The Argument for Conventional Tackle

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Photo by Chad LaChance.

I love to fly fish. Been doing it since I was 12 years old, am decent at it  and I have about 15 fly rods in my collection. I’ve tied flies (for money even), own all the assorted fly gadgets and have caught everything from snook and redfish, to bass and walleyes, to trout and grayling, all on feathers and fur. Geez, I even live in Colorado…how much more fly is there than that?

But this is my argument for conventional tackle…yep, even the fly fishing community needs spin-polers.

Just about all fly anglers have a closet full of skeletons in the form of a spin fishing background.  For some it was a regional thing; perhaps they grew up in traditional bass fishing country or on the salty stuff where conventional angling dominates the time on water, and only took up fly fishing after moving “out West”. Similarly, other more casual anglers took up fly fishing just because they found themselves in trout country and fly tackle is stereotypically how you catch them.  Still others dabbled in “garden hackle” fishin’ as a kid and drifted away from the sport entirely while girls, cars, college and jobs took a priority. They came back to angling as a fly fisher, presumably looking for an escape from day-to-day life. Regardless of how or why they got to the “silly stick with spaghetti string”, their introduction to fishing occurred very likely with a Zebco 202, monofilament line and a tasty morsel of some sort impaled on a barbed hook hanging under a red and white bobber.

In short, if you’re a fly angler that can honestly say that you began your fishing habit with a fly rod in hand, you are a one-percenter, statistically speaking. And that is the root, or at least one of the major roots, of my argument for conventional tackle.

While it may not seem so on a busy Saturday morning on the water, fishing needs more participants. Our demographic is getting older and recruitment of new anglers to fill those aging waders simply isn’t happening fast enough. Fly fishing, as a sub-category of angling (though I can’t stand that fishing has categories in the first place…aren’t we all simply anglers?) especially needs new blood. It’s well known within the industry that fly fishing participation peaked around the mid 90’s as Americans were reminded of the sport’s allure by “A River Runs Through it.” The stagnation in angling participation numbers is worrisome from the conservation standpoint; when people no longer feel value in a resource, they will no longer protect it. Anglers (and hunters), more than all others, see the true value in the outdoor traditions and are the first to protect the woods, waters and wildlife they contain.

Notice I didn’t say the sport needs fly anglers, rather that the sport needs anglers, period…all kinds of anglers. We need more people buying fishing tackle, all kinds of tackle, to generate excise taxes for resource management. We need them buying licenses, visiting rural towns built on the outdoors, and working with various conservation groups for not only their core cause, but recruitment as well. Well, if the majority of fly guys started with spinning gear, why not come full circle? Let’s recruit conventional anglers…the fly fishers will evolve from those that we successfully hook on our sport.

I’ve been teaching angling professionally for more than 12 years and volunteered to teach kids for another decade or so prior. Do you know what is paramount to the enjoyment of their first couple of attempts at fishing? Catching fish and the ensuing grip-n-grin. These days Americans of all ages expect and demand success, and despite Thoreau’s aphorism that it’s not really the fish we’re after, at least in our early experiences, it IS all about the fish. So let’s catch fishermen and fish as simply as possible; people will always find a way to complicate it themselves.

A barrier to entering any new sport is equipment and it’s no secret that good fly tackle ain’t cheap when compared to good conventional tackle. Sure, conventional tackle can get expensive (just ask my wife…) but to get a newb off the couch and into that grip-n-grin is cheaper and less complicated with a simple spinning rod combo that can be purchased at any big box store and even some gas stations. That simple first rig, along with some easy access bluegill or stocker rainbow fishing, has probably resulted in more hardened fly fishermen than the fly industry would like to admit.

Recruitment aside, there is another great and somewhat related argument for conventional tackle; catching fish is fun. Fishing professionally for as long as I have has convinced me that many anglers lose sight of that simple fact. One of my favorite emails to receive, and I get them commonly, is from a guy that has solely fly fished for the last 15-20 years and recently rediscovered the challenge and joys conventional angling after watching “Fishful Thinker TV.” We preach to use the best tool for the job–given the conditions–and in many cases conventional tackle will keep you catching when you’d otherwise struggle. High muddy rivers, heavy wind or deep fish all come to mind as cases where good spinning rod skills and the appropriate lures will keep you grinning. I watched a fly guy have a total melt down at North Delaney Buttes one time after battling the the North Park “breeze” for a constantly tangled hour, culminating in tossing his fly rod in the lake. If he had just calmly set his fly rod aside, picked up a spinning rod and skillfully tossed a jig instead, he would have caught fish, one after the other, just like we were instead of needing therapy.

