It was late in the evening, on a Friday night in 1987. I sat near my father’s workbench, organizing the fishing gear in my tan cotton vest. It was big, but I’d grown into it. At twelve years old, the anticipation for our trout season opener the next morning felt like Christmas Eve. I couldn’t sleep. The basement had the familiar, earthy scent of springtime. And pouring over gear while imagining the opportunities of the next fishing adventure was a ritual that passed the time for me. When I was satisfied with the complexity of my fishing vest, I moved to the exterior pockets of my green nylon creel.
The fluorescent shop lights buzzed, and I heard water running through the pipes, echoing in the rafters overhead at a rhythm that signaled our family’s bedtime routine. I knew Dad would soon call down and demand that my head hit the pillow — because our rise was early at 4:00 am.
I fingered the vest pockets one last time, accounting for the split shot, double hooks and minnow needles. I would carry all of that, extra of everything, and more of what I would never use but that a twelve year old kid imagines might be good to stick in a pocket — like band-aids, old Twizzlers and a snake bite kit. Satisfied that the vest was stocked, I slung the creel over the same hanger and hooked them on the pegboard next to my rod and reel in the corner. I cut the buzzing lights and walked up the steps in darkness, just as Dad called from above.
I think every angler has some gear obsession. It’s part of us. Because fishing is the kind of activity that requires a lot of stuff. Big things and small. Clothing and boots, packs and boxes, lines and tools — and all the things that non-fishers never imagine when they think of a fishing pole. So it’s understandable that we pack our gear bags with stuff we know we need and then add in everything we think we might need. Time on the water is limited, and we want to feel prepared.
But I also argue that fly fishing tends to spawn more of the gear guy syndrome than some other styles of fishing or outdoor pursuits. Maybe not by a wide margin, but yeah, it’s a thing.
My neighbor rolled up the driveway a couple of nights ago, right at dusk. And I walked across the lawn to ask the questions that you ask of anyone who’s returning from a fishing trip:
“How was it?” I said as he climbed out of the car door.
My friend shook his head and waved his hand.
“Man, the whole Orvis catalog was down there. It was too much, Dom.”
I chuckled as my friend opened the trunk, pulled out his wet waders and laid them on the narrow sidewalk. They would remain there overnight, as was his habit.
“That bad, huh?” I shrugged.
“Oh man, you wouldn’t believe it.” He talked quickly. “Everybody had their Rod Vaults, their stickers on the windows and boxes of gear stacked up like a trade show or something. There were Tilley hats, Fishpond packs, Simms everything, Hardy reels, Loomis rods, bright fly lines . . . all of it.”
My friend shook his head and closed the trunk. “And there was a lot of bad casting!”
I laughed again.
“I’m serious,” he said. “And I only saw one bent rod the whole time.”
“Probably snagged up!” I joked.
“Probably true!” my friend replied.
We walked toward his porch together, and I handed him a beer.
“Hey,” he asked. “What’s with all the enormous freaking nets these days? It makes no sense.”
“I’m with ya there,” I agreed.
My goal has always been the same: to carry only what I need. But the last time I weighed my vest, it somehow came in at 5.8 lbs of needed things. That doesn’t count the water, wading staff, net and camera attached to my wading belt.
So do I need 5.8 lbs of tippet, flies and tools? Maybe. But I also need sunflower seeds and a small folding tripod for the camera, among many other items you’d probably shake your head at.
We all have reasons for the gear we choose. And as a kid I found some explanation for the snake bite kit and sewing thread. In truth, I probably just wanted to fill each pocket and snap it shut. But I honestly do have the goal to carry only what I need. Others have the same.
But there’s a faction of fly fishers out there whose goal seems to be different — to carry everything they ever bought. And that’s the extreme version of the gear guy. They buy everything imaginable or remotely usable, and dammit now they’re going to use it.
