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2016 Fishing Gear Guide Whether you prefer to chase big muskies with a monster stick or flick smaller dry flies for brown trout, this stuff, all of it used by Field & Stream editors, will help take your fishing to the next level this season.
Van Staal X-Series $739–$839 • Like the original Van Staal reels, the new X-Series are machined out of aircraft-grade aluminum. What makes this reel different is an oscillation system designed to help braided superlines lie more smoothly on the spool. There’s also an improved drag system that gives you more fine adjustment options and a clicker on the drag that provides positive feedback as you tweak resistance during battles with big fish. —Nate Matthews
Cabela’s X-Bionic First-on-Skin Energizer Shirt and Pants $179 each • Once you get past feeling like you’re dressed for the Hunger Games, you’ll come to love this new thermal combo from Cabela’s. Here’s why: The 3D Bionic Sphere System (who knew long johns could be so techy?) transforms your sweat into thermoregulating power, keeping you cool or warming you up, depending on the conditions, and helps you maintain an optimal body temperature of 98.6 degrees. They also dry quickly and are as comfortable as can be. Wear these under your waders, and suddenly a bitter-cold steelhead river doesn’t seem so bad. —Colin Kearns
C.C. Filson Angler’s Rain Shell $195 • This rain shell excels because of what it’s not—fussy, indulgent, overcomplicated. Filson proved long ago it could make classic, durable outdoor apparel with its waxed-cotton cruisers and chaps, and the new rainwear doesn’t stray from this tradition. The reinforced sealed seams keep moisture out, but the lightweight fabric remains breathable and cool as you move between fishing holes. —JR Sullivan
Seaguar Smackdown $30 • This superthin braided line lets you bounce bottom in wind or current with lighter-weight jigs and sinkers better than any other line I’ve used. That is a huge advantage for inshore saltwater anglers targeting fish such as fluke, sea bass, and ­bottom-​­hugging striped bass. The line is also very supple, which helps you cast farther. It comes in yellow and green in 150-yard spools of 10-, 15-, 20-, 30-, 40-, 50- and 65-pound-test strengths. —N.M.
Sage All Water Pulse Series $450 • Take the same proven Graphite IIIe technology that was the rage from Sage several years ago, tweak the modulus and the taper, give it a different paint job, and voilà, you have a midpriced workhorse rod that is every bit as powerful, durable, and accurate as most premium fly rods on the market now. It is called the Pulse, and as a fast-action, all-around stick for fishing dries, nymphs, or streamers, there is no better value. —Kirk Deeter
Buff Pro Series Stripping Guards $8 • Into working big streamers for heavy browns or false albacore? Either way, save your skin with a set of Buff Stripping Guards. As a longtime streamer freak, I’ve gone through countless rolls of medical tape to prevent fly line from cutting into my digits. Buff has taken away the need for a stop at the drugstore. Slip on the reusable guards and strip away all day, free of stinging line burn. —Joe Cermele
Fishpond Oxbow Chest/Backpack $190 • On a backcountry trout trip to Utah, I used almost every nook and cranny of this convertible pack. I filled it with a second reel, fly boxes, spare clothes, and a survival kit, and stuffed the included Savage Creek chest pack, attachable at front or rear, with trout gear. The mesh back panel was a blessing in the heat, and although I didn’t use the twin zip-out rod tube holders, I will next time.
—T. Edward Nickens
Rapala Shadow Rap $10 • I’m a junkie for jerkbait hits. There’s nothing like a big bronzeback piling on mid-twitch, and this season a lot more bass fell to the Shadow Rap than any other stickbait in my arsenal. Unlike other jerkbaits, the flat-sided Shadow Rap darts left and right sharply on the twitch without moving very far forward. That lets you keep it in the strike zone longer. It also sinks slowly on the pause with a head-down orientation, which matches the behavior of a ­dying baitfish to a T. And a triple set of supersharp VMC ­treble hooks helps make sure that when a fish hits, it stays hooked. —J.C.
Cabela’s Theorem Fly Rod $260 • Though it’s designated a fast rod, the 9-foot 5-weight really has a more moderate action, at its very best at short to middle ranges. Dry-fly anglers in particular will appreciate its sure, accurate, light presentations. And although the taper can help create line speed (when desired), this isn’t a rod you need to push hard for good performance; under an easy stroke, it does all the work for you.
