Fixed Line vs Fly Rod vs Spinning Fishing - A subjective analysis

by Les Albjerg
(Caldwell, Idaho)

First Trout on TB 40

First Trout on TB 40

Pete from the UK got me thinking. That isn't always a good thing! The question I was pondering was, "Why do I enjoy fixed line fishing so much?

To answer that question to my subjective satisfaction, I took three outfits with me to Wilson Springs yesterday to attempt to answer that question. I took my 3 weight Sage rod with my Able reel. (My most expensive fishing outfit, well into 4 figures.) I used a 3 foot sinking tip line. The Tenyru Rayz Spectra with a high end Shimano reel as my spinning outfit. For fixed line, I debated, but ended up taking the TenkaraBum 40. I took it for three reasons. I really like this rod. I hadn't fished it in awhile. It has a grip like the other two.

I fished the same terminal "bait" on all three rigs. I used an overhand worm with two Dinsmore #10 split shot and one BB shot. I also fished an area very familiar to me, and was about as "neutral" as I could find, not favoring or handicapping any of the outfits. It is a 4-7 foot slot in the pool that is 5-8 feet deep and circles around the spring. The fish swim through this a lot in pods of three to six fish.

I only fish this spot when I don't see anyone else fishing. I am sure I am not the only one who knows about it. I have never been skunked in this spot. The carry-over fish seem to work this area, so they are more challenging. I have seen people fish in the "peg", but they never fish the slot. You can observe this spot from 3 of the other places on the Spring I like to fish. Today when fishing 3 fisherman came through, and I did like most others and cast into the middle of the pool! I've never caught a fish in the middle, but that is where I see most people cast.

My goal was to play the fish, and very much subjectively experience each rod. I wasn't going to worry about landing the fish. The good news is there was only one "long release." I also decided to attempt to catch two fish on each rig. I wrote, "1, 2, 3", on slips of paper and drew numbers. The first outfit picked was the fly-fishing outfit, the second the spinning outfit, and third, the Tenkara outfit.

I have fly fished since I was 14 years old. The feel of a fly line loading the rod and watching it arc to its intended target is special! The overhand worm sank, I mended the line, I visually detected the "take", and set the hook. The fight was on! I felt the fish as we fought. It never strained the rod enough that I had to give line. The reel balances the outfit well, but dampening the rod is the disconnection between the line and the rod because of the guides. The real connection with the fish was through the line in my off hand. Having to "rip" the floating part of the line off the water lead to a delayed hook-set. Line tension, does help load the rod when casting. I had a similar experience with the second fish. Playing the fish is a dance between the hand holding the line and the hand holding the rod. It is an enjoyable back and forth experience. However, with so much going on, the fish seems to get muddled in the mix.

The next outfit was the Tenyru Rayz Spectra spinning outfit. I have the least experience doing "active spinning." I spent years dragging a minnow, nightcrawler, or leech behind a boat with a spinning outfit. It isn't the same. On the third cast, I had a fish on! The first difference I noticed is I could feel the trout slam the fly! Second, it took just a flick of the wrist to set the hook. I'm not sure I had the drag set at the optimal point for the enjoyment of playing the fish. I am still learning this style of fishing. Both fish I caught using this method took line off the spool. What I noticed is that the rod hand was the predominate sensory experience. The reel hand complimented the rod hand. There was no real feeling the fish through the reel hand except for the ease or difficulty of bringing line in. This broke, as the drag gave out line. I would say, fishing with the spinning outfit was a more singular experience. There was good fish feel in the fight. However, there is still a dampening effect because of the separation of the line from the rod through the guides. Because of the great control, length of the rod, and automatic drag landing the fish with this outfit was the easiest.

Fishing with the TenkaraBum 40 allowed pinpoint casting. This may be due to how much fixed line fishing I have been doing in the last year. I could feel the rod loading, and there was no slop because the line is fixed to the tip. I was fishing a tight line, so the feel of the take was amazing. Like with the Tenyru, a flick of the wrist set the hook. This is the only outfit that I could feel the direction the fish was moving before seeing it in the line. The head-shakes were amplified right into the hand. The first run was thrilling on all three fish. (One fish was a long release.) It was fairly easy to feel where the fish was going, and put the proper tension on the fish. The first fish went left, so I dropped the rod to the right. The second fish came straight at me, so up the rod went! With a fixed line rod, there seems to me a heightened need to really pay attention and anticipate when fighting a fish. At first, (maybe only for a few seconds) the fish is in control. There is a battle back and forth for control, and when the fisherman or fisherwoman overwhelm the fish and land it the battle is over. In my opinion, with fixed line fishing there seems to be an intuitive feeling of when the transition of who is control happens. In the middle of the battle that transition can go back and forth leading to a thrill that no other fishing affords. The one fish I lost, I anticipated wrong! I thought the fish was going right, and it went left. I went left too and had slack. Using barbless hooks, slack is really a bad thing! Another further advantage of the fixed line rod is the lack of the pendulum effect of a reel and guides. Rolling the fixed line rod has no adverse effect and can be used to an advantage fighting the fish. It is much easier to accurately manipulate a fly with a fixed line rod due to the one to one direct connection. The fly must be manipulated to give it life in the slot I was fishing or it will be ignored.

In conclusion, there is a unique thrill to fixed line because of the direct connection with the fish. There is the obvious limitation to fixed line fishing, the length of the cast. It is what turns off most of my friends and others I meet as we discuss "Tenkara" fishing. To me, this limitation is one of the unique challenges of this type of fishing. I will still fly fish. I will use spinning gear. Each has its place. As I left Wilson Springs, I checked the pocket where "Walter" (my name for a 17-18 inch trout) hangs out to see if he was there. It is most easily fished with a spinning outfit, and I was prepared if he or she was home. Walter wasn't home. My last point is fixed line fishing is simple, but not simplistic. I can be rigged and on the water in less than 5 minutes. I pursue fixed line fishing most of all because there is an excitement that it stirs within me that no other fishing has ever done. I will still fly and spin fish, but if I can fish fixed line it will be my first choice.

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