There’s also a group of fly fishers who go fishing to see and be seen. It’s the look-at-me approach. And that’s not an angler thing — it’s a human being thing. Every walk of life has these people that you learn to put up with.
I think what offended my neighbor — what really got under his skin — was the newness of it all. The fabric had no holes. The hinges had no rust. To hear him tell it, there were no busted zippers or broken boot laces in the bunch that evening.
Right? People should buy the gear they can afford and enjoy it. Mind your own business.
But there’s something inside most of us that wants people to earn it out there too.
I now own better gear than I ever have, there’s no doubt. Being part of the industry gives me access to a quality of things that I never would have spent money on before. And you know what? Top-end stuff is wonderful. But there’s a part of me that really hates the look of new waders too. With no blood stains or ground-in mud, something about the authenticity is lacking.
Nothing signals a rookie more than a clean fisherman.
So, earn it. That’s all.
Best and Worst
At his best, the gear guy is a tireless experimenter, buying the next thing to test and improve upon a system, to learn and find answers to his forever wondering and questioning. His fishing is never stale. There’s always something new on the horizon, and the gear adds energy to that. New fishing gear adds potential possibilities that keep the gear-head motivated.
At his worst, the gear guy relies on equipment too much. And he expects his latest rod purchase to equate to more fish in that (big) net. So he doesn’t work hard enough. Worse yet, he might be distracted by all the gear. With too many options and no real facility with anything, the gear guy is overwhelmed and floundering — even though he might look good doing it.
Fish hard, friends.
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T R O U T B I T T E N
Great write up. I always joke that my fishing mentor, that took me under his wing years ago, looks more like a homeless guy, sleeping in a boxcar, then a “fancy smancy” fly fisherman. His waders have more holes than the Titanic and his hat looks like he works at Grease Monkey. But this gentleman can jerk trout out of a dirty shot glass.
Dirty shot glass. I like that one.
When you hook that trout of a lifetime,and it’s longer than your whole net,is the reason I pack that stupid,big net. Actually never even used one when catching normal size trout,but first time hooked a brown that scared me got the biggest Fishpond possible!! Keep m coming!!
The description of a conversation with your neighbor couldn’t be more accurate of my recent experiences. Amazing. Had a similar thought driving along a well-known stream several nights ago. The sling pack/huge net combination was out in full force.
Funny how—even with all the gear—these types of anglers disappear after a day of light rain.
All the best.
I branched our on some new gear last summer. I picked up some dill pickle flavored sunflower seeds. They are not for every outing, but a pleasant change of pace every now and again. Sometimes I feel like fishing is just an excuse to eat sunflower seeds. Keep cracking.
This one goes in the comments hall of fame. Nice.
Fantastic! I’ll have to try those.
Funny thing is, we all scoff and laugh at “those guys”, and I’ve always been a very frugal person laughing at these walking catalogues. Yet there I was this spring buying one of those fancy chest packs with the backpack because “I’ll be able to stay out from dawn to dusk on the highly infrequent days I get out”. My wife almost fell over. Haha we all have our justifications. It’s just like golf. The guys who keep the industry alive are the doctors who love the game, can’t break 100, and buy a new $500 driver every year because they can and it’s part of the enjoyment for them. So as long as there’s no pretense, to each their own and if you have to show off while fishing, you got way bigger problems anyway. It takes all kinds
Great golf comparison, J. 100%. I agree with the idea that “It’s not the sword it’s the swordsman,” for pretty much everything. I always thought, why doesn’t that dude invest the grand that he dropped on those new clubs into some lessons to learn to hit his old clubs? That said, the pandemic has really helped fishing gear companies world-wide. I guess everyone is thinking about getting outside while social distancing. “I know! Fishing!”
“because they can and it’s part of the enjoyment for them. ”
Spot on the money Dom!
Just the same here in the UK….
