This is what I fish with, season after season . . .
Here’s a large and growing collection of my favorite gear. Many of the products below include links to Troutbitten articles for more background and more reasons why I prefer all this stuff in the first place.
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This is all gear that I’ve used extensively and believe in. This is what I fish with.
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I guide a hundred days a year, so I see a lot of fly fishing gear. I’m a teaching guide. And inevitably, I spend some time with the client’s rod in my own hands as I demonstrate a casting motion or a drifting technique. There’s an impressive field of rods on the market today. And the ones listed below are the most outstanding to me.
A dedicated angler forms a deep attachment with a good fly rod. “I don’t know,” he’ll say, “it just feels right.” Exactly! These preferences and devotions to rods and reels is personal. And what may be perfect for me, may not be for you.
I value versatility on the water. It’s a primary factor in how I choose a rod for the day. And most of my choices here reflect that.
Every one of the rods below handles dry flies beautifully — yes, even the “specialized” nymph rods. For me, the real test is how a fly rod handles a little weight on the end of the line. Can it do that with finesse? These rods can.
I hope you connect with one of these rods. And when you do form that bond . . . you’ll know it.
Hardy Ultralite LL
I do a lot of things on the river with one rod. And this is my favorite tool for doing everything. It has the perfect tip for tight lining with a Mono Rig — small flies and large, light and heavy. The Ultralite suits my tuck casting style well. This rod also has enough stiffness in the tip push around an indy or to perform jerks and jigs on streamers while still maintaining excellent contact. I like it best in the 9’9″ four weight. This is an extremely versatile rod, and I’m happy to recommend it as my favorite.
This is the most sensitive rod I’ve ever owned. Fishing underneath, you can paint the bottom with it. Up top, the H3 will launch flies much further than you can reasonably fish. It’s another rod that just feels right. I suggest the H3F. The H3D is too stiff for what I like to do. I like the ten footers in four and five weight. And the ten-and-a-half foot three weight is a great tight liner’s stick.
Thomas & Thomas Contact Fly Rod
This might be the perfect rod for tight lining nymphs. That said, the three and four weights are also quite versatile sticks. Even the three weight has no trouble casting medium streamers on the Mono Rig. The extra eight inches over ten feet makes it a little long to be called versatile, but if hitting the river to tight line nymphs is your primary goal, here’s your tool.
Here’s another excellent tight-liner’s tool. The tip of the ESN is slightly softer than the T&T Contact, but it has plenty of power and a very quick recovery. It is crisp but soft. I like that. For many of my clients, this is their favorite rod of all the ones that I put in their hands.
Orvis Recon Fly Rod
Like the H3, Orvis offers a full range with the Recon series, to match whatever kind of angler you are. If you aren’t willing to spend a month’s mortgage on a fly rod, here’s the best rod in the mid-price range. I like the four weight ten foot.
Cortland Competition Fly Rod
With this rod, Cortland offers the best tool for tight line anglers available at this price point. I bought this for my sons, and I use it a lot. The feel and the recovery of the tip is impressive. If your budget is under $250, here’s your nymphing rod.
Some trout anglers think the fly reel is just a place to hold the line, that a world-class drag doesn’t mean much.
I’ll grant the part about the drag. Although a smooth and powerful one, with a startup like butter is nice, it isn’t necessary. I landed my largest wild trout ever on a second-hand, no-name reel that lacked a counterbalance across from the handle. As the twenty-six inch beast took off downstream, I thought the reel was exploding in my hands. (I was young.) But ya know what? I palmed the spool on that click-and-pawl setup, got my wits about me and landed the fish. And it was fun.
That was about fifteen years ago. And I’ve graduated on to better gear. Although I don’t need it, a well-built fly reel (like the rod) is something to personally connect with. Likewise, long liners have a few special considerations in a reel.
These are my favorites.
Sage TROUT Reel
This is a full frame (full cage) reel, but it’s sized for trout rods. That’s a key consideration for us long liners, because the thin mono leader can unexpectedly slip between the spool and the frame. We call it the mono pull through. And with a full cage reel, it simply can’t happen. This has become my go to reel. It’s super solid, the sealed drag is perfect and I love the click sound (sometimes the nuances matter).
Ross Evolution LTX
Ross reels are manufactured with tight tolerances and narrow gaps. So the mono pull through (almost) never happens. I have hard-fishing friends who’ve put nearly two decades on their Ross Evolution reels. No issues.
