8 Expert Flyfishers Share How They Pack for the Ultimate Fishing Trip

Packing for flyfishing might seem easy, but it’s so easy to miss something and not be able to fish the way you had expected before you left home 🙁

As with any other packing job, it’s difficult to choose what to bring. You don’t want to risk ending up with a bag that is heavier than necessary – or risk missing vital equipment like your camera, so you can’t capture your big catch of the day!

To improve how we pack our bags, we have talked with 8 expert flyfishers and asked them to share their best advice.

Read on and learn from their best tips and tricks (all 8 have years of experience, so they know what they are talking about!).

Flyfisher fishing


The 8 Expert Flyfishers


Domenick Swentosky
I’m from Central Pennsylvania (Penn State country).

I grew up bait fishing for trout on a spinning rod, mostly with live minnows — we dead drifted them on a tight line. In my late teens I learned that I could catch more trout in more situations with a fly rod, and I still believe this strongly — flies catch more trout than bait. Trout eat small things, mostly nymphs, year round. The fly rod gives me an ability to imitate those small food forms by fishing nymphs, wet flies and dry flies, while also having the option to imitate larger food forms, like minnows and crayfish, with streamers.

I’ve traveled extensively across the Mid-Atlantic region, exploring wild trout waters and enjoying the next adventure. But my favorite waters are still right here at home. Central Pennsylvania’s cool, clean limestone region harbors the best year-round wild trout fishing that I’ve found, and when I have a few days to camp and fish, I often travel no more than an hour or so, just to learn and relearn my favorite rivers.


What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all flyfishers bring?

On most trips, I pack a second pair of wading boots.

In colder months, the second pair is a whole size larger, so I can fit three pair of wool socks in my stocking foot waders. That keep my toes warm all day, even in waters that may be running in the low thirties.

Other times, I may bring a second pair of boots for different traction. Some rivers are easier to wade with cleats or studs while others are more suited to aluminum bars for traction. But walking on aluminum all day puts a little more stress on my legs. So on day two of a fishing trip, I may opt for rubber soles and studs. Having two boot options is the way to go.

I also like to bring two different colors of polarized sunglasses. I generally choose amber or dark copper lenses, but yellow lenses are excellent for low light, dreary days when the fish are on.

Lastly, I bring pre-rigged sections of leaders with me. I love using Loon Rigging Foams to store pre-built tippet sections of leaders, and I swap them out at a tippet ring. This way, I can quickly change to a dry dropper rig, or I can go to two streamers with 2X tippet. Fifteen minutes later, I can change back to two nymphs on 4X. Pre-rigged sections carried on Loon Rigging Foams are super efficient.

How do you bring things with you?

I still use cheap military surplus bags for carrying gear and clothing. I have a big duffel bag with endless pockets, zippers and clasps. It’s a large bag with plenty of extra room. I like keeping things separate, so I can find them easily. And I can quickly see that I’m running low on hand warmers, for example.

I carry a lot of extra clothes. Every angler falls in once in a while. It just happens. And the day goes a lot better when you can change into a full set of dry clothes.

What are your top tips for other flyfishers?

As the seasons change, I go through my duffel and take out things I won’t need, like extra wool socks and hats in the summer. I replace those with things like wet wading socks and sunscreen. Of course, I like to travel as light as possible, but I’d rather have whatever I may need than be sorry later.

So I err on the side of caution. I keep everything that I may need for clothing in that one duffel. And I keep all fly fishing hardware in one Rubbermaid container, with items like leaders, tippet, fly reels and split shot separated in compartments. My wet boots go on top of the Rubbermaid container.

With this system, I can just pick up and go. I don’t have to think about what I should pack, because I know it’s there and ready to fish.

Visit Domenick Swentosky’s website


Stephen Plut
I”m from western Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh). Although I’ve traveled to every continent except Antartica something about this area keeps me coming back home.

I started fly fishing about 10 years ago one of my few regrets in life is waiting so long to try the sport. I love the challenge of the sport, the quiet, the peace, it is truly an activity that is good for your soul.

I love fly fishing out west Colorado, Montana, Wyoming are favorites


What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all flyfishers bring?

  • My buff, since I spend a lot of time on the water being careful about sunburn is important and my buff helps protect my face, ears, nose and neck.
  • My foot locker, I wrote a blog post about this. In my foot locker I store a lot of the gear that gets used trip after trip. Then when I’m packing for a trip all I need to do is remember my foot locker. Helps me avoid forgetting items.
  • My video sunglasses, although I have a GoPro my glasses provide the best POV experience in capturing my fly fishing adventures.