Oh my goodness, what a funny article. There are so many good lines in it, but I like this one: “There’s something special about the overall (flyfishing) look this projects, and the admiring sly glance that I know I’ll get from the girl cashier in the petrol station.”
The fact that we have a comment section about this on our 500 dollar I phone makes my pap and dad roll over in there graves.
Ha. That’s a great way to say it.
Several years ago on a rainy December afternoon. I was standing crotch deep in a stream, catching a few trout. I was wearing my typical $1000 worth of crap, having a ton ‘o fun in the 34-degree sleet. I looked across the river and saw on the far bank a guy with an elaborate metal-detecting rig: headphones, a ski-pole (wading staff?) contraption, an electronic gizmo that he swept the forest floor with. What an idiot, I thought. What the fuck is going to find? A few rusty nails? An old hinge? Then, we both looked up at each other at the same time. He probably thought I was an idiot, too. I hope we had the same epiphany, and that is that both of us were having fun, neither of us were harming anyone, and, hopefully, our rents/mortgages was paid and our kids weren’t hungry. So, my point is that your distaining piece about gearheads comes across as just so much mockery and snobbishness. As long as they aren’t poisoning or killing the fish or throwing Starbux cups on the banks, who cares? They are having fun, just like you and me. And, most importantly, these people are supporting the industry. Have you considered what might happen if the gearheads who bought all this stuff decided that guides (a big expense!) weren’t part of their necessary kit? Love your site, Dom, but you’re kinda on your high horse on this one. Stay healthy. Keep writing. Thanks.
I think everyone should be made fun of sometimes! Yes, it depends on how it’s done. I do not think the article was degrading or mean-spirited at all, nor do I think the threshold for someone to be made fun of is if they are doing harm. I am reminded of comedian Daniel Tosh’s quip, “If you’re the type of person who ever says any version of this statement, ‘Nothing’s funny about X’ then you and I cannot hang out.” The guy who has gear far more fancy than his ability level is ripe for being made fun of, in any activity. No, he’s not doing anyone any harm, certainly not the company that convinced him he needed it, but it’s still funny! (to me, anyway) Lastly, Dom, a guy who makes his living educating folks, is EXACTLY the guy who can throw a little shade on people who think new gear, not new knowledge and experience, is the route to becoming a better fly fisher.
Thank for the comment, Jefferson.
Sorry you read it that way. I feel like I was pretty clear, that I too am a gear guy, multiple times in the article. I also mentioned that you would probably laugh at some of the stuff that I carry. And you know what? I’d be okay with that.
It’s really just some observations. And like all of the Angler Types in Profile series, there’s an “At his best” part and an “At his worst” part. I think the “At His Worst wrap up for this article is legitimate. Too much gear can get in the way.
My wooden net is kinda small- just right for most of the fish I catch. It’s not new either. I made it 58 years ago from laminates of an old hockey stick. I have all the other new high-end gear – Loomis and Sage rods, Abel and Taylor reels, Orvis this and that, but nothing gives as much satisfaction as scooping a trout with that old net.
Josh, your comment on your net brought a tear to my eye. Some 50 plus years ago a friend gave me my first net. He passed away not long after. The old wooden net was nothing special, but I thought back of dear Earl every time I used it. I lost that net a couple of years ago and I have walked the trail I lost it on many times since and think of Earl every time. The new replacement is fine, but it just doesn’t have the memories. Hopefully when I pass it to my grandson he will have good memories of me.
I remember going to fish for Striped Bass in Maine at Parson’s Beach. The parking area is on both sides of a road thru a tidal flat with a little bridge. At the bridge a station wagon was parked and a fellow was erecting a mast with guy wires, kind of an unusual contraption. I helpfully informed him that he likely couldn’t get the island to sail away. He said it’s not for sailing, I’m a ham radio operator and if you are surrounded by water you can pick up signals from all over the world. Seeing the look on my face he said “you know it’s kinda like fishing”. He had a valid point….
