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Fly Fishing

Fly or Spin Casting, Why the Rift?

I, like many kids who grew up in Maine, remember looking for worms at night in the garden (a battle in its own right), waking up the next day to fish small creeks with a small spin casting pole, chasing native brook trout with my father. My upbringing formed my initial fishing style and because my father was not a fly fisherman, neither was I. I assume if he only fly fished, I would have followed accordingly. As I aged, I continued using several spin casting rigs, branching out throwing soft plastics for small mouth bass in the Penobscot river, meps style spinners for trout on the Little Androscoggin river, and fire tiger blades for pike in Sabattus Pond. I thought there was no better way to fish, until I picked up a fly rod. For the past decade, I have not used a spinning reel, incessantly reaching for my fly rod. So, I’ve swapped my bobber and worm for a dry fly and floating line. Nothing against the spinning rods and reels gathering dust in my attack, I just prefer fly fishing. That’s where I am in my life. My route is not uncommon for fly fisherman. Why don’t more kids start out fly fishing? Well, it’s not easy to keep the attention of a six-year-old when you aren’t catching fish. Spin cast anglers usually catch more fish, and for a younger child, that is really what fishing is all about. As anglers age, catching fish seems to become less important and enjoying the intricacies of wildlife and tranquility push themselves to the front. Now, at age 28, after reflecting on all my fishing exploits, something I’ve noticed, between fly and spin casting anglers, that truly troubles me, is the repugnance between fly and spin casting anglers. Where does it come from?

I’ve seen too many fly anglers grin and scowl at spin casting anglers who occupy the same stretches of water. Similarly, I’ve seen many spin cast anglers look at fly anglers with unsettled glares, evil enough to frighten the most hardened of Mainers. I know, because I’ve been on both sides, sending and receiving. So, what is it about the two groups that don’t click? I know personally, I could care less if someone is fishing with a rope, rod, fly, or stick, but undeniably, there exists a rift between the two groups. What’s odd about the rift, is that both groups ultimately share the same goal. Even more odd, they can occupy the same space, during the same times, targeting the same species, sometimes using the same imitations! The San Juan worm, a commonly used fly pattern, imitates a worm, which many spin cast anglers use to fool trout. It’s clear to me, that spin cast and fly anglers are two apples from the same tree, but to some it’s not, and here is why.

There are several fronts that have created a breach between the two groups, starting with area. What I mean by area is the surrounding space you give fellow fisherman. Fly fishing requires ample space as your cast requires an aerial display, whereas a rod and reel angler can simply flick their wrist and launch their lure further than even the most talented fly angler. Fly fisherman, knowing the space they need, typically space themselves out, giving each other ample room to navigate a cast and drift. Spin cast anglers don’t need the aerial room, nor the space to drift, as they simple cast and retrieve. Many fly fishers perceive the closeness of a spin casting angler as intrusive, but it’s not. Rod and reel anglers simply don’t think about how much casting or drifting room is necessary for a fellow angler because they don’t need it, so why would they? I know it wasn’t a thought that crossed my head until I picked up a fly rod. Are fly anglers asking for too much room? Probably, I know I don’t like it when another fisherman is within 100’ of me, even though my casts seldom get to that distance. Are rod and reel fisherman too obtrusive at times? Probably, I know I’ve tried to sneak a cast in where I probably shouldn’t have. I always say a conversation can go a long way and thought, if anglers just talked to one another, there would never be an unhappy sole on a river.

Another schism is the act of casting itself. I will say, casting a fly can present challenges, which can cause major frustration at times. When I look over and see a spin casting angler toss their lure 100’ with the flick of a wrist in 20 mph winds and crank a trout in with no effort, I at times think, where’s the challenge? But what I don’t think is, let me put myself in that angler’s shoes, because ultimately, what I think, doesn’t matter. Casting a fly takes years of practice to master, where as a rod and reel cast could be perfected in a matter of minutes. Somehow, the level of work makes the art of fly fishing more prestigious and gratifying, which undoubtedly makes spin fishing a lesser sport. If this were true, our government officials would be regarded as waste collectors and our waste collectors as supreme leaders. For me, the level of difficulty does not dictate a spot on the totem pole. The art of casting for both fly fishing and spin angling present challenges, have their benefits and weaknesses, and are equal on many fronts. Some might disagree with this, probably fly anglers, but I challenge them to skip a rubber worm under 20’ of low lying branches with a baitcaster on the first try.

The last major estrangement between the two groups I will discuss is the public view, which is the real driving force between this distasteful engagement. There are no spin casting only waters, where conversely, there exists fly fishing only waters (FFO). The fact that there exists special arrangements for fly anglers, can only lead to a divide. But why is there special arrangements? The answer is a tough pill to swallow for fly anglers; spin casting anglers catch more fish and thus, put much more pressure on a fishery than fly fisherman. The extra pressure can cause a fishery to collapse if the stress is too great, a critical breaking point if you will. So, better to be safe than sorry on Maine’s most pristine trout and salmon waters. But even more than fishing regulations, is how your mother, grandmother, or neighbor view fly fishing and spin casting. Fly anglers are revered to have some greater or higher connection with nature and understanding of fish and their environment, while spin casting anglers are prospected as having the sole goal of catching fish and nothing else. Both of these claims are absolutely bogus general views that consume the greater public. Neither is true. I’ve met plenty of fly fisherman who can’t cast and end up hooking themselves more often than a fish. I’ve also met many spin casting anglers who are well educated and value ecology and the natural world as much as Ernest Hemingway. What I think it boils down to, is that spin casters are not immersed in the art of fly fishing enough and fly anglers are so immersed in their own sport, that they forget the nuances and intricacies of spin casting. There are many similarities between the two, enough so that there should never be any turmoil between them. Believe it or not, we are all people, and as far as anglers go, all enjoy catching fish.

There are many other tension causing fronts, like lure selection (a piece of metal vs natural fibers), the fight (reeling in and letting the drag do the work vs playing the fish by feel) and respective costs to name a few. To be blunt, spin cast anglers are viewed as blue collar, where fly fisherman, white collar. Another dispute, not only in the fishing world, but our general society. Almost all of the stereotypes spin and fly anglers have are incorrect and it is unfortunate, particularly for the fish. If more spin and fly fishing anglers could see eye to eye, more progress in creating healthier fisheries could undeniably get accomplished. Ultimately, that’s what all anglers want, healthier fisheries. Will there continue to be disunion between spin casting and fly anglers? As long as egg sacks in little mesh bags are allowed to be used, fly anglers will always look down on spin casting as a lesser mean to catch fish and as long as fly anglers will continue to spend ridiculous amounts of money to catch a 12” stocked fish, spin casting anglers will look at fly fishing with perpetual confusion.

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