in Austria any other equipment than classical fly fishing with only dry fly is not accepted where fly fishing is imposed (spinning is not accepted on torrents or rivers with salmon waters). As to Italy I am not informed to this regard.
Sorry to hear about how crowded and polluted your rivers are! We are seeing a lot of that here in the US too!
Joshua Simonson says
I went and bought all the fishing gear required for the dry fly fishing techniques except the rod and reel I’d need for this fly fishing on a spinning reel and rod combo, I’m eyeing this combo https://www.purefishing.com/products/gx2-spinning-combo-1293452?variant=34572589301893 I think the 7 foot ultra light one should do the trick, tell me what you think!
Anyone try fishing beaded nymph jigs on ultralight or light JDM spinning tackle? Thinking a 7.5ft – 8.5ft Light Game rod would work perfect with such finesse jigs?
Joe Evans says
That is an excellent way to fish, and you have it exactly right; it essentially is jigging, just with nymphs! I use a 7-footer and 2lb P-line fluorocarbon on a Mitchell 308, and with even very light beadhead nymphs (sizes 10-14 with only a brass bead and no lead wire wrap or copper ribbing), I am getting 10-15 yards of casting distance. I won’t say what pattern I used, but this is how I broke the Idaho Catch-and-Release Golden Trout record this summer
Oh wow what a gorgeous fish!!!Congrats!! And you used an old school Mitchell 308. How cool!
That’s awesome Joe Evans! CONGRATULATIONS!
A bit late but I’m perfecting my spinning nymph technique. 6’10 Olympic Corto solid tip spinning rod with 4lb Seaguar fluorocarbon. Tying up euro competition flies, essentially beaded jig nymphs.
I’ve been experimenting back and forth between spinning and fly fishing for trout in small southern Appalachian streams for a couple years. I’m trying to get the fly rod to work, but it just seems like the spinning rod has all the mechanical advantages, even with flies. I have a really good setup that allows me to cast really light weights. I have a 6′ rod, light action. Ultralight action seems to kill the distance. I use fireline #4 test with a fluoro leader tied with a J-Knot. The crystal cast seems way too heavy for me. It makes a huge splash. I use a small foam float with the plastic insert. That’s more than enough weight for me to cast on small streams. Also I’ve been rigging my dry fly first and then tying another 2 feet of line to the hook bend of the fly and then attaching the bobber. This has several advantages. One is that the fly lands separate from the bobber. When I rig bobber first, my fly tends to land directly on top of the bobber. Another advantage is that the hookset is quicker. When you fish the bobber first you have to pull in the bobber, then slack until you finally can set the hook. I haven’t tried it yet but I think tight lining nymphs (no bobber) would really work well. Rig a couple nymphs in tandem and then tie a 1/64 ounce cone weight on the end, just like I described with the bobber. If you cast upstream you should be able to get a good drift right along the bottom, even in varying currents and depths.
CR, that’s a really cool tip. Thanks!!
Does anyone recall seeing, what appeared to be a very compact shooting head, and is for casting flies on spinning gear? I’ve seen this product not too long ago and would like to give it a try, but i can’t remember what it’s called.
Oh yeah!! I totally remember those. Never tried one and, sadly, can’t remember what they were called. SpinFly or something maybe???
I use a longer spinning rod (10′) ultralight spinning reel (butt mounted) spooled with 10# braid. Attach a 30′ shooting head to the braid via tiny swivel. Loop on 9′ tapered leader. Just open the bail and cast as you would a fly rod. Retrieve the braided line with the reel not by hand.
Is it legal to use flies with spin reel in fly fishing only waters for trout? I have done this in the past but thought I would ask.
It really depends on the regulations for individual waters. In some cases…yes. Other spots: no.