I want to close with a misconception that needs debunking; that conventional angling is easy. Maybe so when soaking live or dead bait, but to master presenting artificial lures well is an endeavor on par with mastering fly tackle I assure you, and I have thoroughly enjoyed watching skilled fly guys flail when handed my light spinning rod after commenting on how easy it simply must be. A highly skilled spin angler is thing of beauty; casting accuracy, line control, pinpoint presentations, depth control and understanding lure nuances are all hallmarks of  skilled conventional angler. And if you study both angling styles with an open mind, you’ll find that each makes you better at the other.

The case for conventional angling, even in a state known for its trout fishing, is strong; it’s a great way to get people hooked on fishing and also ensures that each and every outing has the highest chance for a satisfactory result, regardless of adverse conditions. Some may argue that fly fishing is the pinnacle of angling, and it may well be, but the mountain is built with conventional tackle and thus its importance to the sport cannot be overstated.


Written by Chad LaChance. LaChance owns and operates Fishful Thinker, a TV show, blog and guide service in Colorado.

8 comments

  • Thanks for a great post. I saw myself in your writing having been brought up on conventional tackle. Being from PA with its remote trout waters I did try a number of times to become proficient at fly fishing but alas I guess I am just not coordinated enough to master it. As an Alaskan fishing guide I tried unsuccessfully to master it because a number of my clients came to fly fish and were dumbfounded when I remarked i knew little of their avocation.

    • I am not sure that one needs to be very coordinated to fly fish. A couple of hints. You are casting the line and not the fly. The line weight is selected to bend or load the rod while casting. In order to load the rod it is necessary to have a certain amount of fly line off the end of the rod to get the proper weight. Keep the rod high on both the forward and back cast so the rod can bend with the weight of the line. Don’t bend your wrist. Allow sufficient time for the rod to bend on the back cast just like the forward cast. Once you understand that the line gets its distance by bending the rod, kind of like a bow, then you will master it. Ask a local fly shop or another fly angler to watch you cast and give some pointers. But if you don’t find this enjoyable then spin rod fishing may be your thing and it has its challenges also as Chad says. If fly fishing is important to your guiding business then it may be worth the effort to learn and maybe it will become your passion like it is for me.

    • Thanks Pete. One of the beauties of angling is that we can each participate however we’d like…sounds like you’ve done just fine with your conventional gear! CL

  • Great article, Chad. I grew up with the Zebco 202, red and white bobber over a morsel – minnow or nightcrawler – on the mill ponds of central Wisconsin. I just took a trip back there with my son and we fished as many rivers as we could. We just got into fly fishing and he’s already tying his own flies, but we always take spincast reels (we’ve moved up to the Zebco 33s) along. We belly boated North Delaney Butte a couple weekends ago and are going to Red Feather Lakes this weekend, where we ice fished a few times last winter with a friend of his from Texas. I agree that we need to cultivate the next generation of anglers, and I ‘m trying by telling a few of my own stories, with some luck in the magazine and blog world. I’d love to get your opinion.
    Thanks again for a great post. I enjoy your show and columns as well. Keep it up!

  • No, fly fishing is NOT sterotypically how you catch trout. I would bet that “conventional” fishing for trout outnumbers fly fishing by several times. Love your show!

  • OMFG, have you not to the S Platte, below and above Deckers in the past few years, especially on the nicer days, or what?! It’s standing room only with “fisherman”! I’m a long time all and everything Colorado fisherman and State Record holder, and had started out with the Zebco, split shot, hocks and fireballs early in my trout career, but have fly fished for trout exclusively since the age of 16 and now I’m 50. The damage to the fish a spinner does is an F’d up sad sight to see! Fish how you want to fish, by any LEGAL means set forth by the Division, but just because it’s legal don’t make it ethical. I’m not the only person that sees it this way, the local/area officials wish certain rules/laws weren’t the way they are either.

  • This article is silly. It’s a forgone conclusion that 99 percent of anglers will learn how to fish using bait and lures. That’s a given. However, the goal should be to move these new anglers to more conservation minded fishing techniques as soon as possible. Fly fishing is the best way to release fish back to the water safely. Treble hooks cause too much damage to a fish’s mouth and jaw. We have too many people moving to this state. The resource cannot handle the tremendous angling pressure. We need more anglers practicing catch and release. Fly fishing is, by far, the best way to do that.

    • I started out with a fly rod as a kid fishing with Grandpa in Colo. Switched to spin at 16. Tried fly this year. Not so good . Used Clear bubble & Pistal Petes. Did well.Easy on fish. I am 70. Reason I switched at 16 was Lived inthe texas Gulf coast.

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