Philip learns the hard way what not to leave behind.
In one of his earlier books, John Gierach had a nice little fishing checklist mantra: rod-reel-vest-waders. I like it, simple and memorable. Gierach’s thinking was that you could arrive at the water with those four things and be able to fish. Okay, the vest part is cheating somewhat: the assumption clearly being that your vest will be sensibly stocked with essentials. (Millennials can substitute in sling pack, chest pack, etc, for vest.) Still, as far as sensible and memorable lines go, it’s worth learning by rote and to this day, I use it every time I head out.
However, like most attempts to simplify flyfishing, it’s… well, not that simple. Call it post-pandemic brain fog or just plain forgetfulness, but on a number of recent trips, I’ve left important things behind (or almost left them behind). This has prompted me to expand the checklist detail – as much for my benefit as yours.
You really must have floatant, and plenty of it. May I even suggest a back-up bottle? Yep, on a recent trip to the north-east streams, I ran out. While it may be true that a well-tied dry fly will float on its own to some extent, the sight of me squeezing and blowing on my dry every second cast, must have looked quite pathetic (not to mention inefficient).
This wouldn’t have been on my list a few years ago, but it certainly is now. You guessed it, I forgot desiccant on a recent Tassie trip. Companions Mark and Kiel were happy to lend me dips in theirs, however, as with floatant, borrowing doesn’t really work in the field. You need your powder right there at your fingertips to re-treat that wave-washed Possum Emerger, Claret Carrot or whatever and get it back out there before the rising or polaroided trout moves away. Also, in dry-drenching conditions like rapids or waves, we’ve really moved to Peter Hayes’ floatant-then-desiccant system; so again, desiccant has become a must-have.
While I’m in the Tasmanian confessional, I should also admit I ran out of 4X tippet. My tippet hierarchy (premium brands only) is 3X, followed by 4X, followed by 2X. I packed all three, but what I forgot to check was how much 4X was left on the solitary spool in my vest – not much! Halfway through the trip, I went to add some tippet for a size 16 paradun, and experienced that sick feeling of pulling off the last few centimetres. Stuck on Augusta Dam with Mark and Kiel a kilometre away, I was temporarily screwed.
This is at the less critical end of the forgotten gear spectrum. Assuming you have plenty of tippet, you can probably wring a fair bit of life out of your leader – it shouldn’t just suddenly die. Still, it’s well worth having a brand-new spare or two in your vest, just in case. I like a 9ft 2X nylon leader as a good allrounder which can be easily modified to a range of purposes.
Net/ catch/ lanyard
I hate not having my great big landing net, yet on a recent trip to the Eildon area, I somehow forgot it. In many ways, it would be fitting if I could tell you the tragic tale of the consequences, although mercifully, I got away with it that time.
I won’t push my luck though, and ‘net’ has been added to the mantra: rod-reel-vest-waders-net. I know I bang on about this, but trust me, you must carry a landing net, one that’s convenient to carry and deploy (I like a magnet system), and big enough to accommodate the largest fish you may every possibly hook. It should also come with fish (and hook)-friendly mesh. And it needs to have a lanyard, so if your net accidentally comes off the magnet or similar attachment, you don’t lose it. Losing your net has the same practical effect as forgetting it.
Good wading boots are so important, yet there’s no other flyfishing item which comes in for such intentional abuse. Do your research to avoid buying a pair that disintegrates 6 months down the track, mid-trip. Next, you need soles that protect your feet from sharp rocks, and which also have the right tread for maximum traction in and around water. Don’t forget decent ankle support and protection too. Last and perhaps most importantly, the boots must be a comfortable fit. Wading boots which are too big, too small, or which pinch or rub in the wrong spots can wreck a trip all on their own. Try a prospective new pair on in the fly shop and have a walk around.
Of course, carry spare laces, even if they’re basic ones.
Waders/ wading socks
I’ve had a very good run with waders, but I can’t say the same for several of my fishing mates, who’ve had waders delaminate or leak chronically before their time – a disaster on any trip. Make sure your waders are a good fit of course, but equally, ask people who spend a lot of hours on the water which brands/styles have worked for them… and which haven’t.
Wet wading with wading socks and quick dry pants can be an option during the warmer months, although you need to be very sure it will stay warm enough on your outing to leave your waders behind.
Clippers/ Scissors/ Forceps
All these tools need to be in easy, secure reach – and should include a hook-eye cleaner. In fact, I’ve just purchased forceps/ scissors/ hook-eye cleaner in one tool, thereby reducing three tools to one. They could almost double as clippers too, but I still prefer the real thing. Both are permanently attached to my vest on retractors.
