Fly anglers are overloaded with gear choices—rods, reels, boots, waders, lines, packs, bags, boxes, vests, apparel and more. It seems harder and harder to know what's worth coveting and what's worth ignoring. Gear reviews are a great way to explore in-depth what might be right for you, but not every piece of gear is suited to a full-length review and, even if it were, there's simply too much of it to get to. With that in mind, we periodically showcase what's working for us right now, to hopefully offer more helpful feedback on gear that's worth a second look.
All gear is welcome here: new, old, cheap, pricey, and so on. The goal is to provide useful feedback on gear that works—not to help gin up marketing for new products. Sometimes, great gear has just hit the market, other times it's been here doing good work all along.
Smith Caravan MAG ChromaPop Sunglasses
We've long preached to our readers that sunglasses are as essential a part of your fly fishing kit as your rod, reel and flies. Given this philosophy, over the years we've collected a number of pairs, many of which are specialized to certain uses. Typically, this specialization comes in the form of different levels of light transmission. Most sunglass brands offer lenses geared towards everything from the unrelenting, blazing sun of a Big Sky Country afternoon to the latest of evening hours when the last whispers of sunlight begin to disappear behind the hillsides and the hatch is just getting going. Being able to don high-quality, polarized glasses that are tuned for the conditions is a luxury and a great asset on the water.
The biggest problem with doing so is having to lug around multiple pairs of glasses. Space in vests, chest and sling packs, backpacks and so on—especially for fly anglers that have a habit of lugging along far too much gear—comes at a premium, which often means that stowing an extra pair of sunglasses isn't in the cards. And, of course, there's also the issue of cost. Good sunglasses aren't cheap, and buying two or more pairs simply isn't in the cards for a lot of anglers.
Smith's Caravan MAG sunglasses (pictured at top) tackle both of these problems out of the box. Borrowing a page from Smith's I/O ski goggles, the Caravan MAG sunglasses feature interchangeable lenses. You pick the first pair—out of 6 different choices from Smith's excellent ChromaPop lens lineup—and Smith provides a second set of ChromaPop Ignitor lenses (a low-light lens with 35% light transmission), all for about the same cost as a "standard" pair of quality sunglasses. We ordered them with the ChromaPop Bronze Mirror, which is pretty close to a full-sun lens at 15% light transmission. The combo of the two lenses has been extremely versatile during the short winter fishing days when we regularly go from blinding sun glinting off snowpack to dreary, heavy cloud cover in a matter of moments.
But the best part might be the fact that swapping out lenses, which stow in a small, provided carrying pouch that takes up almost no space, is stupid easy. No pushing, no straining, nothing that makes you feel like you're going to break the frames or the lenses—just quick, easy, and secure.
Oh, and you can keep expanding your lens quiver, as well. Smith offers a total of 13 different lenses for the Caravan MAGs.
Scott Centric fly rod
You'll be able to read quite a bit more in our upcoming full review, but suffice it to say that Scott's Centric hit the market last year not as the little engine that could, but the little engine that absolutely had to. It had to thanks to the enormously successful engine it was replacing, one of the most heralded fly rods of all time—Scott's Radian series. The Radian for years was the embodiment of the "fast meets feel" movement, and Scott rightfully wasn't shy about saying so. Remarkably versatile, dependable, and accurate performers, Radians were (and still are) coveted by most anglers.
Replacing or, the folks at Scott might prefer to say, graduating from such a success story carries with it lofty expectations. Expectations not just to offer improvements over its predecessor, but not to screw up any of the Radian's virtues in the process. By our measure, Scott has succeeded on all accounts. The Centric is a worthy heir to the Radian's throne, one that feels like a true evolution of technology and design rather than a variant or replacement. The Centric has been a workhorse rod for us this winter, handling wildly varying winter conditions with elegance and grit—whether dredging heavy nymph rigs down deep to lethargic, lazy trout; slinging streamers for big winter browns; or casting tiny midges on delicate tippet during impromptu hatches.
If you haven't already taken notice of the Scott Centric, be sure to add it to your "must cast" list as you awake from your fly fishing slumber this spring.
Orvis Jackson Stretch Quick-Dry Pants
If our pants options were limited to just one, Orvis' Jackson Stretch Quick-Dry pants would be our choice. Made of moisture-wicking nylon that dries incredibly fast and offers UPF 50 protection, Jackson pants also feature a gusseted crotch and elasticized waist for near-sweatpants livability.
And they’re tough, too. After 12 straight days of wear on a trip out west this summer, the Jackson’s were none the worse. We wore them through thickets, brambles, and sage. We wore them during cold creek wades and on hot hikes under the sun. We wore them around the campfire till our whiskey cups ran dry. When we got back home and ran them through the washer, we wore them while lounging under the AC. How these pants can keep us both cool in the heat and warm in a chill is just as big of a mystery as how they can be both stretchy and stylish.
Put simply, it's possible we’ve never owned a pair of britches this capable while simultaneously being this comfortable. And that’s why we'll be adding more pairs to our rotation.
Hillsound BTR (Better Than a Rock) Stool
Honestly, we were skeptical about how much we would actually use the Hillsound BTR stool. When we're outdoors there always seems to be a log or a sunny patch of grass or a rock on which to park one's rear end. But one cold and damp January day when everything was too soggy to cop a squat without wetting our behinds, the BTR (Better Than a Rock) became essential gear. And at a supremely packable 13.4-inch length and 14 ounces, it was barely noticeable on the hike in.
Those dimensions are for the 17-inch BTR. The 14-incher is even more discrete. Both models feature nylon mesh seating, aluminum support poles that lock in place, and surprising strength. The diminutive little chairs will support weights of up to 240 pounds. BTRs also come with a two-year warranty to back them up.
Since that dreary day around a campfire, we’ve used the Hillsound BTR stool for many impromptu sits in the woods and near the water. It’s proven to be a piece of equipment we never knew we needed. And it’s so dang easy to pack that there’s really no reason to leave the truck without it.