—Ted Leeson
Dr. Slick Typhoon Pliers $60 • In the same way that Boeing has reimagined aircraft with the 787 Dreamliner, Dr. Slick has reimagined how pliers can look and perform. Machined from aircraft-­quality aluminum, these pliers have strong, replaceable stainless-steel jaws that meet cleanly. The replaceable side cutters—made from anvil tungsten carbide—are precise enough to cut a single hair but also ­robust enough to sever 60-pound coated wire. Lightweight, with ergonomic nonslip rubber grips, these aren’t just fine pliers for the money; they’re fine pliers, period. —T.L.
Patagonia Capilene Thermal Weight Crew $89 • Constructed of stretchy, breathable Polartec Power Grid fabric, this low-bulk base layer has a lattice of soft fleece bumps on the interior that create pockets of dead air to hold heat. The smooth exterior slides easily beneath outer layers to prevent binding or bunching. Thumb loops keep sleeves in place. —T.L.
Abu Garcia Villain 2.0 Spinning $200 • The Villain combines superior strength, ­sensitivity, and comfort for long bouts of slugging it out with everything from large­mouths to redfish. My 7-footer’s fast tip sent small in-line spinners a mile, and the meatier butt section let me swing full force to connect with smallmouths that hit at the end of the cast. The ergonomic reel seat is easy on the hand, and the carbon V-Wrap is easy on the eyes. —J.C.
Rio Powerflex Plus Tippet $10 • This nylon copolymer material boosts breaking strength by 20 percent over conventional mono with no increase in stiffness and lets you drop down a tippet size to increase suppleness for a better drag-free drift. —T.L.
Redington Prowler Wading Boot $150 • Prowlers feel more like ­broken-in hiking shoes than normal wading boots. The wide sole enhances lateral stability, and the padded upper doesn’t bind or chafe. You’ll be able to do a lot of up-and-down hiking and all-day wading in these durable, lightweight boots. —K.D.
Umpqua Bandolier ZS Sling $70 • With room for two large fly boxes and lots of accessories, this pack is engineered for minimalists. Exterior sleeves shield nippers, hemos, and retractors for snag-free brush busting, yet still keep tools ready to hand. It is equally practical in sling or waist-pack mode. —T.L.
TFO Impact Series $325–$375 • This medium-fast rod shows admirable versatility. The 9-foot 5-weight set down tiny dries with a softness and delicacy that belied its authority, but when I needed more juice—for cutting the wind, rolling over indicator rigs, or chucking conehead streamers—it delivered. With quiet power, this all-arounder does everything. The secret sauce? Most likely the decision to marry line loading with overall fishing performance. —T.L.
GoPro Hero 4 Session $300 • Here is the GoPro for the guys who are worried they can’t figure out a GoPro. Unlike traditional models, this one operates on one button. Push it and the Session fires up and starts recording. Hit it again and it stops recording and powers off to save battery life. It works with all GoPro mounts, and best of all, it’s completely waterproof, so you can go from above-water fish fight to below-water release without needing a separate housing or losing audio quality. _—J.C. _
Cabela’s Atoll Fly Rod $300 • It might have been designed for salty guys, but don’t overlook this rod as a steelhead or pike stick. The recoil guides can handle getting knocked around on boats, and the anodized reel seat won’t corrode. I used an 8-weight to bomb heavy-grain sinking line and big flies to stripers, and it let me accurately drop bugs on the bridge-piling shadow lines where the fish were holding and then battle them easily in the fast tidal current. —J.C.
The Grayl Ultralight Water Purifier $59.50 with one purifier; replacement purifiers, $24.50 • It’s easily the smartest, most functional personal water-­purification system an angler can buy. Fill the canister, force the water through a filter with a “French press” plunge, and the purifier eliminates chemicals, metals, bacteria, and viruses. —K.D.
Rio InTouch Single Handed Spey $85 • Don’t let the name fool you; this line isn’t just made for roll casting or swinging streamers. It’s one of the best ­overhead-​­loop-​­forming, dry-fly-​­presenting lines available. The key is the taper, which gradually increases in girth from the front, yet keeps most of the weight concentrated within the first 35 feet, where most trout are. —K.D.
Cabela’s Predator Musky Spinning Rod $150 • The muskie game is traditionally played with heavy conventional outfits, but Cabela’s bucked the trend with a spinning rod that can fire everything from weighty glide baits to gangly bucktails. The Winn Grips are a nice touch during those 10,000 casts, and the fast-action blanks have the backbone to drive a big lure into a big jaw. _—J.C. _
Winston Boron III Plus Saltwater $895 • Producing tight loops and blazing line speeds, the ­extra-​fast 9-foot 8-weight I tested was born to drill long casts into the wind and do so effortlessly, even with big flies. Despite the power, it is light in the hand—it feels more like a 6-weight—with superb balance. You can cast it comfortably all day long. And unlike many fast sticks, this one’s no slouch at shorter ranges. —T.L.
