How to Pack for a Fly-Fishing Adventure

A trip to Wyoming’s Grand Tetons offers great fishing and amazing views.
Photo courtesy WorldCast Anglers

When you’re on your way to what might be a fly-fishing trip of a lifetime, you want to pack efficiently, but you also must make sure that you have everything you’ll need when you arrive at your destination. That means using the right luggage and carefully choosing your gear and clothing. Here are some tips to help you pack for your next adventure, whether you’re traveling to the Rockies or the tropics.

Choosing the Right Bags

A bag that’s big enough for both your clothing and gear is essential, and it’s best to have a duffel–such as the Safe Passage Drop Bottom Rolling Duffel–that will keep damp fishing gear separate from everything else. Your waders, wading boots and other fishing equipment can go in the bottom compartment, while your clothes stay dry in the large top compartment. A bag on wheels is also a big help because all that gear is heavy.

The ability to carry rods and reels on the plane can be a life-saver if your checked luggage somehow gets lost or delayed. Plus, you’ll know that the most expensive equipment is safe if it’s with you at all times in the overhead compartment of the plane. A bag designed specifically for this purpose–such as the Safe Passage Carry It All–is just the right size to be your one carry-on.

Heading to the Mountains

A float on Montana’s Smith River is a trip of a lifetime.
Photo by Pat Clayton

Mountain weather can change from a morning near freezing, to a sunny, warm afternoon. No matter which season you plan to visit the Rockies, pack a variety of layers, and dress in multiple layers each day. Depending on the length of your trip, you’ll want to bring duplicates or more of each piece of clothing. Here are some essentials:


  • Versatile Base Layer – Long-sleeved or short-sleeved, your base layer should have moisture-wicking/quick-drying properties to keep you dry all day. If you’re traveling in colder seasons, you will want an insulating base layer that wicks moisture.
  • Mid-layer – Depending on the season, your mid-layer can range from a a lighter weight technical shirt to a Pro Half-Zip Fleece for Men and Women. You can then top that with another layer to protect the core, such as the Pro Insulated Vest for Men and Women. Like your base layer, a mid-layer should have moisture-wicking properties to keep your dry and comfortable.
  • Down or Synthetic Jacket – A midweight down sweater, synthetic insulated jacket, or lightweight down jacket is a must for any trip to the mountains. They pack down small and stay out of the way until you need them. Perfect for chilly nights and mornings, they can be a lifesaver when a cold front blows through. And they always make a good pillow for camping trips or car naps. If your evenings include relaxing around a campfire, be aware that stray sparks may damage synthetics fabric. A lined flannel, denim or wool shirt is a good option.
  • Merino Wool Socks – Even with the most breathable waders, the changing temperatures of walking warm earth and wading in cold water can dampen your feet during a day of fishing. A pair of midweight or heavyweight insulating wool/nylon blended socks will pull moisture away from your skin, and with merino’s natural antimicrobial properties, will prevent your neoprene booties from getting stinky.
  • Rain Jacket – A sudden summer rain shower can stir up food in the water or lead to a prolific hatch. Don’t get caught soaking wet when the bite is on. A rain shell jacket provides protection from rain and wind, keeping you comfortable so you can focus on the the fishing. Matthew Long, outfitter for Long Outfitting in Livingston, MT, adds, “It doesn’t have to be a $400 coat, but make sure it is functional whether it is 30 degrees outside, or 85 degrees. When clients get wet during the day, it can be difficult for them to make a full day out in it.”
It’s important to be prepared for all kinds of conditions in the mountains.
Photo by Chuck Coolidge