My main reel was a Lamson Konic for about eight years. I still have it, and my son, Joey, uses it the most. Lamson replaced the Konic with the Remix. It’s only slightly more expensive but is built much better. This is a great reel with a bulletproof drag. It’ll serve you well for many years to come.
The second generation Click not only has a gorgeous look but a sound to match. Does that matter? Sure it does. If you’re buying a reel with no drag, then the aesthetics of things are probably important to you. For me, a basic click-and-pawl reel adds another element to the game, saying, “Disc drag? No thanks, I’ll do it myself.” This is also a good one for the angler who wants a reel as light as possible.
Simms G3 Guide Waders — Stocking Foot
I counted up to 17 pair of waders I’ve owned in my life, from many brands. But you can’t beat Simms. The G3’s are the sweet spot in their lineup.
Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible Pants
I know, they’re just pants, right? Not really. What you wear under your waders matters. For average temps, these are the perfect layer for me underneath. Super light, breathable and they look good. These are also my favorite pants for wet wading.
Simms Freestone Wading Boots
Why not the Guide boots? Because it’s the soles of the boots that wear out, regardless of the model. Simms Freestone’s have excellent foot support, while the uppers last a long time.
Simms Solarflex Shirts
Solarflex material is super soft and cooler in the sun than short sleeves. These are the best shirts I’ve worn for summer fishing. No sunscreen necessary. That’s nice. This material is light and somehow doesn’t cling when it’s wet. So, so good.
Simms G3 Guide Tactical Wading Jacket
Like waders and boots, I’ve gone through a lot of raincoats. This is the only one that can rightfully be called a wading jacket. It’s so functional, I wear it rain or shine, whenever I can.
Custom. That’s the important word. And having your own set of flies, tied just the way you like, is the key reason for rolling your own. Custom flies are confidence flies. The slight variations on a Hare’s Ear nymph that a fly tyer wraps onto his hooks are what make them more personal, more individual and ultimately more effective. We fish our own patterns with more conviction, certain that our adjustments and refinements are what make this fly a fish-catcher. READ: Troutbitten | Tie your own flies — Here’s why
Griffin Montana Mongoose
This wonderful vise does it all and comes with everything. The jaw design is simple and powerful. For me, this the best vise on the market.
True rotary at about $100. I tied on my Danvise for about a decade. Jaw design is the same as the Mongoose. Fantastic value here in a vise.
TOOLS AND TACKLE
From nets to wading staffs to split shot, all of it matters. An angler’s gear is chosen for efficiency and effectiveness. Every trout bum has a system. And this is mine.
Fishpond Nomad Hand Net
Durable, lightweight and suited for the job — here’s the perfect trout net. The carbon fiber frame floats and the rubber mesh bag is deep, ready for your next Whiskey or that mythical thirty-incher.
Smith Creek Net Holster
This is the unbeatable way to carry a net. Put the weight on your hips, not on your back. This holster is bulletproof in design and will last a lifetime.
Dr. Slick Spring Creek Clamps
These are strong clamps with a fine tip. Perfect for removing split shot and unbuttoning hooks. I’m picky about my tools. These are the best.
Trekking Pole Wading Staff
Nothing is more important than covering water. I wade with speed and confidence when I have a staff. Do I need it all the time? Nope. So I want a light but strong staff that folds. And I don’t spend a hundred dollars on one. Trekking poles are perfect.
Blackhawk Utility / Wading Belt
Carry the weight on your hips. Experienced hikers understand this. So I put the heaviest things I must carry on my hips: net, water, wading staff, camera. And the flimsy wading belt that comes with your waders will never work. This Blackbelt is built for the job.
Gear Keeper Retractor
I use retractors in twelve ounce and nine ounce strengths. These are perfect for keeping the Trekking pole wading staff right at your hip and ready at any moment. I’ve tried other brands of retractors. These are the best.
Orvis Non-Toxic Removable Split Shot
Man, am I picky about split shot. And here’s the good stuff — perfect because it’s matte black, non-toxic but soft enough to work with, and it grips thin tippet. Good job, Orvis.
New Phase Fly Box
900 flies in slotted foam. If you need more than that, carry a second box. The double-sided middle leaf on this box doubles the capacity. That’s efficiency, right there. Tough, waterproof and priced right, this is my go to fly box.
