When Gear Gets In the Way

by | Jan 17, 2023 | 12 comments

Years ago, I caught more trout than I do now. I’m sure of it. I have all kinds of excuses for that, if you like. I enjoy buckling down and trying to force a fish to eat in the best spots. I like changing and A/B testing flies or tactics, just to see what happens. So I used to cover more water — there’s no doubt in that. And I change rigs less — no doubt about that either.

I wear a vest because I love having my presentation options ready for every moment. In one of those thirty-some pockets, I have the next fly, leader or weight adjustment up front and at hand, without digging into a backpack or rotating a sling pack around, slowing me down and missing the moment.

Yesterday, a guy walking his dog laughed at me as we passed on the trail . . .

“Anything you don’t have in that vest, kid?” the man asked sarcastically.

I took the question as rhetorical and ignored him. I did note that he called me a kid. No one has asked for my driver’s license in exchange for a six-pack for quite some time, so the “kid” remark softened the sting of the stranger’s chiding tone.

“Maybe I shouldn’t carry so much stuff,” I thought.

Here’s the thing: I’m a minimalist, but I’m prepared, too. And I also love testing, which I sometimes do more than fishing.

I’ve spent so many days on the water that what brings me back is not the next trout but the next mystery. Why does my friend love that strange leader formula so much? I’ll fish it for a few days, and find out.

READ: Troutbitten | Angler Types in Profile — The Gear Guy

Once my guide season ends, I’m still on the water every day, but I‘m back to fishing. Day in and day out, I try to learn something, adding to the collected bank of knowledge of a few decades on rivers. And I’m in a lot more control of that testing with the rod in my own hand.

But I do have to step in and restrain myself once in a while . . .

I preach versatility to put trout in the net. And no, I’ll never give up on that message or suggest otherwise. But when am I changing too much? At some point, I’m spending more minutes tying knots to test the next thing than I am making solid casts and working on effective drifts. There’s a point where I’m being too versatile, and I must remind myself to fish and not just test.

Last night, I sat with this same laptop under my fingers and watched one video after another about film editing in Davinci Resolve. For the hundredth time, I compared my computer specs with recommended components and software settings. After a couple hours of that, I walked upstairs and took my new knowledge into the menus of the program.

I’m young at the game. I’ve dabbled in video work for two years now, but I’ve published very little of my own efforts. It’s intimidating, because I’m surrounded by anglers and videographers who are more skilled and more experienced. I also know that I have a quality standard for anything with the Troutbitten name behind it. And I’m not there yet.

But while sitting in my office chair at midnight, I realized something . . .

The gear is getting in the way. I’ve learned enough about GPUs and clock speeds, proxy files, frames per second, color grading and scopes. Now I need to focus on creating. I’m being held back by my worry that I don’t have the right settings in place or not enough RAM in the machine. I need to move forward. I need to get past the gear stage.

Fly fishing is similar. And I remember being in the gear stage many times over the years. At every turn, with every new tactic, I’ve gone through a phase of research and preparation before implementation. That’s a good thing. But for anyone at the same crossroads, we must move forward and get to the reason we did so much research and gear acquisition in the first place. On the river, every angler must eventually put their learning and new gear to good use.

No matter what we’re into, there’s a time when the learning of skills reaches a critical mass, when it’s time to do rather than read more about it and buy more gear.

With a fly rod in hand, the gear that we carry in our packs can easily get in the way. It can become an excuse and a distraction from the fishing itself.

There’s a time for learning. There’s time for preparation. And then there’s time for doing — for putting all of it into practice, making the casts, covering water and catching fish.

Fish hard, friends.


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Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky



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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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  1. OK, I’ll bite, and take credit for you questioning whether you’re trying to be too versatile – I can’t prove it was me, as I can’t find which article that has my comments about versatility limits…

    It’s not just gear that gets in the way. There’s a point at which you’re catching enough fish (in a session, not in a general sense) that you don’t see any value in changing what you’re doing. If I pull five fish out of a riffle and don’t catch another one in the next dozen drifts, I’m going to be happy with that and move on to the next run, rather than try different flies or a different leader setup to catch one or two more from the same spot.

