Gear Up: Top 15 Tools for the Fly-Fishing Gear Bag
When heading out to fish minutes, miles, or days away, forgetting your gear bag would be catastrophic. For that matter, forgetting any single item may be catastrophic. Ever been in a remote location with straight blistering sun and forget your sunscreen? How about tucked into the Everglades, hours away from your car or the marina and forgot the bug spray. Try a full day of wading the flats without polarized sunglasses!
A solid bag of gear (tools) is essential for an effective and comfortable day of fly-fishing. Anticipating potential weather and environmental conditions plays a huge part in building your set of gear. Below is a list of gear I include in my bag no matter whether I drive or fly to my destination.
GEAR BAG – Start by assessing your current bag or backpack. Has it ever bounced to the back of the boat to then sit in bilge water? Has the sea spray soaked your bag at one time or another? Maybe the bag was simply left in the rain while you were out wading the flats. When assembling your gear, beginning with a waterproof bag should be a top priority. For some, making it a backpack may work better. As I sail quite often, I use my Robship Dry Backpack (35L) for my fly-fishing gear bag. It’s not too big, not too small, it’s tough, and it’s waterproof. You can find this particular bag at any West Marine store. If you prefer the duffle bag over the role-top backpack, check out the Robship Medium Dry Duffle .
WAIST PACK – I’m a less-is-more kind of guy, so I use Patagonia’s “Stormfront” Hip Pack when hopping off the skiff and wading the flats. This pack is waterproof, comfortable, roomy, easy to access, and functional. Of course, the pack is filled with alternate reel spools, boxes of applicable flies, three (3) tapered leaders, pliers, nippers, fishing license, lip balm, snacks, etc. Make sure you always have a small bottle of water in it as well.
ROD(S) – I strap my 4-piece rod tube to the gear bag, for transport.
REEL(S) – Make sure to include any extra reel spools or applicable lines for your trip.
LEADER MATERIAL – I typically carry bracelet spools of 50, 40, 30, 20 pound test in my gear bag. This gives me the option to adjust my leader sections accordingly. As noted above in my waist-pack, I will carry three (3) tapered leaders as a quick go-to solution if I end up losing my full leader for some reason – here you’re trying to avoid the long walk back to the boat to construct another hand-tied leader.
SUNSCREEN – In Southern Florida, don’t leave home without it. I carry a very small amount of sunscreen. I use Neutrogena’s oil-free SPF 110 because it’s small and potent. Another easy to use sunscreen is Netrogena’s Face & Body Stick SPF 70. Applying sunscreen with this small stick allows your hands to stay oil free.
BUG JUICE – I also agree having a can AND a pump (liquid) of bug juice is a good idea. Your can should be used as your main bug spray, however if running out is possible, bring the mini pump of Repel 100 (98% Deet). Use this as your back-up.
BINOCULARS – I always bring my Leica 10×25 set of binoculars. They are not only used for sighting fish, but also for safety.
WIDE BRIM HAT – Many manufactures make quite a few solid wide brim hats. I use a Simms Solar Sombrero. Great light colors, adjustable bungee headband, removable straps, UPF 50+, etc. As light as this hat is, the internal adjustable bungee is perfect for keeping the hat on in higher winds. This hat can easily be folded and flattened, taking up almost no room in your bag.
SUN GLOVES – When you are out for most of the day, take them. Some gloves come with stripping pads to help keep fly line from chaffing. I use Simms Solarflex SunGloves and love them.
NECK BANDANA – All it takes is one day of sun on the water and you will never forget your bandana/ kerchief again. The sun’s reflection off the water will nail you. I use Columbia’s “Dry Ice” Bandana. It definitely keeps you cool and is easy to breath through. After a full day of wading, it amazing how little sun my face will get. For those who prefer a neck gaiter, check out Columbia’s “Freezer Zero” Neck Wrap. If you are looking to purchase one, remember to stay with neutral light colors.
WASHCLOTH & HAND TOWEL – Bringing both is important. I use one for cleaning and wiping things down. I use the hand towel for drying off.
