Fly anglers have two options when it comes to tackle storage and in-the-field transport: condense gear to a bare minimum and wear a shirt or waders with a system of storage built into the design, or wear a vest and maximize your wearable storage space.
A majority of fly-fishers choose a vest to carry their gear. Many of those who fish on lakes and rivers using float tubes or pontoons still opt to wear a vest for the convenience.
Traditional Vest vs. Chest Vest
The choice between a traditional vest and a chest pack comes down to storage capacity (vest) versus a lightweight, breathable design (chest vest).
Traditional vests are styled to offer a maximum amount of storage in a comfortable weight-distributing design. Mesh vests have the same amount of storage as a traditional vest with a little less weight and a more airy design. Strap vests are similar to traditional vests except they incorporate a more breathable strap design rather than the full shoulder coverage of a traditional vest. If you are the type of angler who likes to be prepared for a variety of possibilities on the water, you will want to take advantage of the added capacity of a vest.
The chest vest, or chest pack is a scaled-down version of the traditional vest. It fits like a vest, but instead of a full front it has a front pouch or pouches that rest slightly lower than chest level. Some chest vests make use of the back of the vest for additional storage, while others utilize a minimalist design, having only the front pouches held in place with straps. They trade storage capacity for breathability and less weight. Another storage option is to wear a waist pack on a belt. Anyone who has condensed and organized his gear according to technique-specific needs will find the chest vest or pack’s design is a comfortable way to carry a lightened load.
What to look for in a vest/pack:
- Length is a consideration when wading, and every fly-angler will be wading at one time or another. If you plan to dip to your hips and don’t want to dip your tools, tackle and flies, it’s best to opt for a shorter wading-style vest or chest pack. What you lose in storage space you gain in comfort and lighter weight.
- Fold-down workstations flip down to provide a place to tie on extra tippet and flies. If you drop something, you drop it on the workstation and not in the water.
- Specialized pockets. Examples would be tippet dispensers (pockets with holes in the bottom), reel/spool pockets and large back pockets for packable rainwear. Too many pockets will give you reason to weigh yourself down, and potentially cause headaches when you’re trying to figure out which pocket contains what you’re looking for. Look for a vest or pack with about 15-20 pockets.
- Rod holders are a common feature found on most fishing vests. The butt section of the rod is held in place with a loop near the bottom of the vest. The middle of the rod is secured to the top of the vest using a doubled-over piece of fabric with hook-and-loop attachment.
- Built-in retractors (zingers) keep tools, like forceps and nippers, within quick reach.
- D-rings are a convenient place to attach accessories or a net.
- Backpack. As the name implies, this feature offers the storage of a regular backpack attached to the vest or pack. Some innovative designs take it a step further by making the backpack removable for wear with or without the vest. Fishing day hikes would be one good use for a backpack-style vest or pack.
- Convertibility. Certain vest designs can be worn multiple ways. An example would be a vest with a removable backpack or waist pack that can be worn alone or together with the vest.
- Hydration-compatible vests offer built-in compatibility with hydration bladders. A hydration bladder can deliver instant thirst-quenching relief on a hot day.
- Fit. As with any other article of clothing, the fit of a vest is critical to your comfort level. If you will be wearing the vest in cold weather, it is a good idea to order the next size up from what you normally wear. If you wear a large, try an extra large. This will allow you to wear extra layers of clothing underneath the vest and still be comfortable.
Consider this guide to be the checklist in your search for a new fishing vest. Take time to research all your options and select the vest that best fits your fly-fishing needs. When you’re out on that island all by yourself, you’ll be glad you did.
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