One of the best things about flyfishing is that gear makers seem to expend just as much design mojo and nit-picking detail on less-expensive pieces of gear as they do on top-shelf $1,000 rods and $800 reels. That’s why a smartly designed but moderately priced rod or reel can keep up with more expensive versions. And why even the most basic accessories come across like they were thought up by NASA engineers. Here’s a batch of long-wander’s gifts that make the case for category-bending performance that won’t break the bank.
Temple Fork Axiom II-X Rod
TFO Axiom II-X • Price: $350 to $370 TFO
The knock against many fast-action flyrods is that they can go the distance—but at a cost of downrange accuracy. According to TFO rod designers, the addition of Kevlar to the carbon fiber matrix in the rod blank helps Axiom II-X absorb shock and smooth out the ripples that drain away accuracy when there’s a lot of line in the air. I fished the rod on 3- to 5-pound rainbows on north Georgia’s Soque River, and walked away impressed. And a bit bewitched by both the sky-blue rod color and the not-bad-at-all price.
Ross Colorado LT Reel
Ross Colorado LT Reel • Price: $295 Ross Reels
The Ross Reels Colorado LT is a super-light flyreel, thanks to its eye-catching open ported design, and the canvas phenolic handles used on Ross reels are my favorite of any reel manufacturer. But it’s the throwback click-and-pawl drag that dials up the awesome. The only drag is provided by the all-metal clicker, so it’s back to Reel Palming 101 whenever a solid fish makes a run for it. The reels have only 15 parts, and the whole shebang is made in Montrose, Colorado.
Simms Flats Sneakers
Simms Flats Sneakers • Price: $65 Simms
It only takes one time trying to wade saltwater flats in river sandals or old tennis shoes to convince you to never try again. These ankle-top stalking boots feel like sneakers on your feet, but hold up to shells, deep sands, muck, and turtlegrass. The nonmarking soles also keep you planted solidly on a casting deck, while removable footbeds blunt knee and back pain that can come from hour after hour of waiting on a tarpon to show. Like that ever happens.
Scientific Anglers Amplitude Infinity Fly Line
Scientific Anglers Amplitude Infinity Fly Line • Price: $130 Scientific Anglers
The most overlooked piece of gear in the flycaster’s arsenal is the flyline itself, but that is thankfully changing with advances in flyline design and construction that can add monster distance—or pinpoint accuracy—to your cast. SA’s new Infinity taper is a case in point. Built a half-size heavy to load modern fast-action rods, with a long head and taper for better presentation, the line is clad in the AST PLUS super-slick coating that’s heralded for long-term toughness. Cut some bucks out of your rod budget and spend them on the thing that’s actually connecting you to the fish.
Blaine Chocklett’s Game Changer
Blaine Chocklett’s Game Changer • Price: $14 Umpqua
Aptly named, these highly articulated streamers have been the downfall of many a tight-lipped trout, tarpon, and bass, and their growing popularity has gamefish populations everywhere on edge. Designed by the mastermind behind the Gummy Minnow, the various Game Changer flies are tied on a series of interconnected spine segments that allow the fly to swim with an incredibly lifelike undulating profile. They come in a variety of materials, from natural feathers to synthetic Polar Fiber to a rubberleg version.
Gerber Magniplier • Price: $85 Gerber
Hemostats and forceps are fine for panfish and smaller trout, but tougher fish—and tougher conditions—call for a stronger tool. These ergonomically designed pliers have a finger choil for steady control when working with large, energetic fish, and an offset frame so the pliers don’t block your view of the hook. In both freshwater and saltwater versions, they’re built for the long haul, with exchangeable jaw tips and carbide cutters.
Orvis Waterproof Backpack
Orvis Waterproof Backpack • Price: $300 Orvis
The last time I wore a flyfishing vest, my son snorted in derision. “So, you actually want to look like an old fart?” My sling pack was a style improvement, but when I’m fishing for more than a few hours—or wading slick streams—a fully submersible daypack is now my go-to. This dunk-worthy bag has a main YKK Flexseal zipper that’s totally waterproof, while the secondary pocket’s water-resistant zipper is good for a heavy rain or a quick slip into a deep hole. And the ventilated back panel keeps it cool on my back for long treks to more distant waters.
Fishpond Tacky Fly Dock
Fishpond Tacky Fly Dock • Price: $10 Fishpong
Here’s a stock stuffer any angler would appreciate: A perfectly sized fly strip that will hold everything from wispy dry flies to beefy streamers. It comes with both an adhesive strip and an adhesive-backed Velcro strip, so you can put it wherever you want—on coolers, raft frames, kayak decks, and tackle bags.
Ross Reels Animas
Ross Reels Animas • Price: $295 Ross Reels
The Animas has been part of the Ross line up for years, and older models certainly have their cult fans. But the updated version has taken this brand’s staple up a level, delivering some smart, fresh upgrades with a price that’s on par for a solid, quality reel these days. I’ve been using a 7-weight since the summer, primarily for smallmouth bass. It’s extremely light thanks to an intricately machined spool and frame aimed at reducing weight, while the bell-shaped spool helps lay line and backing evenly. The sealed drag is super tough yet smooth, and can definitely play in the salt. I even enjoyed minor touches like the machined canvas handle, which allows me to keep my grip even with wet, slimy fingers.
