Bob Boese -August 31, 2009

$150 Wheatly Fly Box
The morning sun was shining brightly, a hint of breeze rustled leaves. It was a crisp mountain morning. My fishing trip was delayed by a partner who overslept, and the gentleman next to me was a fly shop’s dream client – a late middle-aged chubby Chicagoan with unlimited funds, no equipment and a desire to “get into” fly fishing. His sullen wife, a wrinkled harpy with harsh make-up and poorly styled raven black dyed hair, draped in fur and diamonds, sat fuming on a chair amongst the waders, mumbling how they should be somewhere in Europe and how his money could be better spent (presumably on jewelry). He stood at the reel filled counter; rimless tri-focals perched on the end of his nose, completely bewildered, but trying his best to look as if he understood what he was being sold. Picking through the sale rack of last season’s tippet and shopworn strike indicators, I marveled as the salesgirl set him up with ump-teen hundred dollars of quality equipment he didn’t have the vaguest idea how to use. She then sped through a description of more hundreds of dollars in flies that would be pre-packed in monogrammed Wheatly fly boxes waiting for him the next morning. When he asked about anything technical, she assured him it would all be explained by the guide she would arrange for the next day. The mumbles from the shrew in the back got louder with complaints of being left alone tomorrow in a “God foresaken wilderness.” Aspen is rarely so described. 

Plano $6 flybox:

The next half hour (my partner seriously overslept) was filled with laughs and jolly discussion as his rotund proportions made fitting a fly vest (and shirts, and a jacket, and waders) difficult. He wandered the shop in a new ghillie hat, beaming, and found it perfectly acceptable that his XXXL size was only available in the most expensive items. Suddenly, as I was picking out the most respectable looking CDC emerger from a bin of dozens assembled by some little worker woman in Pakistan, he turns to me and asks if I fly fish. (Now remember, I’m standing there in waders boots and have a vest full of assorted tackle.  But he seems like a sweetheart of a guy who, maybe for once in a long time, is doing something strictly for himself.) Thus a conversation began. 

He had been to Louisiana, loved the food, etc. etc. He owned something involved with the wholesale clothes trade, I never was clear on what, and had always heard about how swell fly fishing was. When he asked what I thought of his fly fishing purchases, the look from the salesgirl would have made Medusa jealous. Fear of a stone future overrode my usually out-for-everyone-to-share opinion and I restrained myself from tell him that 50% of his new gear would never leave his vest pocket. He really didn’t want an opinion, just confirmation that all the time and money he was spending in the shop wasn’t going to be labeled as merely an effort to tick off his wife (which clearly was part of his intent).   smiled and paused (not too dramatically) and realized that the next day a guide would bring him to private waters where trophy trout were anxious to attack anything resembling a bug on the water regardless of the fisherman’s presentation. He was probably going to have the time of his life and come back with a pocket full of pictures of huge rainbows and browns to wave at the harpy. I assured him I was quite jealous of his purchases (he smiled largely) and I was saved from further answering because my partner finally showed. Paying a buck seventy-five for a single emerger made me cringe, but it was a great looking emerger that caught fish later in the week. For Mr. Chicago and me, it was money well spent.

Typical Orvis® Vest with 30 Pockets

Opinions on the gear an angler must carry to fly fish are as varied as the leaves of autumn, but there are absolute “must haves” that all guides will agree on. Of course, some fly fishermen carry everything they own to the water, but a vest filled with 20 pounds of fly stuff will get pretty uncomfortable after a few hours and there are a lot fewer obligatory on-the-water items than most fishermen imagine, or the following list assume the fly fisherman will fish freshwater, both trout streams and warm water, and has a limited budget.  Also assume he owns a fly rod, reel, line, backing, leader and flies suited to the water being fished, and has suitable clothing and waders.  In addition to all this, the angler should never enter the water without certain accessories.

Sunglasses: Polarized with amber tint. Most sunglasses are grey/blue. Amber tint works much better to see into and through water. Polarization is imperative to see a fish or fly through glare.

Fly bag or vest: is a matter of personal preference. Most trout fishermen opt for a vest with its easily accessed pockets. Chest and belt packs have recently gained in popularity and become more compact. Make sure the vest or chest pack will fit over a shirt, waders and jacket, and that the bottom of the vest or fly bag will be out of the water when wading.

Fly patch: a small rectangle of wool or modern material designed to hold flies which are not currently in use but which the fisherman may want to quickly locate. It also serves to hold flies removed from the line without having to find the box they came from.

Tipper Holder

Tippet holder: Losing flies and breaking tippet is part of the sport. Several contraptions exist for holding tippet (or tippet spools) and the angler really needs only to bring two or three sizes of tippet onto the water.


Zingers: pin-on spring powered line retractors so clippers and forceps and tippet holders don’t have to stay in your pocket.

Extra Leader: Knots, abrasions and other stuff happen to leaders. Have a spare.

Clippers: to nip tippet and leader when you change. Teeth are not an adequate substitute.

Forceps: to extract hooks from fish and fingers. Several varieties of hook extractors are popular but forceps are multi-functional (such as holding a tiny fly while you thread the tippet through).

Floating Fly Boxes: In almost all instances more than one will be required. Choose box sizes appropriate for the flies being stored and fill them completely (no sense having four ½ filled boxes) with a broad range of flies and colors. The first (which won’t be the last) time you drop one in the water you’ll know why it should float.

Strike Indicators: A nymphing necessity and they get lost more than you would imagine. Bring three or four.

Lead/nickel weights: Another necessity for nymphing so bring a pack of several sizes. What you use will be determined by depth and speed of the stream.

Floatant: needed 99% of the time for dry flies.

Net: for trout a necessity. Usually hangs down the angler’s back. Wood is classic but modern materials work as well. Don’t get one that hangs below parts of your body that will be in the water when wading. Fighting the stream and a tugging net isn’t fun.

Wading Staff: needed for streams. The folding variety you can put on your belt is best. Felt soled waders can’t resolve all problems caused by algae slick rocks.

Folding wading staff

Camera: Catch and release becomes catch and remember without a camera.  A good photo is the only trophy you will have.

Sunscreen: at least SPF 30. Direct sunlight and reflection from the water will burn you in no time.  New sprays work well. Reapply every couple of hours and don’t get it in your eyes.

Hat: provides double duty. First it protects the top of your head from the sun.  Even if you have hair you can burn your scalp – not fun. Second, it provides shade over your sunglasses which help the polarization. Baseball cap style is the favorite among guides. Broad brimmed models will protect your neck as well.

PFD: New inflatable suspender models are readily available and don’t get in the way of fishing.  Falling in a fast moving stream in waders is a sure way to drown without a PFD.


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