In the Pacific Northwest, rivers and lakes abound, the fishing world’s greatest debate is “spinner or fly?” The long-time rivalry between spin fishermen and fly fishermen comes from two distinctly different approaches to rippin’ lip. Though many reasons divide anglers, the skill of fishing is a rewarding, life-long pursuit.
Fly Versus Spin
Chances are that the fishing pole you used at Grandpa’s cabin was a spin rod. Many anglers find their way into fishing through spin fishing since it is generally less nuanced than fly fishing. Spin fishing is a go-to for river or lake fishing, and salt-water fishing as well.
Fly fishermen fashion artificial bait, modeled after insects, on a lightweight fly rod. This more-challenging form of fishing is often used on freshwater rivers and is effective for catching trout, salmon, and other freshwater species. Fly fishing is a sport that values the challenge of the catch.
The most identifiable difference between spin fishing and fly fishing is the cast. Fly fishing is iconic for its false cast, where the angler essentially makes two, smooth casts: a back cast followed by a forward cast, “bending” the rod mid-air and flicking it forward as the line slides out. The angler repeats this motion to draw out the line, lengthening the cast.
Alternatively, spin fishermen use a single cast to send out their line. The bale of the reel should be set open, allowing the reel to release line, the fisherman then tilts the rod and flicks it forward to send out the cast.
Consider This: Spin rods tend to catch line as much as they do fish, meaning that the line can twist as it’s reeled back in. Investing in braided line can help mediate this. Always flip your bale by hand to avoid twist.
Spin fishing and fly fishing use two different baiting systems. Spin fishermen set their lines with live bait, synthetic bait, or lures. These attractants float or sink, whereas flies remain on the water’s surface. Fly styles vary, ranging from dry flies, wet flies and minnows, to nymphs, meant to mimic different insect hatches that fish naturally eat during a particular season.
Consider This: Researching insect hatches on the river you choose to fish will help you decide the best fly to use. For example, Mother’s Day in May brings about a caddisfly hatch on the McKenzie and Willamette Rivers. Try your hand picking a fly—a great Oregon go-to is the elk-hair caddis.
Catch or Release
One of the most significant differences between spin and fly fishing is the angler’s stance on catch-and-release. Many spin fishermen and women fish to catch and keep. Though anglers on both sides may practice this, fly fishing is often more about the art of catching fish. From an ethical standpoint, fish mortality rates remain high post-release, so the fishing world is divided on whether catch-and-release methods are any more humane than catching and keeping a limit.
A benefit to spin fishing is that a basic rod and reel setup is only about $100, give or take. Fly-fishing gear is going to cost a bit more. For beginners, try borrowing a rod from a friend or demoing something from a shop to determine if this style of fishing is a good fit before investing in your own gear.
For either style, you can’t go wrong with purchasing a good pair of waders and wading boots to keep your feet dry in cold water. Fishing with waders will allow ambitious anglers to get off the bank, fish where there’s less pressure, and explore the holes where truly monstrous hogs are hiding.
License and Regs
With the exception of “free weekends,”—when Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) waives requirements—all anglers 12-years-old and up, fishing in Oregon are required by law to have an angling license. Licenses are available for day, multi-day, or seasonal durations, resident and nonresident options.
Special tags impose limits on the number of fish you can catch and keep. Called Hatchery Harvest Tags or Combined Angling Tags, these are required to keep salmon, steelhead, sturgeon, and halibut. Certain bodies of water also have specific regulations, so be sure to check in with ODFW or a local tackle shop to be sure you’re prepared before you go.
Springtime in Oregon means that rivers will be blown out—or brown from sediment dredged up as runoff melts and water tables rise—making for fast water and poor fishing conditions. Though the Willamette and McKenzie rivers can offer excellent fishing in the summer and fall, springtime beginners will be better off learning in standing waters.
Fern Ridge Reservoir, Orchard Point Park—Mainstem Willamette
Boasting the largest body of water west of the Willamette River, Fern Ridge is host to a variety of warmwater fish and provides good access for fishermen on the bank or in non-motorized craft.
Fish: Crappie, bass, bluegill, bullhead, warmouth, carp
Access: Year-round (seasonal wildlife closures)
Extras: Boat ramp, marina, camping, birding
Fall Creek Reservoir, Fall Creek State Recreation Area —Middle Fork Willamette
A spin fisherman’s delight, the Fall Creek Reservoir is a stillwater body perfect for catching trout. Mostly open banks when the water is low make for good fly casting, too.
Fish: Trout, bass, crappie
Access: May – September (snow closures)
Extras: Boat ramp, primitive camp sites, potable water
Scott Lake, Willamette National Forest—Upper McKenzie
This serene high-cascade lake is accessible by car and offers access to additional hike-to-fish lakes with incredible views of the Three Sisters.
Access: June – September (snow closures)
Extras: Primitive camping, hiking trail access
When choosing between fly fishing and spin fishing, think about what you hope to get out of the experience and how much time you want to invest in learning. Though both are fundamentally about getting outside and catching fish, the two types of fishing truly differ. If putting a fish on the dinner table is your end goal or you’re a beginner, then spin fishing just might be the better bet. And though the learning curve is higher for fly fishing, there is no better Zen than floating a fly down the river, taking in all that nature offers.