RAIN GEAR – Always bring your rain gear, no matter how sunny it looks. You will get the occasional showers, however in Florida, the showers can easily bring a downpour having a serious volume of water. Keep in mind, being wet may not be a very big deal in the Summer months – being wet in the Winter months, or on a 40 MPH boat ride back to the marina can be pretty cold. I use Patagonia’s Torrentshell Jacket. It part of their H20no series and definitely keeps you dry. Patagonia’s Torrentshell Pant is would complete the set. As both are lightweight and easy to pack, I use both for all my outdoor sports/ activities.
CAMERA – It is way too tricky to pull out a phone, or even a camera that is not prepared for the elements/ saltwater. If you want to capture your experience, use a GoPro. It’s made for the water (waterproof), it’s HD, it can take still photos, and it can be mounted or worn on your person. There is a variety of GoPro models. Here is the latest GoPro Hero4.
WATER/ FOOD – Always make sure to include a few bottles of water. If you are out for the full day, make sure your dry bag has “at least” four 16 oz bottles. Remember, most people get dehydrated in humid climates, not arid climates. Throw in a few munchies as well – you’ll be glad you did.
CELL PHONE – Within any reasonable distance of land or civilization, having a cell phone goes without saying. This is a tool used for safety, an insurance policy of sorts.
Your gear bag has so many important tools in it, I suggest you make this one of your carry-on bags if you choose to fly. You won’t have a fly-fishing trip at all if you check this bag and it gets lost.
OTHER CONSIDERATIONS (OUTSIDE THE BAG)
It is important to mention a few other items (which may not carried in your gear bag) that heavily impact the quality of time spent fly-fishing.
SUNGLASSES – A must-have would be polarized lenses. Polarized lenses allow you to easily see fish below the surface of the water. Bringing two pair is necessary, not only for mishaps and safety reasons, but an amber set usually helps on overcast days. Ideally, a grey and amber set make a good tag team.
SUN-SHIRT – As I’m a guy who minimizes the mess of sunscreen, I prefer staying covered up when out in the sun. I use light nylon sun-shirts to stay cool and prevent sun exposure. My go-to shirt is Columbia’s Bahama II Long Sleeve Shirt. These are great for staying cool, air-drying quickly, and sun protection (UPF 30+). They also offer a nice windbreak when quickly running to the next hotspot at 40 MPH. Remember to stick with light neutral colors (not white – can spook the fish).
WADING PANTS – Never thought I would ever wear a pair of pants in the water. After taking a closer look at some of the newer lighter materials and how the pants are constructed, I gave them a try. Wearing a pair of these light nylon pants for a full day of kayak fly-fishing really sold me. I use Columbia’s Backcast Pant. If a “convertible” pant is something of interest, try Columbia’s Backcast Convertible Pant. They’re light, they dry fast, and somehow keep you cool in the hottest part of the day.
WADING SHOES – On the skiff, you may find yourself barefoot or in socks. When jumping into the water to wade flats, you may want to consider protecting your feet. It really depends on your environment. Consider stingrays, coral, sea urchins, etc. In the beginning, I use’d micro thin neoprene socks and a cheap pair of Canvas All-Star high-tops to wade. Great idea, however cleaning the gear when returning home became cumbersome at one point. I now use Sperry’s H2O Escape Bungee Boat Shoe. I have found this shoe is light, quick drying, and stays cool in our warm water. As expected, Sperry’s sole is also non-marking – boat decks will stay nice and white. My only drawback to the shoe is having the inserts come out every time I take the shoes off. I guess this could be considered a good thing, if having the liner out helps with cleaning/ rinsing.
MARINE RADIO – Having a VHF marine radio on hand is another insurance policy. Like we would use a cell phone when close to civilization to reach others for help, a VHF marine radio would be used to find help in locations where only other boats are close by. I use an Icom M73 PLUS Handheld. It’s small, has an IPX8 waterproof rating, and has some great features. I have used Icom for over 30 years now and have been satisfied with their products from day one.
If you have any suggestions for additional gear/ tools, we want to know about them. Please feel free to comment below and share.