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Stillwater Kit Bag

By Phil Rowley

Variables are part of a stillwater fly fishers life, some they control, some they do not. Fly fishers have no control over environmental variables such as water temperature, barometric pressure and wind. Equipment on the other hand is controllable. From personal experience focusing what can be controlled better prepares an angler for what cannot. Fly fishers confident in their equipment from a quality, performance and availability point of view are better prepared for Mother Natureís curveballs, able to focus on the challenge at hand. Rods and reels are a natural. However, on any given day or outing it is the little things or details as they are so often referred to that make the difference. In equipment terms this means a well stocked organized kit bag. The stillwater water nerve center if you will.

The first stop on any kit bag tour is the kit bag itself. A suitable kit bag must be portable and compact with enough compartments, pockets and sections to house a wide array of gear. Compartmentalized bags allow fly fishers to sort and store equipment in a logical easy to find fashion. Angler discipline is required to make sure items are put back in their place. This is not always easy during the course of a day and often contents become dishevelled. Look for a bag with good strong zipper systems. A reliable set of zippers ensures items stay on board from the car or boat or during a walk through the woods to the shoreline. Be wary of bags that have pockets that zip around 90 degree corners.

Look for weatherproof kit bags with lots of compartments.

These can be challenging to close once loaded and in some instances cause the zippers to split. A shoulder strap is another handy feature as this allows rods, landing nets, coolers and kit bag to be portaged in one trip. A trait all men are familiar with. Water resistance is paramount, especially if the kit bag is also home to camera equipment. Most quality gear bags are waterproof or some come with waterproof covers in the event of a damp day, if fly fishing during torrential rain is your thing chose a water proof bag.

At first glance there appears to be lots of room in an empty kit bag. One might ask, "How am I going to fill this thing?" Donít worry it doesnít take long. There are six main categories to consider when outfitting a gear bag; reel spools/lines, leaders and tippet, accessories, fly boxes, safety and comfort and finally miscellaneous items.

The number of extra spools and lines fly fishers stash in their bag depends upon time of the year, physical make up of the lake, number of fly rods and a dash of personal preference. I prefer two rods strung and ready, typically a floating line, with or without indicator, and a clear intermediate. Experience has taught me 2 rods are best, especially when fishing with more than one person. In addition to the rigged rods include an additional floating line. A second floating line can be particularly handy during a chironomid emergence. Where regulations allow, an angler can work two floating lines, one with and indicator and one without. Working down the depth chart a traditional intermediate would be next. Depending upon the manufacture these sink slower than most clear intermediates which tend to sink a type 2 rate. Intermediates are the perfect choice for creeping scuds, leeches or damsel nymphs over shoals or along shorelines. A clear tip line is also an excellent addition. This line is ideal for deep, long leader nymphing, as well as working flies through the shallows. Clear tip lines offer a different retrieve angle that can be all the difference. A selection of full sinking lines, typically type 3 and 6, rounds out line selection. The type 6 line is ideal for working deep reaches, stripping leeches and dragon patterns over the shoals or crawling buoyant flies over sunken weeds and debris.

Leaders and tippet the critical connection between fly and angler and are sometimes overlooked. Depending upon leader set up preference carry butt material for long leader setups or braided loops. I use both types of leader connection depending on the line and presentation. For example, for a floating line long leader system I always begin with 2-3 feet of .025"to .030" butt section and add a tapered leader and tippet for length. Carry a good selection of tapered leaders from 9 to 15 feet.
Never leave home without a good selection of leaders and tippet.
Breaking strains should vary from 3X down through 5X depending upon conditions. As a general rule the clearer the water the finer the leader and tippet. Tippet spools should match leader strength in both fluorocarbon and co-polymer. Fluorocarbon is the preferred choice for clear conditions and sunk flies. Co-polymer tippet is fine for stained waters and dry fly presentations as it does not drag flies beneath the surface. This is often the case with fluorocarbon.