I started fishing about 1968 here in Scotland, my old man used a heavy cane rod and used the same three or four wet flies and a few drys all season, he caught more than most because he was a skilful fisher.
Twenty five years later I paid two weeks wages on a Hardy and the damned thing broke! I have just returned to fishing recently and had no intentions of paying probably a month’s wages on a high end rod. I have a Shakespeare and it was a fraction of the cost, it is a lovely rod and does the same as the Hardy.
The moral of the story? expensive gear doesn’t make you a better fisher.
I get where you guys are coming from. I really do. I too have laughed and stereotyped. The $150 pair of cleats and $ 300 bat wont make a better ball player. I used to rub dirt and spit tobacco on my new cleats because I was embarrassed having new equipment. But not all are as fortunate as others. I assume many of you grew up near a river or lake and fished all your life and Im envious. You too have waded in the river with a new pair of waders and boots. But what about others who don’t get to fish that often but are eager to learn the sport and and become better at the craft. We lean on experienced anglers, ask too many dumb questions, read, watch videos and practice. Then if we are fortunate enough we finally get our chance to play, if only for a short while. We get tired of sitting on the bench. Maybe these guys you scoff at are not about name brands, expensive equipment or color coordination but rather about comfort, being properly prepared, staying safe and becoming efficient so they can focus on the task at hand. Its all about the feel of a new bat, new club or a new rod. Its a personal choice. If it feels right it will give you confidence. If I need a wading stick to keep my ass upright then thats what it is. Many of those new to the sport need necessary gear. Maybe they are tired of borrowing from others. And yes it will be new, shiny, no blood stains, tears or scuffs. We look to the experts for advice for what to buy. Theres an old saying which I firmly believe. “You get what you pay for.” Ive heard that from you experienced anglers as well. So if Simms or Orvis or other well known brands provide the better quality and comfort which we are looking for then so be it. If KMart has it, then even better. You wont see a rod carrier on my car but please excuse the one sticker on my back window. Its cool. You guys were rookies at one time too. Help those new to the sport become better anglers and help them enjoy their time on the water.
Hi Skip. I agree. I have some really nice high end gear now, and I love it. I still like it better once it’s broken in though.
Reminds me of: “Beware of the man with one gun.” (He knows how to shoot it.)
I also don’t want to hear the argument , “we need more fly fishermen/women.”
Ask all the guides, outfitters and fly fishing gear companies who earn a living in the industry to pay their bills. I bet they would love to see more fisherman.
That’s a tricky one. Most of us would love to see more anglers who love the rivers enough to protect them. But we also don’t want to lose the solitude.
Here’s how more “upscale” anglers protect our rivers: The very wealthy one’s buy up land that has a trout stream on it and post it for their use only… The moderately wealthy will buy a home in a gated community that only has access to a stream for that community. Less wealthy will lease or join a club that has a stream only members can fish. Many landowners are posting their land due to anglers with no fishing etiquette. Shops combine with some of these clubs and make money from doing it! And it’s not only in Bozeman but in New York State and PA as well. Of course shops want to see more fishermen/women! They have learned well from golf courses.
Nothing funnier than watching a guy use one of those oversize comp nets on a 10″ trout.
The competition guys use those nets to make it easier to land fish -regardless of fish size I think. And it is my understanding that rarely is a ‘whiskey’ landed during such competitions. It’s usually lots of small and midsize fish.
The 2 nets that Devin Olsen’ site sells are not expensive, relatively long, and super light. I don’t use either, but to me, that makes them appealing nets for anybody.
…Would you laugh less if the guy had 2 nets and chose the smaller one when a 10″ trout was at his feet?
I think it’s okay to poke fun at ourselves. We do it all the time. And the big nets are funny to many of us. That’s okay too. I’m fully aware why they are popular in competition circles. For most of us, a large net like that is unwieldy, unnecessary, and it doesn’t float. That’s disqualifying for us.
