It’s not likely any of us will escape our fly fishing journey without arriving at the river having forgotten something. It’s more likely that if you are reading this, you already know the pain. If not, remember there are those who have and those who will. Sometimes it’s no big deal. Forgot our water bottle? Fish thirsty. A box of dry flies? Fish nymphs. Raincoat? Fish wet. But some items cannot be fished through. Some things are deal breakers. I’ll admit it’s been more than once I have reached a trout stream without a critical piece of gear. It was after one of these exceptionally deflating days that I finally decided enough was enough. I committed to solving the problem in the only manner I knew how. Applying mental checklists in the way I did during my time flying fighters for the Air Force.
The Last Day I Forgot My Fly Fishing Gear (Maybe)
When you approach fly fishing tactically, when it morphs into a progression that you take true pride and joy from, it’s hard to imagine many things more embarrassing than being late to the river.
Sitting in the bar I knew the three men I was sharing a beer with were the sort that understood and embraced this philosophy. They were seasoned anglers I respected, and who cherished every hour of fly fishing their home waters that I was just now visiting for the first time. This made re-telling my story of being late even more painful.
“I was actually planning on being early.” I said. “Like really early. Seriously. I was envisioning myself getting rigged up and being all ready to go even before he pulled into the parking lot. Actually the only reason I wasn’t more late was because I had this vision of being all geared up and ready to go when I was about ten minutes away and I realized I had forgotten my rod.”
“That’s a critical piece.” My friend said while grinning and sipping his beer.
But my friend’s empathy didn’t make my experience hurt any less. I took that day as motivation to build a habit pattern that enables me to remember all my fly fishing gear. I hope by sharing it, you’ll avoid forgetting your gear in the future.
Stepping to Fish
In the A-10 we called it “stepping to fly.” A trip to the life support shop before a mission was the last chance to gather your gear before you “stepped” to the jet. And we had A LOT of gear. G-suit, harness, life support vest, NVGs or Binos, data cartridges and recording disks, knee boards, products, ear plugs… the list goes on.
But somehow I always, we always, remembered all our gear. Every time. How?
Here are some techniques that I use when creating and using mental checklists that I have applied towards stepping to fish.
Identify the Requirements
Before we create our mental checklist, let’s be clear about what gear deserves and requires remembering. I break those items into two categories: essential and additional.
This is my list of the essential items for going fly fishing. Any of these will arguably end your day, force a turn around, or at the least make your experience on the river downright frustrating.
- Pack or vest
Not everyone fishes with a lanyard, but I appreciate the simplicity they can provide.
The second category of gear are additional items. This group is “nice to haves.” I don’t need them to fish but they sure make the day more enjoyable, and I definitely don’t want to forget them.
*Note: Snacks made the list because I fish with my seven year old son a good amount. Anyone that nobly combines the outdoors with their children knows the value of remembering snacks.
These lists cover what’s required for my day on the river. Your list may and most likely will look different, and that’s okay. What you put on the list is not as important as the tools you use to remember them. The techniques I’ll share will work for whatever gear you use.
If you are new to fly fishing, here’s an article on some of the basics you will need to get started. It’s not as much as you might think.
Two Techniques for Mental Checklists
There are two basic mental checklist techniques I have used to help with remembering important items or tasks. Acronyms and Numbered Lists.
I’ll just let the cat out of the bag now. I am a numbered list kind of guy. I know this about myself after failing to integrate persistent habit patterns in the cockpit until I went away from acronyms and embraced numbers. It’s just how my brain works.
However, in my experience, some people have an easier time remembering things with acronyms. I know many pilots I flew with that utilized acronyms with success for years. I’ll share my thoughts on both and let you decide what works for you. The important thing is to build a habit.
Acronyms are useful for remembering your gear because you only have to remember one word or phrase. Every letter stands for one of the items on your list of fly fishing gear. By remembering your acronym, you can then go through each letter of the word to jog your memory on all the items you need.
Creating an acronym that makes sense takes some effort. Here is the process I went through for developing an acronym for stepping to fish. It’s not the technique I use, but because I know acronyms work for so many others, I knew I had to share this method. Here’s the process:
Break Down the Letters
When we examine my lists of essential and additional fly fishing gear and take the first letter of each item we get the following letters:
B W P L R R N
H S C W S
These are what we will use to create our acronym. Almost.
Identify or Create Vowels
Notice there are no vowels in our list. No problem. With some creativity (and a brief session with your thesaurus) some items on the list can be replaced with words that start with vowels. It’s not always optimum, but sometimes it’s required. I was able to replace sunglasses, coat, water, and snacks:
Eyewear vs. Sunglasses
Overcoat vs. Coat
O (as in H2O) vs. Water
Edibles vs. Snacks
Our list of letters to build our acronym with now looks like this:
E, O, O, E
B, W, P, L, R, R, N, H,
Create Your Acronym
I spent about an hour brainstorming and rearranging letters to create these acronyms.