Fly-Fishing Gear

  • 4- to 6-Weight Rod – These are the workhorses of just about any trip for trout. Whether you’re floating the Snake, wading the Delaware, or tossing flies from the banks of the high country lakes in Colorado, a 4- to 6-weight fly rod is probably the best tool for the job.
  • Mid- or Large-Arbor Fly Reel – You’ll want to bring spools of both floating and sinking lines to fish all parts of the water column.
  • Waders and Boots – Bring the fly-fishing waders you’re most comfortable in. Just make sure they’re leak-free and patched up before you arrive. As for wading boots, remember that metal studs and drift boats don’t mix, so you’ll need to remove your studs or bring another pair of wading boots if you plan to spend any time floating.
  • Neoprene Wading Socks – Few things are better in life than wet wading a cool river on a warm day. Hunker suggests, “Always bring a pair of neoprene wading socks. Wading wet is often way more comfortable than waders, especially in smaller streams and on warm days. Many of our people who haven’t done it are amazed at how comfortable they are.” Neoprene wading socks will allow you to wear your wading boots comfortably without waders, so you don’t have to sacrifice grip or protection.
  • Vest or Pack of Choice – Sling pack, hip pack, chest pack or vest, whichever you choose make sure they’re stocked with your favorite fly-fishing toolsleaders and tippet (3x to 6x).
  • Stocked Fly Boxes – A variety of nymphs and streamers, plus BWO’s, PMD’s, caddis, and attractor patterns are a must in every box. Talk to your guide or visit a local fly shop for specifics regarding each river.

Heading to the Tropics

Protecting yourself from the sun but still staying cool is the key to fishing in the tropics.
Photos by Tom Rosenbauer


When you’re fishing in the tropics–from Mexico to The Bahamas–your main concerns are going to be heat, wind, and protecting yourself from the sun.

The weather in places such as the Bahamas, Belize, or Mexico is so balmy and dry most of the year that packing light is a breeze. Only a few items are absolute necessities. As gray skies are rare, sun protection is a must. A few pieces of sun-blocking fishing apparel–such as a drirelease Hoodie–will keep you cool through the hottest hours of the day. Add a Buff to cover your face and neck, as well. Even if you’re looking for something a little less sporty, there are plenty of UPF-rated shirts, like the Open Air Caster, that will look great when you’re out for dinner. Include long pants and long-sleeve tops in your luggage.

Evenings in the Bahamas can be surprisingly cool, so a warm layer will come in handy. It’s often breezy. A light rain jacket that also protects you from the wind will keep you comfortable during a storm or for the boat ride home at the end of the fishing day. Good layering options are a lightweight cardigan, pullover hoodie, or windbreaker.

Fly-Fishing Gear

  • 8- to 12-Weight Rod – The size of the quarry and the amount of wind are the determining factors in most saltwater applications. The bigger the fish and the stiffer the wind, the higher the rod weight.
  • Large-Arbor Fly Reel – You’ll most likely want to bring spools of both floating and intermediate-sinking lines.
  • Flats Boots – To protect your feet from coral and marl, you’ll want a comfortable pair of flats boots for wade-fishing.
  • Pack of Choice – Sling pack, hip pack, chest pack or vest, whichever you choose make sure they’re stocked with your favorite fly-fishing toolsleaders and tippet (8- to 20-pound test).
  • Stocked Fly Boxes – A variety of shrimp, crab, and baitfish patterns are a must in every box. Talk to your guide or visit a local fly shop for specifics regarding each river.
Quality polarized sunglasses are an absolute must, no matter where you are traveling.
Photo courtesy Orvis Travel

Anywhere Accessories

  • Polarized Sunglasses – Fishing sunglasses aren’t necessary only to block the sun and protect your eyes, but also to help you see below the surface glare of the water. Whether you’re sight fishing trout or navigating a tricky wading section of river, you’ll be thankful to be able to see what’s on the bottom of the river.
  • Camera – You’ll want to document every moment of your fly-fishing trip to Wyoming. So whichever camera you choose, make sure it’s within reach for quick fish photos.
  • Water Bottle – Carl Sauerwein recommends, “A good water bottle with a filter in it. You are supposed to drink 1 liter of water above your normal intake for every 1000 ft. of elevation change. So with a filter bottle you can feel comfortable filling up without the concern of contaminated water and you don’t have to pack extra weight.”
  • Sun Gloves – Hunker also suggests, “Sun gloves. Besides keeping the sun and bugs off, these just take the wear and tear one level away from your fingers.”
  • UV buff to keep the sun off your neck and face.
  • Sunscreen and lip balm to protect from the high elevation rays.

One thought on “How to Pack for a Fly-Fishing Adventure”

  1. I have an Orvis safe passage carry-it-all which is great for packing everything you need for fly fishing out west. For the past 5 years the airlines I used accepted it as a carry-on … but not this past year with American Airlines. I needed to check it both ways. Aside from the added cost is the risk of losing all that gear and especially boxes of flies. Traveler beware.

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