Fly Fishing vs Regular Fishing: Which One Is for You?

Fly Fishing vs Regular Fishing

Fly fishing is a form of art, and according to passionate fly fishermen, it is the only real form of fishing.

You may, or may not, agree with this statement, but the truth is that other techniques have a lot in common with each other, while fly fishing is completely different.

Although very adventurous, fly fishing offers a bit less possibilities when it comes to different fish species, because just specific ones can be caught on flies.

In fly fishing equipment is completely different, lures too, and the technique itself requires a lot of practice. Fly reels are there just to accommodate the line, lines are weighted, and you must choose among hundreds of flies to match the real ones. If you like to challenge yourself, and have enough time to really dedicate yourself to fishing, then fly fishing may be the best option.

By trying it once a year on a vacation, you won`t gain enough experience to be successful, and that is why recreational anglers hesitate when it comes to fly fishing. But there is no reason not to try, and there is no reason why you couldn’t enjoy both regular and fly fishing.

Comparing fly fishing vs regular fishing may seem like comparing apples and oranges, however, knowing the differences may be useful for those who are not sure what kind of fishing would they like to try.

So, if you are in doubt, read the following chapters to see what kind of fishing suits you better.



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Fast Table Review: Fly Fishing vs Regular Fishing

For those who just want to see a quick comparison, without reading the details, here is a chart where you can see the differences among these techniques.

Available fish species Trout, salmon, grayling, bass, pike, and some saltwater species All popular game fish species
Cost of equipment More expensive Less expensive
Complexity of the technique Complicated Fairly easy
Suitable waters Mostly moving waters, but can be done on lakes too All waters
Lines Heavy (there is no lure weight to pull them out) Light (lure/bait weight is used to pull the line out)
Rods Specialized fly rods (very lightweight) All other rod types (spinning, casting, match, float…)
Reels Fly reels – no gears, they just accommodate the line Wide selection of different reel types and features
Lures Very light flies Wide selection of natural and artificial baits and lures
Lure presentation Mostly topwater and slightly below the surface, upstream presentation Can be presented at all depths

Detailed Review: Fly Fishing vs Regular Fishing

As you can see from the previous chart, fly fishing equipment is a lot different than regular one, and that makes the largest difference. Of course, the equipment influences the technique itself.

In the following chapters you will find a bit more detailed description of basic differences.

The Difference Between Fly Fishing vs Regular Fishing Rods

Fly fishing rods are long, flexible and light. If they were heavier, all day casting would be impossible. Unlike some other fishing techniques, where you can put your rod in a holder and wait for a bite, fly rods are held in your hands all the time, and while fishing, you are moving around, frequently even through water. So naturally, equipment has to be light enough to enable it.

Regular rods come in many shapes and sizes. Among popular types are spinning rods, carp rods, match/float rods, telescopic rods (combos for beginners) and they all come in different lengths, with different action and power.

To inexperienced anglers fly rods can resemble regular, more precisely spinning rods. However, fly rods are longer, usually around 9ft long, although shorter or longer ones are also available, and choosing the right one is influenced by many factors, same as with regular rods.

Because line is pulled by the line weight, these rods use length to create more momentum, and flexibility to create more potential energy.

The Difference Between Fly Fishing vs Regular Fishing Reels

When comparing fly fishing vs regular fishing, one of the biggest differences is the reel.

Regular reels come in different types, most frequently baitcasting and spinning. These reels can be chosen in various sizes, usually expressed in 1000`s, and their gear ratio varies from slow to fast.

Gear ratio shows you how many times the spool will turn with a single turn of a handle. Depending on your fishing technique and the fish species you are trying to catch (like for catfish), you will choose a suitable reel.

Fly reels are much simpler. These reels consist of two disks and a cylinder that lies between them. There is very small handle too. Within the reel, there is usually a drag system similar to the one in spinning reel, but that is the only thing these reels have in common.

Fly reels are there to accommodate the line, and fly anglers use their hands to remove and retrieve the line. This is something that would be impossible with spinning or baitcasting reels.

Fly Fishing vs Regular Fishing - Reels and Flies

The Difference Between Fly Fishing vs Regular Fishing Lines

When casting a regular rod of any type, very light line will be pulled out by the weight of your lure. If there was no lure, or if it was too light, the fishing line would not be able to “fly” away.

In fly fishing, anglers use tiny, almost weightless, flies to catch fish. These flies are not able to pull the line out, so weighted lines are used, and the weight of the line itself makes it “fly” further from the rod.

In regular fishing, you have a main line, sometimes a leader, and if you are putting a braided line onto the reel that is not braid ready, you will use a mono backer. That’s it.

Fly lines consist of backing, fly line, leader, and a tippet. Backing can be described as a buffer between the line and a reel, and it is basically a thin section of the line that connects it to the reel arbor. Fly lines are thick, and shorter than regular. Longer ones wouldn’t fit onto the reel because of their thickness. So, a backer provides some additional length sometimes used when retrieving the fish.

Fly line has a coating made from plastic. Different lengths and colors are available. Soft models are suitable for cold conditions, while stiffer ones are great for summer.

Leader is a connection between the thick line and a thin tippet. It has a wider diameter on the line side, and the thin end is there to be connected to a fly.

The Difference Between Fly Fishing vs Regular Fishing Flies / Baits

When it comes to baits, in regular fishing, you have a wide selection of both natural and artificial bait.

You can use live bait like worms or minnows, artificial lures like spinners or crankbaits, or you can prepare some DIY baits like carp boilies. You can use corn, bread, or whatever works for certain fish species.

