A time comes in every fly fisherman’s career when it becomes clear that he (or she) has too much gear.
An outsider will recognize this long before the fly fisherman, but it seems that at some point, the vast majority of fly fisherman will eventually talk about simplifying. This may mean using a lanyard instead of a vest, carrying a single fly box instead of three, or taking up tenkara, which itself requires the purchase of more gear.
There’s an irony to the oft-told story of the boy who started fishing with cane rod, then grew into the fly fisherman who owns a small-brook rod, a small-river rod, a medium-river rod, a large-river rod, single- and double-handed salmon/steelhead rods, a stillwater rod and maybe a saltwater rod. And a few spare rods just in case. Each rod, of course, needs a matching reel. While there is legitimate need for a range of rods, this same fly fisherman will fondly recall the remarkable enjoyment, and simplicity, of chasing bluegill, bass, trout or some other fish with that cane rod of their childhood.
It’s been posited that a fly fisherman moves through four stages in how he approaches the sport, and the same might be true of gear:
- The first stage entails learning to cast with a rod that was passed down as a gift or was simply inexpensive enough to warrant an attempt at fly fishing. The first fish caught on this rod will likely be remembered forever. A fly box — probably a small, free one from the fly shop — and forceps fit into any available pocket. A broken branch serves as a wading staff.
- Stage two entails replacement of that first rod and reel with counterparts that are shiny and new, both of which are more of a personal choice, and not a choice necessarily predicated on budget. Then there’s the vest; two, three or five more fly boxes and the flies to fill them; a decent mesh net; a wading staff; and maybe waders and felt-sole wading boots.
- It all peaks in the third stage. A preference for a specific brand means new rods, new reels (with back ups for both) and new lines for every type of water fished or species chased. The vest may be replaced with a chest or sling pack. A rubber net is a must have, as is a lightweight, high-strength composite alloy collapsible wading staff. New rubber-soled wading boots include carbide cleats. A multitude of flies are purchased or tied, and if tied, enough materials to last three lifetimes must be bought.
- The stage of simplification. It’s not so much about catching fish anymore, it’s the act — the gear is secondary. Maybe an attempt to recapture the pure joy of that first fly rod-caught fish, or perhaps avoiding hauling so much stuff around the river. Perhaps the rod is one built at home…not perfect but nice looking enough, and mated to a reel chosen for no other reason than it’s a favorite. The single fly box may not be filled, but it has every fly that’ll be needed.
If the level of a fly fisherman is measured by his gear, I’m still an amateur. Coming into the hobby later in life hasn’t afforded me the years that many spend accumulating equipment.
I did, however, purchase a new net at the club auction this week, for many reasons. Sure, it’s lighter than my current net and more “appropriately sized” for the trout I land. Crafted by a club member who’s also a skilled woodworker (so, made in America), it’s one of a limited set with the club logo (in enamel and metal) worked into the handle, and my winning bid will go into the pool of money the club donates to many conservation organizations.
Fly fishing is not stuff, it’s what you do. (And it really shouldn’t matter what you use to do it.)
April 13, 2012 at 2:10 pm
Hi Patrick. I jumped right to number 3 and am holding steady.
April 16, 2012 at 6:47 am
Mark, they say “resistance is futile,” but I’m trying, man…
April 13, 2012 at 6:46 pm
I agree with the post. I skipped 3 and went right to 4 and I’m happy, easily entertained and fish because I just like being outdoors and fishing is a good excuse.
April 16, 2012 at 6:51 am
A man with a plan. Guess I’m at 3.5…still sorting out they style of rod action I like, which may mean testing quite a few brands at all ends of the spectrum. But the ‘entertainment factor’ is big…I want the rod action once a fish is hooked to be just as fun as the action when casting.
April 15, 2012 at 5:59 pm
Well written, Patrick. I agree with both Mark and Howard. Now that I am re-entering the fly fishing frenzy, I have to be a bit more cost frugal than when I was younger. However, accumulating stuff is part of the fun of fly fishing.
April 16, 2012 at 6:56 am
That’s why the doggone club auction is so dangerous…there’s a lot of reasonably priced stuff, but when you add it all up it’s $600 for the evening. This year I passed up some restored bamboo rods that looked great, a boot bag, and good-looking flies. (I was a bit worried I was falling into the trap of buying flies because they looked good to me and not necessarily because they’d look good to the fish.) That all said, and as I mentioned to Howard/cofisher, I’m trying to find the gear I like, but without going crazy. And it is frustrating…I equally like my $150 home-built rod, my inexpensive 3 wt. and my mid-priced name-brand 5 wt.
April 16, 2012 at 3:38 am
Well put. I have better gear than I used to, but none is top-end, and most of it is in various states of repair. I do have a wish list, but I’m still grateful just to go.
April 16, 2012 at 7:01 am
You’ve hit it on the head for me…I have a wish list too, but I’ve got to get either my brother or son to get more involved in the sport, that way I can hand down some of my gear, thus justifying its replacement with what I want, now that I can afford to spend a bit more and, more importantly, have a clue as to what I really like!
P.S. Really liked your interview with April Vokey. Much better than the sound bites and snippets usually seen.