Accessories are the catch basin for many items in a well stocked kit bag. Thermometers are a critical tool as water temperature dictates fish activity and feeding as well as insect emergences. Knowing the preferred temperature range of rainbow trout (55F-65F) allows fly fishers to eliminate non productive water. Using a traditional thermometer on a string, anglers can vertically probe the water and locate fish. When it comes to nippers have good pair or even better two. Personally this is an accessory I lose often, either in the rubble of the boat or accidently over the side. Placing nippers on a retractor and attaching them on the shirt or jacket is advised. Hemostats or forceps crimp barbs, remove hooks from fish and friends, transfer fly lines even set indicator depth. A bell sinker also works for fine tuning indicator depth. If possible look for a pair with cutters and other handy add-ons. To transfer a fly line using forceps reel the leader back to the reel. Clamp on the forceps between the stripping guide and the reel preventing the leader from snaking back through the guides. Cut the leader and replace the spool. Reattach the leader to the new line and you are ready to go. No more adventures standing in a boat feeding line through rod guides. A clothes peg also works. Knot tyers for forming nail knots are handy if attaching leaders or butt sections to a fly line is a preferred set up. In our indicator world carry a good selection of sizes, types and colors.
Accessories tend to be small but critical to an enjoyable day on the water.
Corkies and yarn are personal favourites. Yarn indicators cast easily and work well in shallow clear waters where the splat and look of a corky may spook wary trout. When using floating lines in windy conditions weight is often needed to aid presentation. Include a selection of split shot or non-toxic putty. Barrel swivels are another option. A small bag of #12-#16 swivels should suffice. Other accessories include floatant, leader sinkant and line cleaner. Use both paste and powder floatant. Apply paste floatant prior to casting. Dry fly powders are a desiccant that quickly dry sunk or trout slobbered flies. Sinkant degreases leaders and tippet, a necessary step when fishing dry flies on calm clear days.

Throat pumps are a valuable accessory but should only be used on fish larger than 14 inches and if the angler is comfortable doing so. A vial or white tray allows for clear inspection of the contents guiding fly selection and determining feeding depth. Bottom dwelling contents would suggest presenting patterns just above the weeds. Conversely, emergers and adults would indicate fish are cruising near the surface.

After years of experimenting I prefer smaller fly boxes that store easily in the kit bag. Use a label maker to identify the contents so time isnít wasted looking for a favourite pattern. Clear compartmentalized boxes are ideal for dry flies as they tend not to squash hackle. Choose a sorting system that makes sense, I tend to group mine by food type; chironomids, caddis and mayflies, leeches, dragons and damsels, scuds, boatman and backswimmers and dry flies. These groupings were in a state of flux but in recent years have remained steady and reliable.

Safety and comfort items typically have nothing directly to do with fishing but everything with an enjoyable day on the water. Polarized sunglasses are probably the one exception. In addition to providing eye protection from errant flies polarized sunglasses are critical to penetrating the sunís glare and seeing into the water. Underwater obstructions, weed beds, drop offs, migrating invertebrates and cruising fish are easily seen. Keep the glasses in a protective case when not in use and make a regular habit of cleaning the lens. Sunscreen and lip balm are recommended kit bag additions, especially for the fair skinned. Band-Aids manage small nicks and cuts as well as providing fore finger relief from line burns caused by fleeing trout. A small bottle of Aspirin, Advil or Tylenol handles any dehydration headaches that pop up. A roll of toilet paper in a Ziploc bag is a welcome sight for obvious reasons. Finally, keep a small towel in the bag for wiping wet hands. On cool days letting hands dry through evaporation leads to frigid digits in short order.

With every storage system there are a few items that slide neatly into the miscellaneous category. Never leave the shore without a camera. A DSLR or small point and shoot system adds to the experience providing lasting memories. Include a pen and note pad in a plastic bag to record detailed notes of the dayís experiences and observations. This habit reduces the learning curve as important items are not forgotten. Keep track of everything, including weather patterns, diet analysis, hatches, successful patterns, structure types, leader set ups, presentation techniques and any general observations. This information is key to a fly fishers growth and development. Last but not least donít forget the fishing license.

Confidence in your equipment and kit allows you to focus on what is important, fishing!
A well thought out and stocked kit bag plays a pivotal but often unrecognized role fly fishing stillwaters. Knowing it is complete and stocked provides an anchor to rely on. There are enough uncontrollable aspects to a dayís fishing. Having something in the fly fishers favour keeps some of these variables at bay enabling angler focus and concentration.

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