I started with scarcity and circled back. Throughout the years I acquired all manner of fly fishing gear and paraphernalia and most of it went in my fly fishing vest. I bought the vest when I started. It seemed like the right thing to do. And I paid very little for it. I filled the vest partly because I did not know what I needed and partly because I did not know what I liked, but as I spent more time on the river I settled into a rhythm and learned the difference. It became less about quantity and more about function. This discovery came with my introduction to the fly fishing lanyard and a realization that, on the river, less is more.
Caveat: Some fly fishers love stuff. The more gadgets, gear, and fly boxes the better. More power to you. Others already have a system that works for them. I did too. The fly fishing lanyard re-shaped the way I fished and enjoyed the river. Maybe it will for you.
The Fly Fishing Lanyard.
The irrecoverable path to simplicity started with a simple gift from my wife one Christmas. I received an Orvis fly fishing lanyard. At first, I resisted.
And why not? I already had a vest and a method to manage my gear within. Every pocket had its purpose, and each item had its place. I could find anything blindfolded. The lanyard meant I now had more items to carry. More stuff. Deep down I knew I needed less, not more, but the answer was unclear. I perceived the lanyard would only add to my unspoken problem. One that my wife had no idea I was struggling with. Except it didn’t.
Regardless of my inner turmoil with how much stuff was building in my fishing vest, I knew I must at least make use of my wife’s thoughtful gift or risk seeming ungrateful.
I began the process of transferring the items from my vest to the lanyard and quickly learned two things: First, the fly fishing lanyard could carry most of the gear that you need in the vest. Second, there is a lot of things in my vest that I did not need.
Nippers, tippet, floatant, forceps – all could be affixed to the fly fishing lanyard. The larger problem in pursuit of minimalism arose from items that were more difficult to incorporate into my newly developing approach to carrying gear on the river. My fly boxes.
Flies, Fly Boxes – And the Solution.
The argument for less is more usually runs into the most opposition when the topic of flies comes up and I quickly saw why. I must admit I have never been one who hoards an excessive number of flies. Why? I lose a lot. I tie slowly. And I usually buy new flies at the fly shop on fly fishing trips, which I subsequently proceed to lose. But I do have a fair amount, let’s call it the average amount, of flies and boxes. It was a problem. However, the lanyard forced me to organize them in a specific way that helps me save space on the river.
Let us start with the biggest box first. My “big box”. I have a fly box I keep at home above my vise where I store all the flies I manage to create. I usually tie basic flies that are simple to make, with minimal materials. This is due to my excessive enthusiasm but wanting expertise and time available. This fly box holds the flies that I use to supply my smaller fly boxes, and it is never carried on the river. It may go to the river, but “the big box” stays in the truck or the hotel.
Next are my “basic fly boxes”. What are my basic fly boxes? I have a dry fly box, a nymph box, and a streamer box. I also just created a new basic box for midges. (I have more fly boxes laying around, but these are my “basic boxes”. They go on the river with me.) These basic boxes are filled with basic flies. Flies that work on most rivers and are usually filled with flies from my bigger box and left over flies from past trips. Elk hair caddis. Blue winged olives. Grasshoppers. Hares ears. Pheasant tails… Pretty basic right?
I also have a “go-to fly box” that hangs from my lanyard. This fly box contains flies from my basic boxes and from the fly shop that I plan on using that day on the river. I typically have at least an idea about what flies I think will work. These are the flies that have been working or what some people call their “confidence flies”. Flies that mimic a specific insect in a particular phase of life, that I just always seem to do well with when replicating. I also supply the go-to fly box with flies from the fly shop, or recommended flies. The longer I fish a stream, the more precise this box becomes with the flies that fill it.
Ever bought flies in a fly shop? Me either. Some will have the hard plastic cylinders to take carry your purchased flies off in. Some shops charge, but most are free or darn cheap. Regardless, these are great little fly boxes to keep your specialty flies in, which I enjoy buying locally when able. These are the flies that I could not or did not tie before my fly fishing trip. The “hot” flies on a river. Although, presentation generally beats fly selection in productivity in my experience, it is still nice to have some specialty flies on hand that have been producing. These flies sometimes end up in my go-to box.