Orvis PRO Insulated Fishing Hoody
Orvis PRO Insulated Fishing Hoody • Price: $229 Orvis
No, it’s definitely not your average pullover. Orvis went to great lengths to create a simple, utilitarian fishing jacket that combines comfort and function. Features like 80g PrimaLoft insulation keeps your core warm while regulating excess heat and moisture through specially designed side panels. The outer layer is made of Ultralight 20D stretch nylon ripstop that’s treated with a coating to thwart puncturing, wind, and moisture. Best of all, this “hoody” weighs nil, and despite its insulation, it’s not bulky, making it packable enough to stash in a backpack or small compartment in the boat.
Costa Del Mar Broadbill polarized sunglasses
Costa Del Mar Broadbill polarized sunglasses • Price: $269 Costa
Broadbill frames are ideal for the guy like me that has a large cranium but doesn’t want glasses that look like a snorkeling mask. These shades offer just the right amount of wrap-around to keep the light out, helping that proven Costa 580 polarization do its thing. I wore these in blue mirror offshore all summer, and was getting a bead on mahi-mahi swimming 20 feet below the boat with ease. I’m also not particularly careful with my glasses, and I can tell you the composite frames are built to take a beating and won’t warp or stretch on you easily.
Headspin Convertible Light System
Headspin Convertible Light System • Price: $199.99 Headspin
Sometimes you just need to shed a little light on a fishy situation. That’s why most anglers (like me) have headlamps, flashlights, and work lights of all shapes and sizes scattered around our garages and basements. And half the time, when I find the one I need, the batteries are toast. The Headspin Convertible Light System solves all these problems. This USB and wall-mount rechargeable cube light comes with a headband, flashlight handle, and a handlebar/rail bracket, allowing you to quickly snap it on and off of different mounts as your needs change. You can also change the mode from spotlight, to floodlight, to flash. I love that I can charge it in the truck on the way to the river, and quickly switch from my head to a flashlight when we’re looking for the take-out ramp after a nighttime mousing session.
Cooper Discoverer A/T3 LT
Cooper Discoverer A/T3 LT • Price: Starting at $165 Cooper Tires
Tires may seem like an out-of-place entry in a fly gear roundup, but not if you’re hitting the back roads, and especially if you happen to be pulling a drift boat or raft. I do all the aforementioned, and the Discoverer AT3 LTs on my truck have made it easier. Designed specifically to hinder shredding during heavy use on gravelly or rocky roads, these tires shine when towing. The tread is designed to help your vehicle stop shorter on wet roads, and with just the right amount of “grab,” I’ve pulled my drift boat out of more than a few sticky, muddy situations.
St. Croix Imperial Salt
St. Croix Imperial Salt • Price: Starting at $350 St. Croix
I got the chance to play with the new Imperial Salt at ICAST in July 2019. Subsequently, this rod took the award for best new fly rod at the show. I firmly believe these sticks will be game-changers in the salt (or even muskie) scene. Available in weights 7 through 12, I was really impressed by the lightness, yet they still offered the ability to load short and fire almost the entire line in the casting pool at the show. The Imperial series is built on St. Croix’s SC3 carbon blanks, and features like the PVD coating stripping and snake guides make this rod ready for saltiest torture you can dish. While the rod has plenty of backbone, it’s really designed to be a caster, and I can tell you, it lays line like a dream.
Old Town Discovery 119 Solo Sportsman
Old Town Discovery 119 Solo Sportsman • Price: Starting at $900 Old Town
Built on the platform of the super successful Discovery 119 solo canoe, this canoe/kayak hybrid works because it’s a little more canoe than kayak. A lowered profile makes getting in and out a snap, and the extremely comfortable kayak seat and foot pegs give the boat a stable feel underway. Thanks to integrated rod holders and a bow thwart that doubles as an accessory rail—ready to accept fish finders and a GPS—there’s still plenty of uncluttered room forward and aft for gear and tackle bag storage. It’s not billed as a boat to fish from while standing, but I could stand in a farm pond and flycast just fine. Bonus points: It’s a wicked one-man duck stalker.
The History of Fly-Fishing in 50 Flies
The History of Fly-Fishing in Fifty Flies • Price: $16 Harry N. Abrams
Some anglers new to fly fishing might not realize it, but the sport originated some 2,000 years ago, and while today’s modern rods, reels, lines, and other gear doesn’t exactly resemble the equipment of the past, the sport’s premise—to fool fish using hooks, feathers, and hair—has essentially remained the same. To help long rodders wrap their heads around just how far fly fishing has advanced, author Ian Whitelaw selected 50 fly patterns to represent the historical strides made to shape fly fishing into what it is today. The History of Fly-Fishing in Fifty Flies is loaded with both photographs and illustrations of fly patterns that originated in Europe, Scotland, and other countries, and includes detailed accounts of the influence each had on the sport. It’s a terrific book for anyone interested in fly-fishing’s roots, or any fly tier looking for inspiration on designing the next great fly pattern.