As for useless things – I’d say $1,000 fly rods! They don’t catch anymore fish than a $200 rod.

How do you bring things with you?

I like to keep things simple. when wading I have an LL Bean fishing vest that really works great for me. Besides have lots of pockets so that I can separate out my fly fishing gear it also has a built in day pack in the rear perfect for my lunch, water, and extra camera batteries.

I have a print out of the contents of each pocket in my vest so if I’m not sure I can check my list.

I’d say my vest is just right in terms of the number of pockets / room in my fly fishing vest.

What are your top tips for other flyfishers?

The key to packing light is knowing what the heck you have in your pack / vest. That’s why I keep a print out of my vest inventory in the rear pocket of my vest.

Another tip, before going out consider the fish you will be pursuing. If you have flies in the vest that won’t work on that species why take them along?

On the other hand, don’t scrimp so much that you miss out on opportunities. For example when fly fishing for bass I will also bring along some terrestrial flies. When the sun gets hot I can switch over to fishing for blue gill and crappies on the terrestrials. That enables me to stay out on the water catching fish and having fun.

As for getting out more – put the down time on your calendar! If you don’t block out time you’ll never find any free time to go. Also, if you are concerned about the cost or complexity of the sport DON”T WORRY! I felt that way and it caused me to miss out on years of fun. When I finally ‘took the plunge’ I found out the sport didn’t need to be complicated or expensive

Visit Stephen Plut’s website


Jess McGlothlin
I’m currently based in Bozeman, Montana, but spend as much time as possible on the road. Home is a relative thing! Currently, I’m writing this as I sit in the Paris airport en route back from a photo shoot in Jordan.

I was lucky enough to grow up fly fishing; some of my earliest memories are floating in the family drift boat on the great rivers of the Western U.S. Since then, it’s been my pleasure to work with some of the largest names in the outdoor and fly-fishing industries as a photographer and writer.

My favorite destination? Whatever is next on the agenda! New water is always compelling, and there are few greater joys than exploring an exceptional piece of water in some random, far-off corner of the globe with newfound friends. That said, I’ll always feel at home chasing brook trout in high mountain rivers in Montana.


What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all flyfishers bring?

  • A first-aid kit! Always pack the bare essentials… you’ll be surprised how often they come in handy! I’m rarely on a photo shoot where I don’t reach into the kit for myself or for someone else on the trip.
  • Camera. It’s my job to tote around cameras, but recreational anglers can have fun taking images of their fish and their surroundings! Bring along a little point-and-shoot (or even your phone!) and play with it… you’ll be surprised what happens when you get creative.
  • Water. Sounds simple, right? I know a lot of folks — myself included — who don’t drink enough on the river. You’ll feel better, fish better and travel better if you’re hydrated. Guys have it easy; ladies, get used to peeing outside. Enough said.

How do you bring things with you?

I’m continually finessing my camera bags, though at this point I’m pretty pleased with my set-ups. For a full fishing shoot, I travel with two Pelican cases — one with cameras and lenses, the other with my AquaTech underwater housing. I also keep a Patagonia Stormfront Roll-top Backpack with me, that I’ve outfitted with a pirated, padded insert from another camera bag. It’s a stellar bag to wade with and while I wish the strap padding / waistband was a bit more hefty, it’s served me well all over the globe.

What are your top tips for other flyfishers?

Just go! Get up off the couch, turn off the telly, and go outside. Explore your neighborhood pond or creek — you’ll find your head is much clearer afterward!

Visit Jess McGlothlin’s website


Lou Zambello
I live in Maine and have been a registered Maine guide, guiding in Rangeley, Maine for the last 18 years. I no longer guide and concentrate on writing books and articles.

My favorite fly fishing destinations outside of Maine are New Zealand, Montana, Abaco, and Destin, Florida


What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all flyfishers bring?

  • I bring a lot of equipment to capture the trip, cameras, cell phones, Go Pro’s, Drones, waterproof journals, laptops, spare batteries, tripods, etc.
  • I bring a variety of rubber mesh nets and other items to better cradle fish to take photographs.
  • I do remote backpacking fly fishing so I am also bringing all of what you would need for five day backpacking trips, lightweight tents, sleeping bags, cooking stuff, etc.
  • Bring spare tip tops that fit your rods. If one breaks, take the replacement and crazy glue it on and it will work okay for your trip.

How do you bring things with you?

The biggest issue is how to keep wet stuff separate from dry stuff and able to allow wet stuff to air out and dry without odors. I usually bring one bag with all my camera stuff and electronics. I bring another large duffle for camping gear, waders, and boots, back packs, etc. A third bag is rods, reels, and related fishing stuff. I use LLBean for most of my items. My stuff would be better organized if the bags had some compartments in them that assisted me.

