Fly Rod vs Spinning Rod – What’s the Difference? (Question Answered!)


If you are new to the sport of fly fishing or spin fishing, you will quickly realize there are a few things that you need to know before making your purchase.

Things can be confusing, especially what rod to buy for each application, fly fishing or spin fishing?

Both may look very similar, but they have a few fundamental differences that you need to know about and what to look for to ensure you are best equipped.

These things will make a massive difference in your day on the water, from fly rods, weights, and lengths to the spinning rod’s actions and eye size.

Below I will run through the key differences and provide my opinion.

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What is the Difference Between a Fly Rod and a Spinning Rod?

Ok, so a fishing rod plays a very simple purpose. Its function is to cast the line, fly line, or monofilament and fight the fish with it. It flexes and absorbs shock as the fish pulls and swims around. This absorption is to prevent the line from breaking.

That said, a few specifics are worth knowing about a fly fishing rod and a spinning rod.

fly fishing rod on wooden table

Fly Fishing Rods

Originally made from split cane bamboo pieces, fly rods have advanced tremendously since then. The modern carbon fiber rods are super lightweight and have a great backbone for fighting fish.

A fly rod can be anything from 7′ to 11′ in length and even a 12′ one, which are double-handed rods called Spey rods.

The most noticeable thing when you pick up a fly rod is that it’s a lot more ‘whippy’ compared to other fishing rods.

Why is a fly rod floppier is put down to the fact that it needs to generate momentum and energy to cast the fly line through it. Remember that on a fly fishing setup, you don’t have a conventional weight (sinker) at the end of the line to cast out.

We get distance with a fly rod by casting the weighted fly line back and forth, allowing more lines out on each stroke.

If the rod were too stiff, it wouldn’t bend or be able to transfer the momentum to the fly line.

Fly rods come in different rod ‘ACTIONS.’ Classed as a slow, medium and fast. Medium rods are the easiest to learn with and cast. The slower rods need you to slow your whole motion down, while the faster rods require a bit of experience to master and work to their full potential.

For a more in-depth look, check out Choosing a Fly Rod or Best Beginner Fly Rods.

fisherman fishing with spinning rod in pond

Spinning Rods

One of the most notable things about a spinning rod is that they have their reel seat on the belly side of the rod. So basically in line with the rod eyes. These rods are designed to hold a specific spinning reel, also known as a coffee grinder.

You will also notice that the first eye on a spinning rod is relatively large. A good rule to work on is to match the diameter of the rod’s first eye with that of the diameter of the reel.

Spinning rods come in various lengths, most common being the 7’-9′ range. These rods will cover a vast selection of fishing circumstances. The lovely thing about spinning rods is that they are lightweight and can handle a tremendous amount of weight on them.

Their fast action is great, allowing you to load the rod quicker and cast further.

If you would like to find out more about different fishing rods, check out the article on different types of fishing rods.

two fishing rods with reels - spinning reel and baitcasting reel

Spinning Rods and Fly Rods, Pros and Cons?

Fly Rod

Pros

  • Lightweight rods, easy to handle.
  • It comes in 4 pieces, easier to transport.
  • Various weights for all scenarios.

Cons

  • It can be challenging to learn to cast.
  • Heavily affected by the wind.
  • If dropped can easily break or snap.

Spinning Rod

Pros

  • Lightweight and easy to cast.
  • Casting is easy and allows the angler to cast a reasonable distance.
  • One rod can handle many different fishing conditions.

Cons

  • It comes in 2 pieces, which can be difficult to travel with.
  • It can be a little stiff for the softer type of fishing.
  • It can be a little heavy at times.

How to Tell the Difference Between Spinning and Fly Rods?

So, learning what we have from the above, let’s break the points down.

  • Fly rods are floppier and longer than spinning rods.
  • Fly rods are made in weights for various types of fly fishing. With spinning rods, one can cover most conditions.
  • Fly rods hold a fly reel, while spinning rods are made for a coffee grinder or spin reel as they are also referred to.
  • Fly rods mostly come in 4 pieces, while a spinning rod comes in 2 pieces or one-piece.

Check this article out for more Fly Fishing vs Spin Fishing.

saltwater fly fishing rod and fly box with flies

Can You Use a Fly Rod for Spinning?

A fly rod can be used as a make-shift spinning rod. It’s not ideal, but it will work if you have forgotten your spinning rod at home.

What can’t be done is a spinning rod as a fly rod. This just won’t work as it is too stiff, and you just won’t be able to cast the fly line out at all.

What is great fun for a newbie is to tie a small spinner onto a fly rod with a spinning reel on. The flex in the rod allows the angler to feel the fight a lot more. This really gets the blood pumping when they hook their first fish.

Can I Fly Fish with a Normal Rod?

Trying to fly fish with a normal rod won’t work out well. For numerous reasons, this will have a whole set of challenges. The best is to try to get a fly rod.

This is a great video showing the difference between the two methods and the pros and cons of each.

Conclusion

Ok, so now we have a pretty good idea of what each format of fishing is about. The key differences and how one can use these techniques to catch more fish.

I personally am a fly fishing purist and only really fish with a fly rod. I did, however, learn with a spinning rod setup and other easier styles of fishing.

I think it’s a personal choice, really, and you should follow the route that you are comfortable with.

I, for one, will be teaching my kids with a spinning setup to start and gradually moving them over to the fly rod and reel.

Who knows, maybe they take to a spinning rod, which is ok as long as they enjoy their time out on the water and have fun.

In the end, that’s what it is all about.

Tight lines!

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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