And fun geegaws.
- By: Ted Leeson
If there is another sport as rife with tools and gizmos as fly-fishing, I’m not familiar with it—nor, frankly, does it seem conceivable. I cannot call to mind a single angling-related procedure, from stringing rods to tying knots to handling split shot, that some enterprising soul hasn’t tried to make easier, faster or more convenient by inventing a little device to do it.
The number of such accessories now available is astonishing and not a little ironic given that a great many anglers, at least since the time of Izaak Walton, have appreciated fly-fishing in part for its alleged simplicity. When I first decided to take a look at this miscellaneous category of equipment, I immediately shot an e-mail to a couple of dozen angling friends and colleagues of varying experience levels to find out what gadgets they use, get their opinions and solicit some input to help me sort through the imposing number of possibilities. The e-mail began, “I’m not much of a gadget guy, so I wanted to ask….”
Almost invariably, the return e-mails began, “I’m not much of a gadget guy either” and then proceeded to detail a couple pages worth of the stuff they can’t live without. I thought this quite amusing until I sat down and began cataloging all the stuff I use and have tried over the years.
Turns out, I am a gadget guy and have been one all along. Who knew? But our sport is full of such harmless self-deceptions, and the fact remains that nothing gladdens the heart quite like a new toy, especially one that works and doesn’t cost too much.
Collating all of these lists and weeding out the overly idiosyncratic (one friend favored a handgun, for instance) left me with dozens of accessories that I field-tested over the course of months—most are relatively low-ticket items, and everything that made the final cut seemed to me functional, practical and useful.
As my youthful sure-footedness in wading has declined, so has a certain arrogance about using cleated soles, and I’ve retrofitted a couple pairs of boots with Simms’ Hard Bite Boot Studs. These are, essentially, hex-head screws with carbide pellets welded into the head. Just install them with a nut driver or socket wrench. They give added grip to felt soles, and I find them indispensable on the sticky-rubber soles. The obvious requirement is that total sole thickness must exceed the screw length or the tips poke through. The felt-sole version ($19.95) is 14 mm long; a non-felt version ($29.95) is 11.75 mm. The packet of 20 is enough for one pair of boots, www.simmsfishing.com.
Here are a couple of items for the nymph fisherman. For all their virtues, yarn strike indicators do have a drawback—they sieve dirt, scum, algae, and debris from the water, and once contaminated, tend to hold water and float lower. Combing out the yarn cleans and separates the fibers, but I’ve broken the teeth out of many drug-store type pocket combs; they’re weak and brittle. The Fly Tyer’s Comb from Griffin Enterprises is made from natural steer horn, which I’ve found to be more durable than plastic. The 4-inch length makes it pocket sized, or you can cut off the handle, drill a hole and hang if from a retractor. Once you’ve cleaned the indicator, put some flotant on it and comb again to distribute the paste. It’s also good for its original purpose—cleaning deer hair at the tying bench; $6.25, www.griffinenterprisesinc.com.
Some split shot, especially the non-toxic type, lacks the little “ears” that you pinch to open the gap, and removing such shot from your leader can be the devil’s own business. Dr. Slick’s Split Shot Clamps have recessed pockets on one jaw face, while the other jaw is wedge shaped. Cradle a shot in a pocket, close the clamps and the wedge forces the split open for removal. The jaw tips are flattened for pinching shot closed or removing hooks, and so this can double as regular hemostat. Agreeably simple and functional, it goes for $16, www.drslick.com.
Historically, there have been two ways to cut tippet: pull it off the spool and clip it with nippers like good boys and girls, or pull if from the spool and bite it off, as most of us do. The new Shark Tooth Tippet Control System from Fly Fishing Xtreme offers a simple and welcome alternative.
An elastic band that fits around the tippet spool also holds a curved plastic housing that contains a stainless steel cutter. Pull off the tippet, tug it against the protectively recessed blade, and you’re done. No fumbling around for clippers or enduring stern rebukes from your dentist. It’s a clever and highly practical idea. Two band sizes fit virtually all tippet spools. $4.95, www.flyfishingxtreme.com; also distributed by Loon Outdoors, www.loonoutdoors.com.
Top It All Off…
Two seasons ago, I pushed aside my squeamishness about on-stream water-filtration systems and haven’t been sorry; they allow access to drinking water without the weight of carrying it. A friend recommended the Aquamira Frontier Pro, a compact filter about as big as a 5-inch length of broom handle that attaches to any 28mm thread—the standard on hydration packs and water bottles. This one works like a straw; you bite on the valve and suck to draw water through the filter. Pair it with a Platy Bottle, a water bottle that collapses flat (www.platy pushydration.com, $6.95 for .5L model), and you have a feather-light, low-bulk unit that packs easily in a vest. The Aquamira filter is good for 50 gallons and runs $24.95, www.aquamira.com.
The pleasures of an après-fishing nip, or a wee dram on a frosty day, should not be underestimated. But glass containers are fragile and heavy in a vest, and the angler who decants good 12-year-old into a plastic bottle should be caned with a billfish rod and sent to bed without supper. The William Joseph Flask is a worthy alternative. Handsomely made of stainless-steel, slightly curved so you might carry it close to your heart, it has a gasketed screw top on a hinged arm to prevent loss. The flask weighs less than one ounce when empty and holds six ounces of your favorite spirits—enough to share, or not, as the case may be; $19, www.williamjoseph.net.