The problem for me is not space but running up against the $ 50 pound airline limit.

What are your top tips for other flyfishers?

  • You rarely need wading boots and waders. Wading wet with insulated underwear and wading shoes that also can be worn on the plane saves a lot of space and weight.
  • Purchase 4 piece travel rods. Period. Pack middle of the road rods and reels (6 or 7 weight) and make everything interchangeable.
  • Purchase clothing with new fibers that repel bugs, dry quickly, and can be used in layers to cover all temperature ranges.
  • Keep fly fishing stuff for trips separate from day to day stuff. Keep everything packed, and when you can take a trip you can grab your stuff and go in ten minutes.
  • Figure out how you are going to handle wet gear, wading stuff, and clothes. Mesh bags, separate compartments, a portable drying element.

Visit Lou Zambello’s website


Kenny Halley
I am a keen fly angler and fishing blogger who also likes to take loads of photo’s and sometimes video too when out on fishing trips.

Based in Scotland most of my fishing is on rivers and lochs near to where I live in Stirling. I have fished with the fly since I was 14 though I must add there was a long break in there when family stuff too my time. Now the kids are grown up I have more time to fish.

I do venture further afield, both within Scotland, and into other parts of the UK. Just today I returned from a road trip in the US and Mexico which wasn’t explicitly a fishing trip but I did manage to wet a line.

I think the places I love most for fishing have to be the remote lochs of the North of Scotland and the Islands, and need to spend more time there. As far as dream destinations go I would love to be able to fish and photograph in Iceland, Canada, USA ( as a fishing trip), Patagonia and the ultimate fly anglers destination New Zealand. I also want to get a few trips in to Europe, in places like Poland, Slovenia, Croatia to name a few. I am not short on ideas!


What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all flyfishers bring?

I always carry a camera, preferably a DSLR, I also always carry way too many flies. Finally, I wouldn’t be without a pair of hat mounted magnifiers, as without them I can’t tie on that tiny vital size 20 at sunset.

The DSLR is big heavy and takes up room but I would never be without it, as you never know when that special shot might arise, be it some wildlife, a spectacular sunset on the river or a friend catching a great fish. I love having decent or unusual images for my blog, especially if its been a hard day out with few fish, the images convey a story. Most anglers I know carry smartphones and take shots of the fish they catch, that’s fine, and most confess that they”can’t be bothered” carrying a camera, yet when I have photo’s of them “in action” they always ask can they have copies for prints of social media. Most anglers have very few shots of themselves fishing.

Probably the most useless thing many if not all fly anglers bring are just too many flies. On most outings we will be lucky if we try 12-18 patterns on a difficult session yet we carry boxes and boxes of patterns. I am as guilty of this as the next man. Probably we don’t want to leave that one crucial pattern that we will rue leaving behind, when we don’t have it and find it would have worked.

How do you bring things with you?

I have tried many systems for carrying my gear. My most heavily fly fishing oriented baggage is a Simms Headwaters Slingpack. It’s fine size wise for most stuff needed for a day on the river, but isn’t really cutting it when carrying a DSLR.

Yes, it can fit in as long as I don’t have too large a lens fitted and don’t over pack other stuff like a flask etc, however, my main problem with it is the tendency to dangle in the water if wading to any depth. I can’t risk my DSLR getting soaked, plus wet fly boxes aren’t great either. If it was totally waterproof I think it would be my go-to bag all the time.

I have a camera specific bag I have used recently on my road trip to the USA, the Manfrotto Advanced Travel backpack and it can carry a huge amount of stuff securely, dry ( with the separate rain cover fitted) and comfortably,- I had a DSLR, 4 lenses, a drone, controller, spare batteries, filters and other accessories in mine AND a laptop when flying, but I don’t think it’s going to be great for fishing, it is rugged enough for travel and field work but not I fear the wet and sometimes messy environment of fishing.

Probably the bag I use most often is an old ABU Garcia rucksack that also has an integrated seat. It swallows up loads of gear, including my camera and a flask ( I usually put the camera in a smaller waterproof DSLR Pouch made by Lowepro) and this all goes in the rucksack. On cold winters days having the seat built in means you can sit off the cold ground when stopping for a break or a cup of tea.

The downside of the rucksack is the pouches don’t close especially well so if heavy rain comes on everything is getting wet. And having a large carrying load space means I tend to fill it.

What are your top tips for other flyfishers?