And no. I would chuckle more at someone carrying two nets.
I have no idea why a wade angler would use a sinking net. They are less than useless – a detriment to a proper release.
For what I like to do in my release process, I don’t like a sinking net either.
….and the rod vaults….why do they need to carry your rods all strung up in a vault? (clearly they aren’t planning to hike anywhere).
Thanks for an article we can all relate to. I, too, went thru the sling pack phase. Never really caught on for me. I pulled out the old, ‘Battenkill Pro Guide’ vest and haven’t looked back. Definitely in the minority as a vest wearer but it’s my link to the past. And it doesn’t look bad, either!
Thank you for this article.
I have all new stuff. I am so sorry! My friend introduced me to fly fishing last year and I got hooked. I am bikepacker who owned Tenkara setup and fished before.
Friend took me under his wing to show me how to cast, he tied dry flies for me, then nymphs and streamers.
He fed me with many books and just in a year I am standing there, in the river with him in my new Patagonia waders, holding my Hardy Demon Smuggler with Hardy reel on it and Rio floating line. Of course my Tenkara net is hanging on the back. Not that big, just 17in.
Season passed mostly losing my friends flies on overhanging branches or submerged logs. I Also have pictures of my first rainbows and bull trouts!
I fish places with him or I bike for hours and can’t see many people around me. No one seen my new gear yet and how bad I am in casting.
When I showed your article to my friend, he said: “Don’t worry to much! If you keep falling backwards while wading and dropping your gear on rocks, soon you will look like serious fishermen.”
I don’t mind your and his comments! I am hooked and will endure all this tease! I just want to go with him. I learn a lot every time. I just want to read your articles. You are good!
Small price to pay to get flyfishing knowledge.
Nothing in life is free!
Great article! I bought a bunch of new stuff this year and often chuckle to myself knowing that none of it makes me any better at catching fish. I have shared your opinion since I was a teenager. It’s not a necessity but some of it is more comfortable or enjoyable to use.
I will defend my recent fishpond nomad purchase. After inadvertently fighting a wild whiskey to exhaustion because I lacked the skills to get him into my net, I figured I would give it a try. I have listened to your podcast on landing large fish multiple times since then. I probably don’t need the net but until I get more skilled I will take any advantage I can get. Winston was right. I needed a bigger net.
Thanks for everything you and your team does! I look forward to reading more of your articles.
Ha. That’s right.
So back in the day, growing up in central Pa, my gear was cheap- all my family could afford. It consisted of a yellow fiberglass 2 piece rod from KMart which took the force of 4 friends to pull apart once assembled, leaky hip boots, and flies collected from river side bushes and trees. Now, 30 yrs later I have all the good stuff- T and T rod, sage reel , new flies. Has this made me a better fisherman? You’re darn right it has. And that rod vault on my roof? I still can’t get my damn rod apart.
Pretty funny comments. I can relate. I’ve used a Simms Guide vest for the last 25 years. It was beyond broken in. The fabric on the shoulders was gone and the elastic material stretched out and filled with holes. I went out and replaced it with a new Simms Guide vest and I looked like a Simms ad. I could live with that knowing stains and Mucilin melting would age it soon, but what I couldn’t get use to was organizing the pockets. I was so used to knowing exactly where everything was. After a few days of fishing with it, I sold it. I drug out my old vest, looked around for some way to patch it up and ended up cutting up an old BBQ cover for material and had a seamstress sew it together. I put all my stuff where it belongs and it’s perfect. I have a tub full of sling packs, Fanny packs, and assorted things, but I prefer vests.
Oh no! I finally replaced my old Simms Vapor boots after literally hundreds of days in salt and fresh. If I could submit a photo you’d laugh like hell. And I had to replace Redington waders that lasted through four seasons (fabulous, but again, the salt!). Finally, I had to replace my Patagonia Salt jacket. So I went from having earned it to now looking like a newbie gear guy! Seriously, as always, great stuff from you!