Seeing is Believing
I’ve tried any number of flashlights and headlamps for pre-dawn and evening fishing, but few offer the simplicity and utility of Chota’s new Lighted Hat. Four little LED bulbs, two white and two red, are set discreetly into the bill of this baseball cap. Click the push-button switch on the underside of the brim once for the white lights or twice for the red, which better preserve night vision. You get easily directed, hands-free illumination—and a hat. The two coin-type batteries are replaceable. Constitutionally suspicious of contraptions like this, I was extremely surprised at how practical and functional this proved—lightweight, comfortable and always handy, $23.95 (includes replaceable, coin-type batteries), www.chotaout doorgear.com.
As the years advance, the eyesight recedes and, among other things, threading all but the largest flies onto a tippet becomes a grimly comic exercise of jabbing monofilament in the general direction of a hook eye and hoping to get lucky. The new Tight Lines 20/20 Magnetic Tippet Threader significantly improves your odds. It is ridiculously simple—a magnet holds the fly (including beadheads) vertically, eye down, at the end of a tapered groove. Feed the tippet down the groove and it passes through the eye. There are some limits; any pattern that has material extending over the hook eye (parachute flies or Elkhair Caddis) can’t be used. And very small patterns may take a couple of tries. But I’ve used this with good results on flies down to size-24 and tippets to 7X, and the magnet holds smaller patterns more reliably than your fingers. It’s light, smaller than a matchbox, and more functional than any tippet threader I’ve tried. It goes for $10, www.tight-line-enterprises.com.
I’ve never found an ideal way to carry a trout net, but the Orvis Original Magnetic Net Holder is as close as I’ve come. The magnet has a usefully calibrated strength—it holds the net securely but comes apart with a tug. Get the two ends within an inch or so of one another, and they jump together; you can do it without looking. And the coiled cord easily stretches farther than you can reach. If you’re bushwhacking and the net snags, however, the magnets detach, so you do have to keep an eye on things. It’s not a perfect solution to net storage, but then we live in an imperfect world. I actually like this gizmo best on a pontoon boat, $24.95, www.orvis.com.
For many anglers, the simple and durable pigtail retractors have made the spring-loaded zinger obsolete. Two features set the fishpond 360-degree Swivel Retractor apart from the rest. First, the push-button pin attachment is infinitely more secure than the safety-pin style, which too easily unclips and drops off. And second, the pin shank acts as an axle; you can pivot the retractor sideways or even upward to get a better angle on your work. Nicely made of anodized aluminum, these are a bit pricey at $18, but I figure I’ve already come out ahead on the cost of replacing lost retractors. www.fishpondusa.com
Padding & Cleaning
If you’ve never had your knuckles drubbed by a furiously spinning reel handle, courtesy of some tarpon or dorado disappearing into the next time zone, count yourself a lucky camper. If you’ve felt the pain, consider the Knucklehead Reel Handle Cushion from Mangrove.
This high-density foam cap slips over the reel handle to soften the blow. But I’ve also found them a blessing for cold-weather fishing; they insulate fingers from heat-robbing metal reel handles and provide a big, visible knob that’s easy to grasp with numb or gloved hands. They’re not much too look at, but they work. Knuckleheads are available in two outside diameters; both fit reel handles that are at least 7/16 inches at the widest point, though the big, paddle-type handles may prove too large. You can build up thinner handles with duct tape. $4.95 for a package of two. www.templeforkflyrods.com
When a friend recommended the 3M Lens Cleaning Cloth, I yawned meaningfully but gave it a try. He turned out to be right—this knobby-textured microfiber cleans sunglasses, binoculars and cameras, removing dust and oils without scratching, and works better than flat-woven microfiber cloths. The cloth is machine washable, lasts a long time, takes up little room in a vest or chest pack and doesn’t cost much at $3.25, www.scientific anglers.com.
Anglers who have occasion to break down and transport an uncased rod (rigged or unrigged)—as you might in driving from one spot on a river to the next—might appreciate this little gizmo that comes from the general-tackle industry. Fishing Butler’s Ultimate Fishing Rod Ties are simply a loop of elastic cord that passes through a plastic cord lock. Gather the rod sections together, slip a Rod Tie over each end, cinch down the cord lock, and everything’s corralled in a tidy bundle; rigged rods are less apt to tangle and rod sections less vulnerable to breakage. It beats rubber bands and the elastic hair ties I steal from my wife. The 12-inch size is suitable for fly rods and runs $2.99 for a pair, www.fishingbutler.com.
I keep extra tippet, bootlaces, licenses, car keys, wallet, and so on in a zip-closing bag in my vest’s back pocket to insure against a spill. Ordinary zip-sealing kitchen bags, however, tend to puncture and tear over time. A few seasons ago I discovered aLOKSAK bags, a clear, heavy-duty bag with a secure waterproof seal good to 200 feet, a depth I have yet to achieve. These are flexible, durable, and puncture resistant. Also good for protecting cameras, cell phones (if you must), and holding river maps or first-aid supplies in a boat. Various sizes are available, but to give you an idea, a package of three 12-by-12 inch bags runs $11.59, www.loksak.com.
Ted Leeson is our product-testing guru. He doesn’t simply write about this stuff—he uses it. Ted lives in Oregon; his most recent book is Inventing Montana. For a few more choice fly-fishing gizmos, go to flyrodreel.com Gear section.