Look at everything you are carrying critically and say to yourself, am I REALLY going to use that? If the answer is no, then bin it for the day. Sometimes forcing yourself to shed some tackle forces you to fish a particular way and that in itself can be fun. I couldn’t take a long light river rod and reel on , my recent USA trip so took a Tenkara rod instead. I can take or leave Tenkara as a method but because it was all I had and a mere single box of dry flies and one of nymphs it forced the method I needed to use and even in the short time I spent fishing I caught 3 rainbow trout.

Probably the biggest mistake most fly anglers make that I see is fishing too heavy. 4lb line is plenty for most river situations and often 2lb is good enough. If you use a light rod you can scale everything back and let the rod take the strain. I see river anglers with nylon like mains flex and wonder what they think they are going to catch with that? A whale?

Visit Kenny Halley’s website


Al
I grew up in central Iowa, far from trout waters. I started fly fishing as a teenager, for bass and sunnies. In college, I spent my summers working for the US Forest Service in Oregon, and began to fly fish for trout. It has remained my passion. I try to fish 100 days a year, have written a book, “The Ramblings of an Aging Angler”, and write monthly blogs for my website, Simpsonflyfishing.com.

A retired cardiologist, I now work part-time at our Orvis flyshop, and enjoy teaching others to fly fish.


What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all flyfishers bring?

After the basics, my mind goes to safety and survival. Hence I add a pocket knife, water proof matches and a simple first aid kit to my stuff. I enjoy fishing in remote areas, often alone, hence theses additions. Fortunately, I don’t have any bear stories to tell!

How do you bring things with you?

If traveling domestically, I pack a carry-on and a backpack. One tip is to strap or tape any fly rod tubes to one of the packs. Otherwise, some boarding agents will count the rods as separate carry-ons!

If traveling internationally, I now use a hard bottom roller bag. This allows me to isolate my moist gear in water proof compartments, and pack my rods in a protected compartment as well. I learned the hard way to do this. Some countries, Argentina and Japan to be specific, will not allow a rod tube to be carried on. So if boarding a plane with a rod tube in the states, and need to transfer flights elsewhere, this is a risk. In Japan, I had to exit the airport and re-enter at the ticket purchase counters in order to check my rods, even though I was traveling on an American airline. This nearly caused me to miss my flight back home.

What are your top tips for other flyfishers?

I pack two rods (same weight) with a reel and spare spool, each with a different line. I use waist high travel waders and light weight travel boots. No more than two fly boxes, and a short handled net. For clothes, I pack only 3-4 days worth and count on “washing” them.

To make sure you get out the door, make plans with a friend, and purchase flight tickets early. Don’t want to disappoint your friend or lose the money on your tickets!

One piece of advice- if any portion of the trip depends on modes of travel that will be affected by bad weather, purchase trip insurance. I got hung up in Kamchatka, and missed the weekly flight to Anchorage. Arranging alternate travel was very expensive, but trip insurance covered the flights, added accommodations, and lost days fishing! Some in the group chose otherwise, and had to shell out 6K!!

Visit Al’s website


Charlotte Chilcott

I was born and brought up in Malawi and chose to settle in the UK as it gave me easier access to the rest of the world. I blame my father for my need to explore and travel and I have been lucky enough to be able to reflect that passion in my working life.

After a 10 year stint working for a Safari company, and looking for a new challenge, I joined a then fledging company, Aardvark McLeod, which specialises in fly fishing holidays all over the world. Always happy with a steep learning curve, I had to learn everything that I could about fly fishing, starting with how to cast. Not without its hilarious and mortifying moments, I can honestly say its a 13 year old journey that I am still very much enjoying.

From a fishing perspective, I started at the wrong end of the spectrum as my very first fish on the fly was a sailfish – it took me a wee bit longer to land my first trout which is where most fly fishermen start their journey. Every day out on the water is a pleasure, time out fishing is good for the soul. Whether you are out on a sand flat in the Indian Ocean or sneaking along a the banks of your local river, you can – briefly – escape the constant pressures and demands of the modern world. As for where I’d go by choice? Back to Tanzania for very big tigerfish or to Sudan for tricky triggerfish.


What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all flyfishers bring?

Apart from all the normal accoutrements required for a fly fishing trip, I won’t leave for the airport unless I know I have three particular items in my bag.

