Don’t Fly Fish with More than You Need

Most fly fishers might be surprised by how little gear they actually need on the water.  Regardless if you’re targeting mountain trout, farm pond bass, or cruising flats fish, there are truly only a handful of things you’ll reach for on a recurring basis.

Personally, combining trail running with fly fishing has caused me to pare down what I carry and what I consider essential. It has caused me to assess what I use and why I use it. I’ve found that I don’t choose gear based upon weight or size. What I carry is what I absolutely need. Usually, that ends up being small enough and light enough to allow me to move quickly.

Here is one of my go-to fly fishing checklists. It is what I gather together if I’m going to be running/fishing.  But it is also all that I end up using on most of my fishing trips, regardless of  where I am. Here is the what and the why of my minimalist approach to fly fishing:

  • Rod, Line, & Reel I almost always have two rods with me. Being stationary or near the car allows me the luxury of using specialized gear. But multiple rods means additional reels, spools, lines, and extra decision making. By limiting myself to one versatile fly rod I don’t worry, I just fish. Douglas Upstream 8′ 2-weight, Royal Wulff Triangle Taper, & Douglas Argus
  • Fly Box & Flies Compared to most anglers, I don’t have a lot of flies. And I have way too many flies. I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I fish the same patterns over and over and over again. Whether I’m on mountain streams or spring creeks, I have my core, go-to flies. Carrying additional boxes feels like I’m being prepared. In reality, I’m weighing down my pack. For a day on familiar water, I need three or four each of a half dozen patterns. Orvis Lightweight Floating Fly Box
  • Leaders & Tippet The least-fussy leader option is also my favorite: furled leaders. I use a tapered leader because they are durable and viable across a number of fishing circumstances. Plus, all I have to do is attach one tippet section with a loop-to-loop knot to fish. I carry a full armada of tippet spools in case I have to A) use 6X for midges in the morning and 3X for streamers in the afternoon, B) rebuild a leader in case my furled leader blows up, and C) they don’t weigh anything and are all snapped together. Appalachian Furled Leader Company Blue Line Leader & Orvis Superstrong Plus Tippet
  • Tools It is easy to carry every gadget in the catalog. It is fun to feel like a fly fishing Swiss Army Knife. But usually, you just need the essentials: nippers, forceps, and floatant. I’m an advocate in getting and using good stuff, and taking care of it. Notice there’s no net. Nets are nice, but more of a want than a need. A quick word on floatant: make sure your bottles are full, and have a front-end treatment and a refreshing option on hand. Orvis Nippers, Loon Rogue Quickdraw Forceps, Orvis Hy-Flote Shake-N-Float Renew, Gink, Streamworks Fly Liquid Bracket, & Fly Trap XLT Pro
  • Wading Shoes Ankle support and foot protection are very, very important. But many people don’t need the standard, rigid, plate-mail style wading boots for quick outings. That kind of boot isn’t reasonable for moving quickly or far into the wild, either. If you are physically able (and conditions permit) consider an ultralight water shoe. I like lightweight hikers or trail runners to get in, and then grippy kayaking shoes in the water. Astral Brewer
  • Clothing I try not to bring too many extras. If I know the weather will be halfway decent, I usually just have a second layer in case of an emergency. The other item I like to have is a buff. I’d rather slide a buff on than carry and apply sunscreen and bug spray.
  • Food & Water Hot shore lunches are fun, but they require time and space. I want calories and hydration. A protein bar for sustenance, an energy gel if I’m really dragging on the hike out, and a lot of water is all I usually bring.
  • Trail Necessities If I’m moving a lot, bandages and tape are must-haves. As soon as I feel a hot spot on my foot I do a little preventative maintenance. I also carry a small first aid kit for emergencies. I’ve rarely used it myself, but have come across other people I’ve been able to help. Oh, and two-ply. That is important. And don’t forget your phone… for pictures and safety.
  • Pack If you’re going far, leave your vest and sling behind. A good ergonomic and weight-distributing backpack is the way to go. Keep everything in the back when you’re moving, and then attach your tools to the straps when you’re fishing. You’ll be surprised with how infrequent you actually need to access your gear.

That’s my basic load-out for lightweight fishing excursions, especially when I’m running in. What are your essential carry items if you’re taking a minimalist approach? Let me know in the comments below.

And why would anyone run into the woods to catch fish? Here are some good reasons.