I carry a lighter to singe stick caddis which begin to get too scruffy, but a lighter is also handy as a bit of survival kit and for burning off leeches.
These are always important, and on the right day in the right location, you could add them to the mantra. A glasses strap is a cheap and effective accessory, as is a lens cloth – or better still, treated lens wipes. Once your glasses are liberally smeared with sunscreen, water or sweat, shirt corners and handkerchiefs don’t really cut it for cleaning.
If there’s even a small chance of rain, a genuinely waterproof jacket is a must. In my experience though, many so-called waterproof jackets are only effective in a light shower. As with waders, get some jacket advice from someone who regularly fishes in heavy rain. A landing net loop on the back is a surprisingly handy extra.
For such a cheap, simple and portable piece of equipment, a buff is indispensable. A good buff will not only keep the sun off, but pulled right up over your ears, it can be remarkably effective against cold. Make sure the colour is less about fashion and more about not spooking fish.
Hats are another essential which I would hate to forget. On the summer side of the equinox, something with a decent brim is very important for sun protection, not to mention comfort and shading for polaroids. However, broad-brimmed hats are inclined to catch the wind and blow off, so some sort of strap is a good idea.
Caps are simple, less obtrusive, and less inclined to blow away, but once the sun is seasonally high in the sky, you’ll need the backup of a buff or a lot of sunscreen to stay sun safe. Plus, polaroid shading isn’t as effective with caps.
Beanies are handy – even important – for warmth in cold weather, though you may find adding a cap brim helps when polaroiding.
Sun gloves are useful, but decent fingerless gloves are something I can’t fish without in cold weather.
Yes, it’s annoying stuff, but with any significant sun exposure, particularly from September to April, you need to carry sunscreen and apply it. Remember, sunburn has nothing to do with temperature. The worst I’ve ever been cooked was on a cold windy lake day in October. I didn’t realise what was happening until it was too late.
At some point every autumn, I take the roll-on repellent out of my vest to make space (a scarce commodity as you may have guessed). Then, sometime in late spring, the first mossie bites remind me to put it back! I wonder if I’ll ever think to put it back before I get bitten?
Carry some, unless you’re absolutely confident about drinking what you’re fishing in. We can all go without food for a while if we have to, but dehydration is really bad for your fishing.
Finally, we arrive at the most fraught gear topic of all. Within a few short years of commencing flyfishing, you’ll own more flies than you can carry while on the water. Therefore, for any given trip, you need to come up with some sort of system to prioritise what stays home, what goes in your travel bag or backpack, and what actually comes with you while you fish.
I’m not at all sure I’m the best person to give advice here, having tried all sorts of ideas over time, without feeling as if I’ve got much better at it! What I try to do now, is leave at home all the fly boxes there is next to no chance of needing (like bream flies for a Snowy Mountains trip), and load the vest with boxes containing any fly there is a reasonable chance I’ll need.
Meanwhile, I’ll keep a backpack in the car or shack with spares (e.g. lots of spare chocolate brown paraduns for a summer Tassie trip) plus any boxes I might need for an unexpected yet conceivable detour. A case in point might be a Kiewa trip which is all about stream fishing, but if I decide on a whim to fish Rocky Valley or Pretty Valley reservoirs, I’ll at least have my lake caddis and midge flies in the car or cabin.
At least for smaller species on the flyfishing spectrum, like trout, you can probably get away with a reel malfunction or a nick in your flyline. However, you really can’t manage without a fly rod. I can cast a fly-line by hand, or with a well-chosen branch, but both examples are a very poor substitute for the real thing. Break a rod on a trip of any consequence, and the trip is wrecked unless you can access a spare. I carry a spare 4 piece in my car at all times, and spare 6 piece in my travel luggage which takes up very little space.
If you get into Murray cod, impoundment barra, or a whole list of medium to large saltwater species, you can add at least one spare fly-line and spare reel to the list of essentials.
Holding your phone in your mouth is no substitute for a decent head torch, which should live in your vest so it’s actually there when you need it. Head torch options are vast and range from ridiculous to genius, but two features to look for are portability, and a lock to prevent the torch from accidentally turning on and draining the batteries.
All the gear?
Save for luxuries and handy non-essentials, I think that’s about it. Although, as occurs every time I head off down the driveway on any trip, I can’t quite shake the sense I may have forgotten something! If I have, I’ll be sure to update you the moment I realise.