If you do, make sure you have absolutely ZERO non-fly lures on your person. I haven’t been brave enough to try this myself, yet! I would think the lures would be the ticker. I have some 3-5 inch streamers that I’m going to be hitting the waters as we move deeper into fall. So we’ll see what gives. The closest I’ve come to it is size 0 Joe’s Flies spinners, the smallest they make. Have had surprising success catching natives with them.
I use Crystal Casts here in Victoria, Australia and found them great for casting to fish that are mockingly just out of my fly rod range. I like also that I can just take along a spinning outfit and have a choice of lure, fly or bait fishing. A fine product.
Kim Callahan says
I took up fly fishing about 20 years ago. Though I enjoy it, I have to say for me personally, I have far more success fly fishing with a spinning rod and all the techniques mentioned in this article. To me fishing is fishing, regardless of the method employed. This past fall I fished the Black Hills of South Dakota. I started out with my fly rod but was having little success. Probably because I’m not masterful at it. Switching over to the spinning rod yielded immediate results. One of the deadliest was using a nymph attached to a slip-bobber. Within five seconds of every cast I was hitting on rainbows that averaged 15″ in length. My best was a 22 ” Brown, using a casting bubble and a #16 Adams Dry Fly. My equipment is a 5’6″ light spinning rod using 4 lbs test. I attach 5X tippet to all my dry flies and those I use with a slip bobber. Not only is this an effective way to fish trout, it’s heck of a lot of fun too. Kim Callahan
Cool…thanks for sharing, Kim~
CHUCK SMALLISH says
EXCELLENT INFO FOR SPIN CASTING WITH FLYS. I BOUGHT A CRYSTAL CLEAR FLOAT I THINK IT WILL WORK BETTERIN THE SPRING AND SUMMER
Great! Let us know how it goes!
A purple egg sucking leech with a tiny splitshot on 4lb test on a spinning setup works great on a drift to swing on the lower American River for half-pound catch and release steelies without hurting them with treble hooked tackle. Indicator nymphing has been working for me as well but I find it tough to float from the bank without a really long rod. Oh…and pikeminnow will hit your bead-head prince nymph! Disappointing that it isn’t a steelie but still a fun fight
CHUCK SMALLISH says
I RECIEVED AN REPLY FROM YOU BUT YOU DID NOT ANSWER MY QUESTION OF WHERE CAN I BUY A CSYSTALCAST BOOBER. PLEASE HELP ME OUT
CHUCK SMALLISH says
WHERE CAN I BUY A CRYSTAL CAST BOOBER. I LIVE IN WISCONSIN AND CANNOT FIND ONE INCLUDING BASS PRO.
Look up Rainbow A-Just-A Bubble (Bobber)
That is how I use to fly fish all the time. Then moved up to a fly rod. Now I use a tenkara rod (Simple). Although, when it comes to steelhead/salmon I’ll use a spinning rod with with my AWESOME flies!
This is some awesome info i just started fishing I’m 29 i live in Reno NV and i fish the Truckee River on I 80 heading east theres some cool videos on youtube if you’ve never fished or heard of it. Anyways my question was what would be the best type of fly to use on a slow to mild fast moving river theres a lot of good deep pools but the section i fish is mostly all 2 to 8 feet maybe 12
Hi, for lakes I am targeting big trout deeper clearer waters. Do I use a slidding bobber? or just the fly and the split shot? people get nice sized limits trolling, but I don’t want to troll deep lake: 6 colors late spring in summer 9 colors.
I’d use the fly with weight attached 24″ above it
thanks..the man at the fly store tried to get me to use a water filled bubble but it makes too much of a splashing noise..Yeah I will be in a raft so f I hit some nice drop offs I may have some luck no bobber for nymping and streamers right? In the mornings I see hella surface feeding activity dry fly right? and crystal cast.
Yep. Good luck!
dr. dan twardzik says
fricken awesome information for me to use fishing for cutthroat trout and silver salmon on Puget Sound beach in front of my home…..can’t wait to order Kianas book and find out where to get a clear water crystal cast.. Yahoo.. I stunk with my fly rod now I know I will catch some salmon on the run 20 feet from shore at incoming tides..just fricken awesome…dan
Cool… Glad you liked it!!