    Conversely, versatility is needed if the technique you’re applying isn’t working, or not working well enough to justify sticking with it. Sometimes the fish are fickle and only taking nymphs in one hour, and the next only taking dries, so yeah, you need versatility when it’s like that.

    But to me, versatility is needed to solve the daily puzzle (or intra-daily puzzle if the fish are that way inclined). Another factor is covering uncertainty. If you don’t know that particular river, or haven’t fished it in a few weeks/months, you’re going to want to have more options up your sleeve.

    The beauty of fishing the mono rig is its inherent versatility but also its inherent effectiveness in its ‘standard’ application. It’s rare that trout aren’t going to eat a dead drifted nymph in the strike zone, and if so it’s rare that you’re going to need a major adjustment to the system to tie on a dry or a streamer (or pop on an indicator) to adapt your technique to what the fish will eat.

    • Hey John,

      Great stuff, all around.

      Only thing I would say, just a different thought . . .
      When I find that formula, when the bite is hot, I often use that as a chance to change anyway. Point is, I know for sure they are interested in eating there, so I might throw a curve ball. Use that time to test a brand new pattern. Or do the opposite of what is working, to almost see if you can screw it up.

      Fun stuff.

      • Yeah, I get your point. And it’s really about a change of objective from just catching fish to catching fish in specific ways (to learn something, or to try and target bigger/different fish). I like it, and I do it occasionally.

        Experimenting for the sake of it can be a luxury mostly enjoyed by frequent fishers though. When you’re fishing regularly you don’t mind ‘burning’ a session or part session on learning something new (even if that’s how to not catch fish that day). But when your opportunities are limited, it’s nice to have others experiment and (hopefully) share their wisdom… Just saying, I would probably not have come across and tried the mono rig if not for you sharing your journey here (or maybe I would have eventually, but who knows). So thanks for everything you do on Troutbitten. We get to benefit from you sharing the trial and error of not just your good self, but also your fishing buddies.

  2. This article resonates with my experience. I, too, vacillate between incessant tinkering and settling down.

    I do, however, want to add one thought. I tinker for the obvious reasons, but also for something slightly different that obsesses me. Fellow anglers will frequently tell me what “the fly of the day” or the “technique of the day” was, and how it was slaying the fish. My first thought, when confronted with that idea, is that it’s impossible to know what the “fly (or technique, presentation, etc.) of the day” is because the nature of fly fishing is that you can’t do something and something else at the same time. Perhaps a totally different fly or drift would have been just as successful. We can’t know, so I approximate by tinkering, trying new stuff, all the while knowing that at any given moment I’m only doing one thing, so I can’t know if something entirely different would have worked better. I think of that inability to know for certain what works best as the beauty and tragedy of fly fishing.

  3. Hey, Dom,
    Your article prompted a slightly different take for me. I’ve entered an interesting stage of my fly fishing life, which is only about 6 years now: As much as I enjoy shopping and buying gear (modern day hunting and gathering) I feel like there’s nothing I need or want. Yeah, I will be replacing gear as it wears out, breaks or gets lost but, try as I might, as I look through catalogs I’m just not moved by anything “new”. I truly thought this day would never arrive. I suppose I should rejoice.
    I’m looking forward to your presentation to our club tonight. See you then!

    • Honestly, I feel like that too, Roger. I have everything I need. And I really hate breaking in new stuff.


  4. Hello Dom,
    Your articles never disappoint. I’m the “sling-pack” guy-lol. We pretty much all go through stages in our fishing experiences as we do in life stages. I find as I now approach my mid-sixties the types of gear I now gravitate towards are high-tech comfort wear for the seasons…, like warm lightweight underpants; better wading boots; etc. It’s not so much about catching a ton of fish nor the biggest one as it is more about enjoying nature, solitude, watching a hatch; and enjoying my companion Charlie (Labradoodle). I still fish hard…, I just take more breaks nowadays to enjoy the surroundings. All the best in the New Year.

  5. I hear ya’ brother!! And hence the expression “ you have to stop cutting bait and start fishing”. Well, not an exact match to your message but close enough!


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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