C&F Chest Patch / Fly Box
This is one of the most critical items in my system. Here’s a small storage box for mounting on your vest or pack. Flies can dry here and are at the ready for the next quick change. Magnets and slot foam inside, foam and magnet outside. Light but strong. A perfect design.
Ape Case SLR Holster Camera Bag
You might not carry a camera on the river. But if you want to reliably tell a story with variable apertures and shutter speeds, you need more than a smartphone. I carry this amazingly durable bag on my belt and have access to my camera in seconds. And I found the perfect way to make it waterproof. Read the article below.
Nalgene Narrow Mouth Water Bottle
You might think of your water bottle as an afterthought. But I don’t. I’ve used these for over fifteen years. I carry the bottle on a carabiner attached to my wading belt, so the weight is on my hips. The bottle is as light as it can be and still be durable. And because it’s not aluminum, there’s no clanging around. Shhhh. Don’t spook the trout.
Costa 580 Glass Lenses Fantail
For a long time I thought expensive lenses didn’t make a difference. But I was wrong about that. After receiving these Costa frames as a gift, I can never go back to my old ways. The 580 Glass polarized lenses are super clear and somehow relaxing on the eyes. I like copper mirror. And I like the fantail matte black design, because the medium size frame fits my face. You’ll find your own style.
Lifestraw Go Water Filter Bottle
The best fishing happens far from the parking lot. On long walks and long days, nothing beats the convenience of cold, clean water on demand. This is a game changer.
LINES, LEADERS & RIGGING
Lines and leader are what connect us to the flies and the trout (on a good day). From reel to rod tip, from tip to fly, it’s what carries the fly and forms that connection that matters — it matters a lot. So, rigging and adjusting these materials is at the very heart of an angler’s success. And having a few tools to do the job with efficiency is priceless.
Sea Striker Leader Spools 4″
Perfect for quick leader changes. Long leaders don’t store well on smaller spools or when wrapped around your hand. Bigger spool, less coil.
OPST Lazar Line
Another great option for the butt section of a Mono Rig. Highly visible. The diameter of 30lb Lazar Line closely matches the diameter of 20lb Chameleon. (.017″)
Scientific Anglers Air Cel
Still my favorite fly line. Yes, I’ve used hundred dollar fly lines too. And I keep coming back to the Air Cel. It’s durable and has a great taper.
Cortland Competition Mono Core Fly Line
This is the line that I hand to my clients who want to fish a Mono Rig, but hate holding mono in their line hand. I like the .022″ level line.
The winter months — no other season requires such dedication from an angler nor such a dedicated set of tools. And the first challenge for anyone is to stay warm. Without the right gear, from head to toe, even the most die-hard angler finds himself back at the truck, shivering on the drive home and heading for the easy chair. But with some forethought and a willingness to spend a few minutes on smart layers, anyone can experience some of the best fishing of the year.
Darn Tough Vermont Merino Wool Boot Cushion Sock
All day, everyday. The perfect wading sock is Darn Tough’s merino wool full cushion hiker. Lifetime warranty on a sock? Yup.
Below are my favorite fly fishing books. These are the pages that I continue to revisit, time and again. Because at every pass, I learn something new. A good book is like that. You can’t process everything on the first reading, because you simply aren’t ready for it.
These are the books that I’ve loaned to my friends. Most times they come back. If not, I buy them again. Because every one of these books will be with me until the end. At which point, a stack of papers and hardcovers will show the makings of a man. Of a fisherman.
Trout Tactics — Joe Humphreys
Simply the best book on trout fishing. Humphreys covers it all. This is the kind of book you learn from every time you read it — again and again.
Nymph Fishing — George Daniel
GD’s follow up to Dynamic Nymphing broadens the perspective, including the full range of nymphing tactics with a look to the future.
Tactical Fly Fishing — Devin Olsen
Devin’s writing is indeed tactical. His excellent book goes deep into techniques learned from the comp scene.
Trout Streams of Pennsylvania — Dwight Landis
Dwight has a remarkable way of leading you to new water without giving away its secrets. He preserves the discovery for you. This is still my favorite PA guide book.
Modern Streamers for Trophy Trout — Galloup and Linsenman
This book changed the game. This is where we got the Butt Monkey and the Sex Dungeon, and where streamer fishing was renewed for the 21st century.
Trout Bum — John Gierach
I refuse to pick just one Gierach book. Start at Trout Bum and work your way forward. Like Maclean, here’s another writer who has affected generations of anglers.