I have come to appreciate fly boxes for functionality and purpose above all else.
There are so many boxes to choose from, but I prefer slender boxes now for easy to access and slender form to fit in pockets and take up less space. I also look for boxes with rings that will allow them to be attached to my lanyard, and of size that they will not be cumbersome as they swing from my neck.
Some lanyards even incorporate a fly box into their design. One outfit that does this is Golden Trout Lanyards. And while I have not grabbed one yet… it’s on my Christmas List.
I also greatly appreciate fly boxes with compartments to contain flies versus slots to put them in. This is especially true for small midges and nymphs as they take up less room and I can fit a great deal in this type of box.
Chest pockets are an essential for the minimalist fly fisher who is looking to do more with less. While not required, having a good fly fishing shirt with some chest pockets can be a good spot to keep fly boxes, indicators, split shot, and a phone to take pictures. I also have an exceptionally light waterproof shell with chest pockets. It works great in the rain and in cold weather I simply add layers as required. I have been fishing beautiful sunny day and when the rains came, I empty the pockets of my shirt into those of my shell. Another good reason to have slender boxes.
The “Vest” has its Place.
Even after I transitioned to fly fishing with a lanyard, I kept my vest for a long time, but with a much different purpose. Storage only. The vest held all my extra stuff. Spare tippet and leaders, and yes fly boxes. Things I might need or replacement stuff. But it does not have to be a vest.
I have replaced the vest with a fanny pack. Yes. It’s sad but true. A fanny pack. Actually, Fishpond calls it a “Lumbar Pack”, so I feel better about that, but in my heart I know what it is. I like it because it still takes up little room on the river if I take it with me. This I usually if I am hiking in somewhere for a day and want to pack water or food.
Food and water are the big ones. If I have to hike, I bring my lumbar pack and keep food and water in there. If I have to hike to fish, I am doing more than fly fishing. In this case a backpack or sling pack or lumbar pack is good to have so that you enjoy your day. But often I am close to my car as I fish the river, or in a drift boat, or close to camp site. In these cases, I prefer to take only what is required and re-fill if needed when I get back to my pack.
This storage device also stays in the boat while I am fishing from a drift boat. I do not like having a vest, sling, or pack on me when fishing from the boat, but it is nice to have it close by. I always have my lanyard on anyway, with all I really need.
The net. The one thing about the vest that I miss is the ring on the back my fishing net. When I am wearing my jacket, this is not a problem because it has a built in ring on the back. When it is hot and I am not wearing my jacket, I attach my net to a belt loop or tuck it between my lumbar pack and my back.
Waders. Need vs. Want.
I am often asked by new fly fishers, what kind of waders should I get? My answer is always, it depends. On what? First, if you actually need waders at all. If you do, I recommend quality. But often they are not required. Mother nature and personal preference decides this, but if you are fly fishing in the cold it is required. However, I often see folks fishing in the summer with waders. On hot days!
Again, this is personal comfort but just because you have something, does not mean you always need it. Waders are no different. Just like I would not take my selection of salmon flies with me to the river in the wintertime, I would not take my waders with me to the river on a warm day. Reason in both cases? Don’t need them.
If the temps are nice, wet wading is so refreshing and rewarding. Its one layer closer to the river and the natural state of things while fly fishing.
You Do You.
I thought I had a good system until I tried something new. Now, I love my set up but almost more than my set up, I love the function that it has.
I believe this idea of function is more important than whether you use a vest, or backpack, a lumbar pack, or just your pockets. Do you have a comfortable system that works for you?
Try thinking about why you have something in your vest and if you truly need it, and you may soon find less is more.
Experienced angler? In the beginning there was not as much. If you can – circle back. After all, think how much more efficient that first trip to the store would be if you could start over.
Beginner? Focus on the basics and don’t feel bad if you do not have a lot. Experience has shown me, it is really not required. Less is more. Wadeoutthere.