Can You Fly Fish With A Spinning Reel?

Fly fishing involves catching fish by using an artificial fly to imitate natural food sources. Most anglers will reach for a fly rod and reel for this type of fishing. However, there is an alternative way to fly fish without the need for additional fly fishing gear.

You can fly fish with a spinning reel. Fly fishing with a spinning reel can be very productive since you can replicate most of the techniques associated with fly fishing. This prevents the necessity to invest in multiple rods and reels, ultimately saving you some money.

Fly fishing is a very precise form of angling, often seen as a challenge to master. Spinning rods and reels are easier to learn with and they allow you to cover more of the water in a shorter space of time. Below, we’ll discuss why using a spinning reel can be just as effective when fly fishing.

Spinning Rod vs Fly Rod

The main difference between a spinning rod and a fly rod is how they cast. Fly rods use the weight of the line to cast the lightweight, artificial fly. You will see a fly fisherman using a back and forth movement of the rod to build the momentum required to cast the fly.

A spinning rod uses a heavier lure as bait, imitating the live bait the fish are feeding on. Therefore, the weight is in the lure when casting with a spinning rod.The lure arcs towards its target location and pulls the line along with it from the reel. The weight of the line has minimal impact when casting with a spinning rod.

When fishing with a spinning rod you must reel in the fish on every occasion, whereas an angler using a fly rod can reel the fish in with their bare hands. A spinning reel has a cylinder that the line is wrapped around and a handle to turn the cylinder. You can control distance with the spinning reel, whereas someone using a fly rod uses their ‘line’ hand to control distance.

Casting A Dry Fly With A Spinning Reel

A dry fly is designed to stay on the surface of the water, and the rig used involves attaching a clear float to the line. On the other end you will need to tie between three to five feet of leader, enough for a comfortable cast. The fly is then attached to the leader, which can be coated in a floatant to help keep it on the surface.

The challenge for the fly fisherman using a spinning reel is to introduce enough weight for an effective cast with the lighter line, while also ensuring this weight does not submerge the fly. There are a couple of common solutions for this issue.

Casting Bubble

A casting bubble is a common piece of equipment used when fly fishing with a spinning rod and reel. It is a clear plastic bubble or bobber that is placed directly on the line. As they are transparent, casting bubbles are difficult for fish to detect.

The prime objective of using a casting bubble is to add weight to the line and allow for quicker casting of the lighter fly. It acts as a replacement for the heavier lines used in fly fishing.

Once cast, they are easy to manage on the water. A casting bubble can also be twisted to allow some water into the hollow inner. The water provides additional weight which can help with buoyancy, as well as allowing you to cast further or set the rig slightly lower in the water.

Strike Indicator

A strike indicator is a bobber which helps you see the strike faster and can be a particularly useful bit of kit for beginners. The benefit of a strike indicator when fly fishing with a spinning reel is similar to using a casting bubble in that it adds weight to the line for casting.

Casting A Wet Fly With A Spinning Reel

A wet fly is designed to sink below the surface of the water and can still be employed when fishing with a spinning rod. You will want to consider the weight you need to add to the line so you can fish at the depth required. As a rough guide, the longer the line, the heavier the weight you will need.

Indicator nymphing is one of the more effective methods of fishing with a wet fly and a spinning reel and is particularly good for catching trout. Indicator nymphing uses split shot to add the required weight to position the fly where you want it in the water.


The nymph is tied to the end of the line, with the split shot placed around 18 inches closer to the bobber. You will need to make sure the float you use has a weight rating which can cope with the weight of the split shot.

Split shot allows you to fish using flies with next to no weight at any depth you require. However, you will need to get the weight right to be truly effective, placing the fly where it is needed. If you use too much weight you can risk dragging the fly along the bed of the waterway.

Fly Fishing With A Spinning Reel In Moving Water

Fly fishing is traditionally performed on moving water, but a spinning rod can still help you fly fish on rivers and streams. One of the tricks to successful fly fishing is to get your fly to drift with the current. Such ‘dead drifting’ mimics the flow of a dead fly on the current.

Mastering ‘dead drifting’ can be a little easier with a spinning reel, particularly when first learning your craft. The low diameter line used with spinning reels does not create as much drag as heavier fly line. The problem with drag is that it can cause your fly to go against the current, an unnatural movement which may deter the fish from striking.

Managing Drag

With a fly rod you have to keep adjusting the cast to avoid this issue. This does not mean you can ignore drag with a spinning rod, just that it is easier to manage, providing you have the right length of rod to keep more of the line off the surface.

Ultimately, you need to keep an eye on your line and ensure the fly is traveling at the same speed as the current. Anything that doesn’t look natural can spook fish like trout and prevent them from striking at the bait.

A further benefit of using a spinning rod when fly fishing is that you require less room for your back casts. This is useful when there are obstructions behind you or when you are fishing waters which may be busy and have a lot of footfall.

Fly Fishing With A Spinning Rod In Still Water

Spinning reels can be just as effective in still water settings such as lakes and ponds. Instead of dead drifting you will mostly be looking to cast directly where the fish are located, or slightly ahead if they are on the move.

However, you can still try to lure a bite by retrieving the fly. To use this method with a spinning rod, a casting bubble can again be effective, allowing more water within the bubble when you want to position the fly at a deeper depth.

The purpose here is to mimic the aquatic insects or small live bait such as minnows that the fish will feed on. You can try steadily retrieving the fly or moving it in a stop and go motion, looking for the method which best entices the fish to bite.

Can You Use A Spinning Reel On A Fly Rod?

If you already have a fly rod you can actually use a spinning reel with it in certain circumstances. The longer fly rod can be beneficial on certain stretches and depths of water, while the spinning reel may provide more control when placing the fly.

Experienced anglers may alternate between the two reels, interchanging between a fly reel and a spinning reel depending on the circumstances. Fish you may catch using a spinning reel on a fly rod include:

  • Brook trout
  • Bream
  • Crappie
  • Perch

However, some larger spinning reels will not fit a fly rod. For the ones that do you may still find it tough to cast lightweight flies as far as you want, while the action required on shorter fly rods can take its toll on your wrists when casting often.

Final Thoughts

You can fly fish with a spinning reel, as you can still quite easily use most of the same techniques you would use when fly fishing. This makes it possible for those without fly fishing gear to try it out without having to buy separate reels and rods, which can be very expensive.