Written by: Evan Jones
Every fly angler is familiar with the struggle: you want to pack enough gear to be prepared, but not so much that it slows you down. Sounds easy enough, but it can be a difficult balance to strike even for the most experienced anglers. In fact, experienced anglers might have an even harder time deciding what’s worth packing, since they likely have more options to consider. (See Tom’s video above.) While many of the decisions about what to include will be dictated by the unique circumstances of each trip, there are some unassuming and inexpensive items with near-universal benefits that are always worth considering. Here are five of my favorites:
A whistle can be a godsend if you are lost and trying to signal for help, but its benefits for anglers don’t end there. Given how far the sound carries, and how little effort it takes to create, a whistle can be the perfect tool for distant anglers to signal eachother. Walkie-talkies rarely have sufficient range, and cell phone service just isn’t widespread enough for either of those to be reliable forms of communication while on the water, but the sound of a whistle blast can be heard from more than a mile away. Consider establishing a few codes with your friends before heading out, such as one blast for “I’m coming to you;” two blasts for “You should come here to me;” and three for “I need help.”
2. Piece of Flexible Window Screen
If you plan to bring a landing net, try putting a 1-square-foot piece of flexible window screen into your pack, as well. By lining the inside of your net with the screen, you can easily create a makeshift seine to collect samples from both freshwater rivers and saltwater flats alike. Now you have all the benefits of direct sampling without the hassles of extra dedicated equipment. You can find inexpensive screen kits here.
In addition to the obvious benefits to your kisser, chapstick can also be used in a few novel ways by fly anglers. First and foremost, it makes a far superior lubricant for knots thanspit. This is particularly useful when you’re joining thicker sections of line together, as you might when building a leader, or when joining two rougher-textured fluorocarbon tippets. Chapstick can also be used to lubricate and protect the zippers on your fly pack, jacket, or vest from corrosion and keep them moving freely. Be sure to use the original formula to avoid any potential problems caused by fragrances, dyes, or sunblocking additives.
4. Mustache Comb
The use case for this one is admittedly a bit narrower than the others, but for anglers who frequently use streamer type flies made with synthetic materials (such as EP Baitfish), a small mustache comb can be of huge benefit. It doesn’t usually take many casts for the fibers in those flies to begin tangling up, and the mess only gets worse if/when you catch a fish. Eventually, the fly can become so snarled that it won’t swim straight anymore, which drastically reduces its effectiveness. A couple quick passes with a mustache comb and it’ll be good as new. You can get one for two bucks here.
5. Stream Thermometer
Water temperature can have such profound effects on most fisheries that it’s rather surprising more anglers don’t pack a thermometer. Whether you’re chasing laid-up tarpon in a murky swamp, stalking trout in a desert spring creek, or popping for rowdy hybrid bass in a local reservoir, water temperature is often the single most important factor influencing fish behavior. Too cold, and their reduced metabolism limits activity; too warm, and their reduced oxygen supply limits activity. Given how much water temps can vary, even among adjoining areas of the same waterway, being able to focus on areas in the “sweet spot” can dramatically boost your chances for success. Likewise, it can also help you to avoid stressing fish whose water is already approaching the upper limits of what they can tolerate.
Evan Jones is the assistant editor of the Orvis Fly Fishing blog. He lives in Colorado.