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Did you receive a new fishing pack for the holidays? Or did you get a gift card that is burning a
hole in your pocket? A lot of guides and avid anglers try to minimize what they are carrying
down to the river. Let’s explore the essentials and hopefully make it easier for you to get what
you need in your vest or pack. Here is a short list of what you should have in your pack.
Flies and Fly Boxes
Having the right flies at the right time is what can make the difference between a good day and
a great day (there is no bad day on the river). Without going into the specific flies, I like to have
a wide selection of nymphs, dry flies, and streamers. I try to separate the different style of flies
into different fly boxes. I also look for fly boxes that are waterproof to protect the hooks from any
rusting that might occur if water gets inside.
I like to use magnet compartment boxes for most of my nymphs that are smaller than a size 14.
This eliminates the tedious task of placing them into the slots or foam that you’d find in regular
boxes. For my dry flies, I like boxes that have a high cover so it does not crush the wings or
parachute posts that are common in most dry flies. A good, small streamer box can be hard to
find however there are a few out there that you can load up with a couple dozen of your favorite
streamers or big hoppers.
The leader is the connection between the fly line and the fly. I like to carry a few different three
packs of leaders in different lengths and sizes. At a minimum, I have a few 9 foot 5x leaders for
dry fly fishing and a few 7 1⁄2 foot 4x leaders for nymph fishing. Be sure to save your old leaders
because they make great streamer leaders when you’re throwing meat. It can be a real day
killer running out of leaders while you’re out on the water, so make sure you have a few spares
in your pack.
Tippet is much less expensive than leaders, so having a wide selection of different size tippet
will save you money in the long run. You can use tippet to build a leader that has been cut back
too far or you can use it to taper down a leader for a more delicate presentation for dry fly
fishing. Tippet is also used as the connector between flies in a multiply fly rig. I like to have 1x –
6x tippet in my bag however you can get away with have 4x – 6x in most situations or rivers.
I always have a small selection of different size split shot in my pack. These are incredibly
helpful and come into play when nymphing. I like having at least two or three different sizes to have some options depending on the depth and the speed of the river. Getting the flies to the right depth can make or break your day. The difference between a good guide and a great guide can be one split shot.
You should have a few strike indicators in your pack as well. Airlock strike indicators have
become a standard for most anglers and guides. The one downside to the Airlock indicator is
you can lose the screw on cap very easily, rendering the strike indicator useless. I like to have a
few different size and color indicators in my pack. Different sizes for different size waterways
and different colors for different lighting scenarios.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on the river tying on a dry fly to come to the realization
that I don’t have any dry shake in my pack. Dry shake really helps to get a saturated dry fly
floating high on the water surface. I like to treat my dry flies with a liquid or gel floatant for the
first application and then only using dry shake after that initial application of floatant.
There are a lot of gimmicky fishing tools on the market. I think having a nice pair of nippers and
a good hemostat or clamp is really all you need. If you’re prone to losing nippers, I highly
suggest getting a lanyard to keep them in place around your neck. I’m a huge fan of mitten
clamps with scissors built in for getting hooks out and to aid in numerous other tasks. I usually
will fasten the clamps to my pack or shirt for quick and easy access.
The gear on this list is what I think is essential to have in your pack. Of course, everyone is
different and might have different tools or other items that they find are a necessity on the river. I
like to keep it pretty simple and not too cluttered in my pack. Whether you’re a gear junkie or a
minimalist, having the right gear in your pack can allow you to utilize every minute on the water.