At Cornell I teach Intro to Fly-Fishing in the springtime. When compared to most fly-fishers my view of fly-fishing is quite dissimilar. I see fly-fishing as a method of angling where the line enables the angler to load the rod and cast - thus you can cast a variety of "flies" (aka lures) that otherwise would be impossible to cast on their own. That's it. No romantic notions. No history of the Catskills and "tradition." Just another method to catch fish - another method with its own advantages and drawbacks. Why fly-fishing is so married to tradition is beyond me. We don't teach people about Isaac Walton and the "Compleat Angler" when we teach baitcasting or spin fishing. This tradition is part of the lure and lore of fly-fishing, but it also limits the appeal of the sport.
How effective is fly-fishing? And what are some advantages of it?
I would say that during the wintertime cold water period and in early spring when tribs are just starting to fill lakes with warm water it is THE deadliest method for catching landlocked salmon. Clear water with a slight ripple and fish swarming the mouth of Taughannock Creek? I've watched guys cast jigs all day long and not hook fish - flies just KILL at that time of the year. The jigs sink too fast - you can't find a jig that casts far enough yet stays up top - those two qualities are mutually exclusive. Flies fill that void perfectly!
It's easy to control the retrieve when fly-fishing - it's a much more "hands on" approach. It's very easy to switch things up when needed.
You can create your own lures - custom for the situation! It's great fun catching fish on your own idea vs. having to wait for the latest hot lures to come out.
Big Pike: I've caught my two longest, heaviest pike in the Fingerlakes while fly-casting. I've fished side by side with guys casting jerkbaits and done better. I've cast a streamer, put down my rod, walked to the back of the boat (to check something) walked back to my rod, picked it up and found a pike on the end of my line! The fly looked so good it inhaled the fly as it sank. That just doesn't happen often with conventional lures. I also had a 22lb+ carp do the same thing!
Giant Gar: No comparison. Fly-fishing is tops.
Skaneateles Lake Rainbows and Salmon: Fly-fishing catches a lot more fish than jigs do, especially when the fish are shallow. I've watched numerous side by side comparisons. The flies land quietly and don't spook fish.
Is trolling more effective? Oftentimes it is if there's enough wind and warm enough water. But it's almost never more fun. Landlocked salmon and northern pike are perhaps the two hardest hitting fish in the region. You want to catch them without feeling the strike? Why? That's like putting a bag over Charlize Theron's head if you're in bed with her. Makes absolutely zero sense.
Here's when fly-fishing excels for catching:
Spooky fish in clear water - whether carp, trout, panfish or whatever.
Lethargic fish in cold water.
Suspended active fish.
Fish blitzing bait on the surface.
And of course plenty of situations with trout in moving (or still) water. And plenty of saltwater situations. Plenty!
Don't be fooled by the fishing media's lack of attention to the sport. Did you know that nearly all of the In-Fishermen staff are avid fly-fishers??? With the exception of Doug Stange. They love it. Some people are too set in their ways to try it. It's easy to learn and addictive. They are missing out - whether it's a Doug Stange or Al Lindner - they are missing out! I absolutely love it and look forward to using the long rod whenever possible. There's no "funner" way to catch fish!
Catching bluegills on a 2 to 4 wt. fly-rod is as fun as it gets. Same with giant carp on a heavier rod. Just writing this makes me want to grab the fly rod....