This write up gave me a chuckle. The second year of my flyfishing adventure I was still sporting a drugstore rod/reel, plastic waders and high top converse for wading boots. My buddy and I were hiking up a Northern California stream and ran into team Orvis. He had the boots, waders, vest, had, rod, reel and probably underwear.
He looked at us, grinned and without so much as a hello began to tell us he caught a few on a cealleabatie supawhateveris huh whatever, then asked how we had done so far. Kevin and I looked at each other and came to an agreement that we probably had 70 fish or so to hand so far. The guy just shook his head and walked away. The beauty of it is we were dialed on that river and probably did have 70 or so fish to hand.
On that note, I haven’t had a must have since I moved to Michigan in 2018, a 5′-8″ 0wt. It doesn’t help me catch any more fish, but it sure is fun.
…guess I won’t be toting around that can of bear spray I accidentally shot myself with while putting my gear away the other day. Maybe too much stuff?!?
Maybe . . .
So much judging for one article…
It’s a hobby, do it however you want.
I’m sad that you came away with that perspective.
Read the other articles in the Angler Types in Profile series, and you’ll get it. Or just re-read the Best and Worst section.
There are people that have more money than free time, that work in big cities far away from trout rivers and streams. Family comes first for any free time that they have and their jobs demand 50-70 hours a week. They buy equipment that the “experts” tell them they must have in anticipation of getting on the water. This is their way of prepping. They did not have fathers that took them fishing so they don’t have years of experience or perspective before they went off to college, started a career, got married and had a family. And, the inexperienced don’t know exactly what they need on the water so they take it all. The “better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it” reasoning. Please give these guys a break.
This article reminds me of a story about a true event when a seasoned crew of professional fisherman coming back from sea came upon a film crew and actors making a movie. The actors were all dressed in brand new gear – bright yellow rain jackets and boots. The wise captain approached the director and told him the scene would be much more realistic with worn out gear that is stained and torn. The director bought the fishermen’s gear and gave them the new stuff. Guess who had a big laugh.
A big laugh is the point here. It’s okay.
Hmm… I guess I looked like a “gear guy” in my brand spanking new Simms waders I wore fishing yesterday, with my Fishpond hip pack. Good thing the 28F temp and snow kept everyone home as I broke in those new waders by catching a few fish on a TOUGH spring creek here. Otherwise, people may have been snickering at me.
I don’t wear a vest, so I need the hip pack to hold a couple of fly boxes, and I can usually squeeze a beer or two into it, along with a cigar and lighter. I didn’t want to have to trudge back to my truck in the new snow when I felt like a cold one. It may have gotten up to 5.8lbs then. 🙂
Good thing . . .
I always fished with the bear minimum. Never had a tackle box full of lures ect. As I took on flying 6 years back I thought of what I really needed, and all the stuff dangling as more dangerous when falling. I bought a few to many packs to because was looking for the easiest and convenient access to just tippet, my own leaders flies and other essentials. I would look like one of those clean waders men. But I hate dirty gear. I wash my outer gear for longevity and not to transfer different algae amd foreign growth to waters from different states. Letort, Cordoris, are muddy and at times I see insects when I wash my boots inside and out and waders as well as my clothes. I agree don’t over think it. Bring what you think you need, be safe and keep moving and have fun. Thanks Dom.
If you haven’t bought some useless piece of gear that you didn’t need and won’t ever use, your a better man than I am, Gunda Din.
Back when money was tight for me, my gear purchases had to meet a simple standard:
Will it directly help me catch and safely release trout?
Essentials only, excluding over-priced essentials.
Now that money isn’t tight, I only stray on rare occasions.
This article took me back many many years and put a smile on my face with a little chuckle. My Dad used to call those folks Mr. Sears and Roebucks. Show up with everything brand new and not a speck of dirt or stain on them. Thanks for that memory.