  • Duct tape because even if you don’t need it, someone will and camps love it when you leave it behind. So far it has held a broken rod together for a week, covered up a puncture in an inflatable, strapped up a sprained ankle and held my glasses together. Fabulous stuff.
  • My waterproof jacket is a must, I have a very old Simms PackLite jacket which goes everywhere with me. If I have it, I won’t need it but if it does rain, there is absolutely nothing worse than getting soaked. Even if you don’t want it, you can cover up camera equipment, keep firewood dry … it has many uses.
  • Lastly, my Costa del Mar polarised sunglasses; without them, it is unquestionably harder to spot fish and its all about spotting them early. Not having your glasses is an very quick way to ruin your trip and I am completely lost without them.

We all pack too much and bring home kit and clothes we haven’t touched but if you are going saltwater flats fishing its a pretty safe bet that you can leave your waterproof trousers at home; I was absolutely speechless when a client pulled them out to put on with rain approaching – we were wading in thigh deep water at the time. I don’t think he’ll pack them again …

How do you bring things with you?

Very often I am heading to remote destinations that have a 15 kg weight restriction so packing light has become a bit of an art. After much research, I opted for an 110 ltr Ortlieb Duffle RS rolling case which has plenty of room. It is waterproof, incredibly light even though it has wheels (no point wasting your allowance on a heavy bag) and has backpack straps if you need them. Into that I can easily get four 4 piece rods, reels and everything I need for the time away.

I segment my packing, using zipped cloth bags in three different sizes for underwear, fishing hats, gloves, buffs etc and one for clothing.

I use light water resistant roll top bags in different sizes for terminal tackle – one for leaders, one for fly boxes, one for fly lines. I have smaller, different coloured roll top bags for bathroom stuff and the first aid kit.

My backpack is from Overboard; a 20 ltr classic waterproof roll top into which I pack those things that would make a trip tougher if my main bag didn’t arrive. Glasses, medication, wading boots, one set of fishing clothing, book, electrical equipment, camera, GoPro Hero4, hat and of course, the company Aardvark. All my bags are yellow; easier to see on a carousel and to spot on a luggage trolley on a runway in the middle of nowhere.

What are your top tips for other flyfishers?

Packing light is all about logic. If you are on a tight limit, weigh your stuff as you go so you know what it all amounts to. I know its particularly geeky but I have a spreadsheet with everything listed by weight. It makes packing much quicker and removes the “shall I, shan’t I” conundrum.

Rod tubes are heavy; use something lighter like cardboard tubes or drainpipe. Put 2 or more rods in the same tube which saves both weight and space. Packaging adds up so don’t just throw in new lines in their box, or leader in its plastic case, take them out, leave the packaging at home. Do you need to take shampoo and soap? If you do, take small bottles not family sized ones.

Make sure you have gone through the recommended kit list and have the right stuff. Don’t pack six rod weights when you only need four, don’t pack three lines of which only one is the correct type; if you don’t need a fast sinking line, don’t pack it. Limit your clothing; you always need less than you think when it comes to casual clothes and even now, I still manage to bring home something I haven’t worn.

Plan ahead – it’s much easier to pack with it planned than chucking it all in a hour before you leave. Packing is the last stage of the planning journey and the route to getting there can be tough. Work out where you want to go and what is realistic budget wise, talk to experts like us who can advise you on where, when, what for and how much. We can make the most of your time and budget. Most importantly of all, never stop dreaming …. I won’t.

Visit Charlotte Chilcott’s website


Brian Bennett
Originally from Brookline Massachusetts. Currently residing in Seattle. Inspired by a friend to take up fly fishing. My favorite fly fishing destination is Cape Cod.


What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all flyfishers bring?

AxisGo Waterproof housing and dome for my iPhone to share images and videos with friends and on social media. Also allows me to take images underwater and to capture up an down images where half the image is underwater and the other half is above.

How do you bring things with you?

The Patagonia Vest Front Sling is my go-to pack for fishing the flats for stripers on foot in the summer. The nice thing about this bag is the vest style strap allows easy access to the things you most often need at close at hand while wading. The Fishpond Thunderhead Sling is my choice when I need a fully waterproof bag.

While on the boat I use an old Patagonia Great Divider which offers ample storage and great weather protection. I use the Fishpond Dakota Carry On to transport my rods when I travel. I have enough room in all my bags and will adjust the load according to the bag size. No real pattern when it comes to organizing things other than to put like items together.

What are your top tips for other flyfishers?

I try to limit myself to one fly box that I load with the flies that I will use just for that day. I like to use lightweight bags, the Patagonia Vest Front is made from lightweight fabric. I also try to carry the lightest rainwear and insulation for the forecast. I use compression packing cubes to organize and to maximize space when traveling.

Get out whenever the opportunity presents itself and look for local options.

Visit Brian Bennett’s website



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