Where are you putting the slipshots in relation to the nymph and float?
Kevin, it depends on how deep the water is but generally closer to the fly than the float.
PJ Walker says
Right on dudes! I have fly fished since i was four in montana. During the recent horrid drought years fish look at my fly line and said….. really man! Started droppin flies on a 6’6 light spin rod with great luck. oooooh gettin hard thinkin of it. Live in colorado now and have gone back to my feather tosser gear, but to you all who use flies on spin gear, kick ass!!!!!!! BTW mepps #0 on fly gear is deadly.
Thanks for that Hugh, I looked it up at Bass Pro, and it looks to be a fine combination. I am presently using a 12 foot Okuma noodle rod for indicator nymphing, but it being 12 feet long, it gets a little bit arkward at times, and I’m looking for something a little shorter. Is there anyone here that is using a noodle rod for indicator nymphing, what length are you using, and how are you getting along with it ? I am not accostomed to using such a limber rod with so little backbone. Maybe I just need to get use to it ? What do y’all think ?
Hugh, if it’s not too much trouble, sure, why don’t you list that Bass Pro rod number here. Much appreciated, thank you.
GLAD TO JIM, HERE IT IS ML80MLS-2 THATS THE 8 FT. ALSO COMES 8.5 AND 9 FT. I USE A PFLUEGER TRION ULTRALITE REEL AND IT MAKES A GREAT INEXPENSIVE COMBO; GOOD LUCK AND GREAT FISHING. HUGH
Just wanted to say this info is dead on. Where I live there are many ponds and streams. Ive een fishing spin tackle with flies for years and can tell you that although others have looked at me like im crazy I have caught more fish like this then on any other lure. Ive caught trout, panfish, bass on big streamers and chain pickeral. Thought I was the only one doing it. Glad to see others thinking outside the box. Tight lines – nick
Let me understand you correctly, you are using a spinning reel on a fly rod ? Doesn’t the line jam up in the guides ?
JIM, THIS IS ACTUALLY A SPIN ROD SET UP TO FISH JIGS OR FLYS. THE ROD IS AVAILABLE IN 4 LENGTHS UP TO 9 1/2 FT. IF YOU WOULD LIKE THE BASS PRO PART NOS. I’LL BE GLAD TO SEND THEM TO YOU.
BEST COMBO I HAVE PUT TOGETHER SO FAR IS A 8 1/2 FT FLOAT AND FLY ROD BY BASS PRO AND A PFLUEGER TRION ULTRA-LITE REEL WITH EITHER 2 OR 4 PD TEST. CASTING IS SMOOTH WITH PLENTY OF AXTION, AS FAR AS A FLOAT GOS. TRY A CLEAR BUBBLE FLOAT THAT YOU CAN ADD WATER TO FOR MORE OR LESS WEIGHT. -___HAPPY NEW YEAR TO EVERYONE
Bought the same rig, except I went for the 9.5 rod. Been killing stocker rainbows with small spoons. I second your recommendation.
What kind of bobber would you recommend for trout fishing nymphs on a very clear, fast moving stream ? Can you please show me a picture of it, and where can I purchase it? I’m using an ultra lite rod, and 2-4 lb test florocarbon tied directly to the fly, and would like the bobber to be able to slide along it to adjust the depth of the fly.
Thank you – Jim
I’d probably go with a Thill Mini Shy Bite. Google it and you’ll find ’em. Good luck!