Lamson Guru Series II No. 2 $210 • Top marks for value earned this second-generation Guru a spot here. Fully machined from 6061 bar-stock aluminum, this made-in-the-U.S.A. reel sports a first-rate sealed drag and a diameter-to-width ratio that increases the pickup rate while reducing line bunching on the spool when retrieving. At just 4.62 ounces, this reel is the perfect match for today’s superlight 5- and 6-weight rods. —T.L.
Sage Freshwater Mod Series $850 • While flinging out an entire fly line is personally satisfying, 90 percent of trout are taken with pinpoint casts much closer in. And that’s where the ­moderate-​action 9-foot 5-weight Mod excels. An elegantly responsive tip places a fly with delicate precision and promotes the kind of control necessary for curve casts, aerial mends, and line-control moves. Look elsewhere for distance; this rod is all about elevating your short to midrange game. —T.L.
G. Loomis E6X ­Swimbait Rod $200 • Fly bum? Yes. Fly snob? Never. If there’s another way that’ll catch more fish, I’ll gladly switch. On a pike trip last summer, swimbaits were the hot lure—and this new rod from G. Loomis was the secret weapon. It stood up to monster fish, but unlike some swimbait sticks, it was still sensitive enough that I could enjoy the fight. And casting it all day never got tiring—which was a good thing, because the pike never stopped biting. —C.K.
Simms Vapor Elite Jacket $450 • Three-layer Gore-Tex C-Knit fabric makes the Vapor Elite rain jacket ultra­light and 15 percent more breathable than comparable water­proof ­laminates—​a winning combination particularly for ­high-​­activity ­warm-​­weather angling. The supple shell with articulated elbows and side-panel inserts allows unimpeded movement for casting, rowing, and hauling anchor ropes. That suppleness is also on the inside, so it slips on with ease. Fly lines won’t snag on the smooth, uncluttered jacket front or cord locks that are cleverly concealed in the hem. _—T.L. _
Fishpond Nomad Boat Net $240 • You can scoop small fish with a big net, but landing a 2-foot trout in a handbasket is a comedy of errors. Standard for my dory is this Fishpond Nomad model with a 27-inch easy-grip handle and wide rubber-mesh bag. It almost sucks the trout in when they get close. Carbon-fiber and fiberglass construction is pricey, but my Nomad has already outlasted the combined lives of the last three wooden boat nets I bleached out, stepped on, and floated downriver. —K.D.
Orvis Hydros SL $198 • If you like a strong disc drag on a fly reel, the Hydros has it. But what I fancy most about it is the velvety smooth start-up and fast rate of retrieve (8.2 inches per second for the standard trout model). The frame is wide for a large arbor, so line naturally grooves back and forth without bunching to one side. And fully ported aluminum construction keeps it light, so light, in fact, that you may at first think the reel can only handle bantamweight fish. Not so. Finally, the intelligently designed Hydros SL will deliver good balance on any rod. —K.D.
Tacky Big Bug Box $32 • This box holds big flies in a high-friction silicone material that grips thicker hooks (up to 2/0) far more securely than foam and, unlike foam, won’t fatigue, tear, or degrade. The sturdy full-length hinge and magnetic closure ensure ­trouble-​free service. At 11⁄8 inches thick, it has the headroom for larger patterns but stashes away with pleasingly little bulk. —T.L.
The Ledgend Series by Gary Loomis $800–$850 • ­ These four-piece sticks (fresh- and saltwater) are all about performance, and since weight robs speed, the graphite blanks are left sanded and unfinished, sleek as liquid smoke. Snake guides built of graduated wire and knurled aluminum in the reel seats are a part of the speed-shop vibe. The rods aren’t cheap, but neither is a BMW HP4 superbike. _—T.E.N. _
Simms Dry Creek Z Sling Pack $230 • For all their virtues, sling packs fit poorly, if at all, under rain gear. But this completely waterproof (as in submersible) pack solves the problem of keeping your stuff dry. A long Tizip zipper track provides wide-open access to the 732-cubic-inch interior, and the 840-denier fabric and welded construction form a rugged chassis. One of the best harnesses around makes for comfortable, stable load-bearing. —T.L.
Sufix Nanobraid $25 • Whether you want an edge feeling the subtle tick of a bass picking up a tube, or some extra strength for duking it out with monster browns in tiny streams, look no further. Unlike modern, extra-thin single-strand braids, Nanobraid is a multistrand woven braid that maintains that super-skinny profile. This makes it perfect for light-tackle ­anglers and ice fishermen; you get strength and sensitivity without packing your reel with stiff, heavy line. —J.C.