L O N E H O P B R E W R
Lanyard, H2O, Net, Eyewear, Hat, Overcoat, Pack, Boots, Rod, Edibles, Waders, Reel
Prefer a vest to lanyard and pack? Let’s replace the P and L with a V and now I present:
N O H O V E R B R E W
Net, H2O, Hat, Overcoat, Vest, Eyewear, Rod, Boots, Reel, Edibles, Waders
What is Hover Brew? No idea, but there is none left…
There are some obvious downsides to acronyms which is why I prefer numbered lists. Acronyms require more work than a numbered list. You have to get creative with generating letters and putting them together to create a word that you can remember. They are also a little less flexible. If you want to add or subtract something from the list, you need to make a whole new word.
Numbered lists assign a number to each specific item on your list of fly fishing gear. My list of fly fishing gear has twelve items that I need to remember. I utilize my numbered list by checking my gear in a particular flow while I count to twelve.
Each number is always the same item. One is always boots. Two is always waders. Three is my pack. Four is lanyard. I continue this way until I count to twelve. Twelve is always snacks. When I get to snacks in my flow, if I have not counted twelve, I know I have forgotten something, and I can go back and start over. This creates a nice backstop to ensure you have everything.
My Fly Fishing Gear Numbered List
- Boots (could be wading shoes)
- Waders (may not need them)
- Hat (ball cap or skull cap depending on the weather. Gloves are with the skull cap)
- Coat (warm weather layers included. Hand warmers if it is especially chilly.)
- Snacks (Especially important when I take my son.)
There is a specific reason for the order in which I associate my items with numbers. I build a flow that makes sense in my brain. I will cover this more in additional tips, but my basic flow is bottom up, followed by top down.
The Easier Way (Sort of)
There is a third option. Write out your list and create a physical checklist. It can be a piece of laminated paper you keep in your pack or a note on your phone. As long as you know where it is and use it every time.
There are some problems with physical lists. Will you always keep it where you need it? Will you actually take out your pack or open your phone to use it? What if it’s lost?
Additional Tips for Remembering Gear
Keep Everything in One Spot
Keep your fly fishing gear together. Creating a single space for storing all your gear makes it easier to grab everything at once and run through your mental or physical checklist. If everything begins and ends in the same place, it becomes very hard to forget things. I keep all my gear in the same corner of my garage. I find having hooks to hang things on helps.
Have a flow
This is a big one. Don’t just count your items, count them in an order that makes sense for you. My specific flow is boots, waders, pack, lanyard, rod, reel and net. This is generally a bottom up approach to my essential gear. Then I go top down. Hat, sunglasses, coat, water, snacks. Remember, I am counting to twelve as I go through my flow. If I forget something, I will know it when I get to the end.
Grouping items is also very important. Here are some examples of how I group items so I do not forget things but also don’t have a list fifty items long.
I don’t have to remember my wading belt because it’s always on my waders.
My tippet, leaders, and fly boxes are not on my list of gear, because they are always stored in my pack.
When I get to hat, I decide what hat I am going to take. If it’s cold, I take my warmer skull cap, and my gloves are always stored in my skull cap.
Coat is more than a reminder to bring a coat. If I know I need to grab my heavier winter coat, that reminds me to bring the other layers of warm weather clothing I use in winter time. Including hand warmers.
Most of us group our fly fishing gear without thinking about it. I like grouping because it simplifies my process.
You don’t need to change your entire mental checklist if you are not taking something fishing one day, or even taking something different based on conditions. For example, when the weather warms up, and I start wet wading, I know I am not taking my boots, but when I get to boots in my checklist I remember to take my wading shoes. I still go through my entire mental checklist every time. It’s a habit pattern.
Verbalize Your List
Saying things out loud helps me remember them. When I go through my list this is what I physically say every time:
“One, two, three, four. Four things on me. Five, six to catch fish. Seven to land them. Eight, nine, ten (followed by a thoughtful pause while I consider what warm weather gear I need). Eleven, twelve.”
Touch Each Item
I had a friend say that he has to touch all his gear before he goes to the river as a guide. This makes a lot of sense to me. When I went through a mental checklist in the jet, I would always touch every switch regardless of whether it needed to be actuated. This is how muscle memory and habits are created. After I place all my fly fishing gear in my truck, I go through my numbered list and touch each item.
So How’s it Going?
Have I forgotten any gear since implementing my mental checklist? No. Does that mean I will never forget any fly fishing gear again? Probably not. But I am a lot better off now that I have a system. And why wouldn’t you want a system to ensure you remember all your gear when fishing?
I still don’t have a mental checklist for writing fly fishing articles. What am I forgetting? Let me know in the comments about the techniques you use to remember your fly fishing gear. In the mean time, I hope these techniques help you remember all your fly fishing gear. Every time. Wadeoutthere.