Chris Kiana Sr. says
The new 64 complete spinning rod cast – bobber/fly book can be purchased here. All I know is not many people have outfished me in the past four decades of perfecting the spin-cast bobber-fly techniques. Last time out, I caught and released last fall on one day, over 60 grayling, and the next day, over 50. I was casting in a crystal clear-water stream that was chest deep in spots and 100′ across. This works in deep rivers/lakes/streams/creeks. I could easily cast 100′-150′ upstream, easily and effortlessly over fly-rod fishing. This works equally well on trout in streams where I tried them in WY, CO, UT in streams and lakes. This should work anywhere there is fish who hit flies on or near the surface.
FANTASTIC, I TIE MY OWN FLYS BUT FISH MOSTLY ULTRALITE AND MICRO LITE SPIN GEAR. I HAVEN’T TRIED THE BUBBLE FLOAT BUT WILL DO SO SOON.
Fly fishing may or may not be easy depending on individual experience, but spin fishing with a fly has many advantages; easier access to the water, no need for back casting, more effective on windy days, and one can switch back and forth between flies, spinning lures, and even bait if you want to. I used an 8 foot 6 wt fly rod blank for my current spinning rod, casts like a dream, and playing the fish is a lot of fun.
Tom S. says
Hey, great post!
In the 2nd picture with the caption …”The Crystal Cast is a great bobber for dry fly fishing with a spinning rod!” What is the name of the dry fly that’s to the RIGHT of the yellow-humpy (the 3rd one from left to right)???
Tom, honestly, I can’t remember. I went to the garage and looked in my box. Whatever it was is loooooooong gone!
I’m new(ish) to fishing at 32 years of age. Since I’ve already invested in spinning gear (and practice) this info has me excited.
Thanks very much!
Cool, Iain. Glad to help!
David Mc Connell says
Retired and living in the Northern Ireland I have just taken up fly fishing again after a long period of absence. As to spinning with a fly, this is the mfirst time I have come across this. I yave never seen such as thing as a Bubble in any of the tackle shops I have been in. Is there anything else one can use instead of a bubble such as
a split weight?
buy the bobbers on line or try a cork or Styrofoam In Utah i like useing a wooly bugger and worms. works for me. Good luck
Chris Kiana Sr. says
My 64 page instructional book is titled Kiana’s Cast and is getting to print mode; I will have books by mid-July or the end of July. In it, I perfected particular ways to fish in lakes and rivers and streams, whether bank fishing or in a boat. I got the Crystal Cast. My main concern is how far I can cast it. With the bead-head nymph and a bobber half-ful of water, I can cast over 100 feet. I prefer to use a shorter lead line, rather than 5’+ of leader line. I have this technique down to a T, after experimenting for 57+ years on the bobber. Thank for the crystal cast. I will use them in two weeks. My fishing buddy is fishing one lake away from the lake we go to – it is still full of ice. 2 more wks.
Chris Kiana Sr. says
It is now Oct. 24, 2011. I have the book at http://www.amazon.com if you want to take a look at it, but in a couple of more weeks, I will have a webpage site on it. I am going to see if I can get paypal set-up on it so you and other interested bobber fishermen can print out a copy or order the book online to be mailed to you.
Those are some nice looking trout. I didn’t know you could use a colored float when trout fishing. I have always been under the impression that clear float would some how be invisible trout.
The water bubble is great to fish with snow flies in the winter and early spring. Tie on two no.#18 or 20 size snow flies and let it sweep accross the river or behind a deverson damn.
cool stuff, but fly rod’s are easy to use,man
I just started fly fishing this year and I agree it’s easy, but I was looking up spin-fly fishing for one purpose…to take my son out with me. He’s only 4, so he can’t exactly cast a fly rod, and the lake I’m taking him to is artificial flies and lures only, so I was trying to find a way to make it work for him. That’s the best reason for me.
g pollock says
Ive found that most people that say fly fishing is easy are either terrible at fly fishing or pay to have a guide bring them to a place and show them where and how to catch fish. Ive been fly fishing for about thirteen years now and im not arogant enough to say ive perfected it and that its easy. Fly fishing with a reel looks like a technique that would make it easier to do so i think its pretty cool