Yeti Hopper 30 $350 • This new soft-sided cooler joined my list of favorite gear as soon as I figured out that it fit onto the cargo well behind the seat of my kayak. Now, fish I want to eat get cooled down to Yeti levels as soon as they’re caught and blooded. No more towing stressed-out meat on a stringer in warm summer water. I also used the Hopper while surf fishing for fluke from Long Island’s South Shore. Slip a rod holder into the loops on either side of the zipper and the cooler can do triple duty, keeping fish (and beer) cold, keeping your reel sand-free, and even making a great backrest when you want to stretch out your legs and watch the sunset. —N.M.
Abu Garcia Revo Premier Spinning $250 • Silky smooth and incredibly light, the Revo Premier is for the angler who wants solid construction for dependability and a reel he can use all day without getting weighed down. A combination of a C6 carbon body and a carbon-fiber handle help this machine weigh in at only 6.4 ounces, and a fancy “computer-optimized” gear system gives it the guts to harmonize more smoothly and efficiently than any other spinner you already own. —J.C.
Hoven Argonaut Monix Sunglasses $140 • An angler-specific design sets these shades apart from the rest of the polarized 100 percent UV protection crowd. The built-in retainer band floats the glasses, so they’ll never disappear in the drink, and the hinges are stainless steel for hardcore saltwater use. But the big trick is that the frames connect at the nose bridge with powerful magnets; separate the halves and the sunglasses hang around your neck so you can tie knots and see electronics screens more clearly. —T.E.N.
Smartwool Corbet 120 Jacket $200 • With SmartLoft wool insulation beneath a windproof front panel mated to knit merino arms and back, this jacket actually works as a top-shelf midlayer. It’s warm even when wet, breathable, and low enough in bulk to fit easily beneath an outer layer. The stretchy fabric provides excellent arm and shoulder mobility, and thumbhole cuffs keep sleeves from riding up when casting. —T.L.
Scott Meridian Saltwater Series $865 • Scott’s innovative technology increases the shaft recovery speed and thus improves the efficiency of energy transfer during casting. The result is a saltwater rod that smoothly produces a high line speed with a minimum of false casts. It loads cleanly with a single back cast and shoots a fly out fast, which is a big advantage on the flats. —T.L.
Korkers Ambush Wading Boot $160 • There’s a lot to like in these versatile boots: a broad, stable wading platform, firm foot and ankle support, and superior comfort. They’re a top choice for anglers who cover some real estate in a day’s fishing. OmniTrax interchangeable soles (five in all, $30 to $60 each) let you match the sole to wading demands—or hunting conditions, since Mossy Oak’s Break-Up Infinity camo makes these a crossover boot for waterfowlers. —T.L.
Savage Gear 3D ­Mayfly Nymph $4.29 • The 3D Mayfly is the most realistic imitation of a stonefly nymph or hellgrammite I’ve ever seen. A ­triple-​­jointed tail and long legs give this 1⁄10-ounce soft plastic an action that is so realistic on the jig and fall, there’s not a trout or smallmouth that can resist. It’s a dream for light-tackle anglers. —J.C.
Redington Behemoth $110–$130 • Fly reels that can handle big fish usually come with a big price tag. By skipping the machining process, and cutting out expensive frame materials, Redington developed a big-game reel you can trust and afford. The die-cast Behemoth has a unique slatted deep-V spool design that lets you spin on up to 250 yards of backing. —J.C.
Redington Hydrogen Series $300 • Impressively light, this rod is a joy to fish. It lays out line smoothly, with dead-on tracking, and has an unusually comfortable balance in the hand. The moderately fast action answers faithfully to a range of casting strokes—from slow and easy for precision work to an aggressive delivery for bucking the wind._ —T.L._
Hobie Mirage Outback $2,349 • This year Hobie added a new seat to its popular pedal-driven fishing kayaks. The Vantage seating system is an elevated, fully adjustable miniature deck chair that triples the time you can spend on the water before your butt goes numb. I fished an Outback all season in a wide range of conditions, including one 17-hour stretch during a saltwater kayak fishing tournament. This boat balances an angler’s needs well, delivering not only comfort, room, and stability but surprising speed. —N.M.

Whether you prefer to chase big muskies with a monster stick or flick smaller dry flies for brown trout, this stuff, all of it used by Field & Stream editors, will help take your fishing to the next level this season.

Photographs by Travis Rathbone

Typography by Muokkaa Studio