All of these baits and lures have one thing in common, and that is their weight. The weight of it is enough to pull the line out, especially if you are using sinkers to present the bait at any depth. This is also one of the differences, because regular baits can be presented at any desired depth.

Fly fishing lures are tiny flies that come in numerous shapes and sizes. The trick is to “match the hatch”. Anglers have to be familiar with local species of insects and their life stages. That enables them to choose the right fly.

Some flies are so called attractors, and these do not imitate real flies. They are used when fish is not picky and feeding aggressively. But, same as flies, they are also very lightweight.

Some anglers like to make DIY flies, to get the best possible lure. It is demanding, but worth the effort.

The Difference Between Fly Fishing vs Regular Fishing Techniques

Regular fishing consists of many techniques.

One of the most popular ones are float fishing, jigging, spinning, bottom fishing, trolling, and many more. All of these require different equipment and lures. You can use different lines, reels, rods, lures, and more.

Fly fishing is done by just a specific fly fishing equipment, and flies as lures. The technique itself is quite demanding, especially casting. You are casting a line here, not a lure.

When casting a fly rod, impulse transfer starts at the bottom of the rod, travels all the way to the tip, and the same impulse is transferred to the weighted line.

Loops forming along the line are the result of this motion. Forward cast is one of the most frequently used techniques, done in standard conditions, and it can be described as whisking the rod up, over the shoulder back to get a line straight, and then you cast forward. There are other casting techniques too, but those are not suitable for beginners.

Another difference is setting the hook.

Regular anglers, especially beginners often pull the rod upwards to set it. In fly fishing rods are pulled parallel to the water surface. This is definitely the oversimplified explanation; however, it is enough to get the point.

Fly Fishing vs Regular Fishing - Rods and Lines

The Difference Between Fly Fishing vs Regular Fishing Catch / Fish

I already mentioned fly fishing vs regular fishing species, but I will briefly mention it again.

By practicing different regular fishing techniques, you will be able to catch every game fish on the planet. O course, different techniques are used for panfish than for sharks, but the equipment is so versatile that you can get a setup and a suitable technique for any specie that comes to your mind. Of course, if that fish is legal to catch.

Fly fishing is limited to species that react to flies as bait. Most often that is trout, but other species can be caught too. Among freshwater fish, those are salmon, pike, grayling, bass, panfish, and even carp.

Among numerous saltwater game fish, you are limited to redfish, snook, tarpon, striped bass and bonefish.

All of the fish that can be caught on flies can be caught by regular fishing techniques too, however, the other way around is not possible.

The Difference Between Fly Fishing vs Regular Fishing Type Of Water

When you search fly fishing pictures and videos online, you will almost always see anglers standing in wilderness, in fast and crystal-clear rivers.

And yes, those are excellent conditions for fly fishing. Mostly, the technique is practiced in moving waters. Some anglers fly fish in lakes too. When it comes to ponds and small waters, the technique is not suitable for those.

Some saltwater species can also be caught like this, like snook or striped bass, so anglers can fish in the sea too.

Another thing is that fly fishing is done either from the shore or while wading through water. It is not something you will do on a boat, unlike regular fishing.

Regular fishing can be done in all waters where you can find fish and there are no laws against it. Lakes, rivers, ponds, streams, seas, and oceans are all available.

The Difference Between Fly Fishing vs Regular Fishing Experience

This is something that is very hard to answer. It is very subjective, and fly anglers and regular anglers often disagree. As someone who did both, I can tell you the following:

Fly fishing requires more time, effort and dedication. If done right, it gives you incredible bond with nature and very exciting experience.

Regular fishing can be the same if you are catching wild fish, and enjoying what you are doing. However, regular fishing on a local pond after work, can’t really be compared to fly fishing, or even more adventurous regular fishing. Also, regular fishing is a lot more suitable for complete beginners, or recreational anglers that like to fish occasionally.

Better experience is the one that makes you satisfied and happy.

The Difference Between Fly Fishing vs Regular Fishing Costs

Unfortunately, fishing is not free, but the truth is, it does not have to be insanely expensive.

For regular fishing, entry level rods and reels can be bought almost anywhere, and the price is quite affordable.

Rods and reels even under $50 each will do the job. Just make sure to buy from reputable manufacturers. Of course, you can buy a $1000 reel, but the truth is, you don’t really need it.

When you add a line, a float, and some hooks, you can get it for $100. If you buy combo rod and reel, it can be even cheaper. That equipment is fine for learning purposes and catching smaller fish.

Fly fishing gear is more specialized, and it costs more.

For a basic setup that includes rod, reel, line, and other necessary items, you will have to give at least $200, often even more. Around $300 is a more realistic price.

So, if you are interested in fly fishing, you will have to invest a bit more.

Fly Fishing vs Regular Fishing - Trout


When comparing fly fishing vs regular fishing you will see that these techniques have just one thing in common, and that is that both can catch a fish. However, the whole process of catching is very different.

Regular anglers can choose among various equipment and techniques, from easy ones to more complicated, while fly anglers are specialized for fly fishing, and the equipment they use has a specific purpose.

Many fly anglers started as regular anglers and then decided to learn something new, so if you are up for it, give it a try! Fly fishing is not easy, but it is very rewarding.

So, if you are not sure is it for you or not, maybe ask a fly-angler for some guidance and see how it goes!

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I am Siniša Pintar (friends call me Sina), the guy behind and eBook writer. This site is base camp for fishing enthusiasts from all over the world. I love fishing and want to share all my stories, knowledge and my experience with any and all potential anglers. Read more ...

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