Gear we love right now: January 2024

What's working on and off the water, right now
patagonia great divider bag
Photo: Hatch Magazine.

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.

As always, our feedback comes with a promise: Unlike many magazines that publish gear roundups for products they've never so much as seen in person let alone put to work, we've actually used and field tested every piece of gear we write about.

Patagonia Great Divider

When I head to the river, I tend to bring a fair amount of stuff that won’t fit in my sling pack. There are fly reels and sunglasses. Leaders and spools of tippet. Tools, gadgets and fly boxes galore. I suppose I could throw everything in one big duffel bag, but I’d spend an obscene amount of time trying to sort through the mess and find whatever I happened to be looking for. Which is why the Patagonia Great Divider is a game changer.

I can store my fly boxes in one section, and my reels in another, and my sunglasses in a third, and my extra fly lines in a fourth. There are clear zippered pouches that hold my leaders and tippets, with room left over for a Leatherman, spare forceps, back-up nippers and whatever other small items I want to add to the mix.

Patagonia great divider
Image credit: Patagonia.

I prefer to wade, so I typically leave my Great Divider stashed in my rig. (It’s almost like having a mini fly shop back in the truck.) Yet it also makes for a great, immune-to-the-weather boat box whenever I take out my drift boat. Either way, my gear stays safe, dry, organized and easy to access. Oh, and the magnetic closure on the front is pure genius, as it helps prevents the “damn, I thought that zipper was closed” chaos of a full-blown spill.

I’ve been using my Great Divider for a couple of years now and I continue to be impressed. It’s an absolute masterpiece of design. That said, I should share a few words of caution. While it’s extremely well-made, you should nevertheless avoid sitting or standing on it. The structural material that forms the top and the sides is not designed to support a ton of weight. Other than that one caveat, it’s damn near perfect.

— Todd Tanner


Montana Brothers 904 L fly rod
Photo: Todd Tanner.

Montana Brothers 904L Fly Rod

As hard as it is for me to believe, I’ve been fly fishing since Ronald Reagan was president. Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to teach fly fishing and fly casting, and to guide on rivers like the Madison and the Henry’s Fork, and to review any number of fly rods for angling publications. While the Good Lord knows I’m not without my faults — just ask my wife — it’s probably safe to assume that I know a little about this particular subject.

I’ve cast some truly exceptional fly rods over the years, along with any number of mediocre and poor rods. I’ve also run across rods that seemed, at least to me, to have been designed by mischievous elves with a uniquely twisted sense of humor. I have not, however, cast a finer graphite rod than the 9’ 4-weight 904L from Dan and Doug Daufel at Montana Brothers Rodworks. The 904L is smooth to the point of being sublime, and it throws an absolutely exquisite line at normal fishing distances.

Does that mean it’s the right rod for you? Of course not. We live in a world where the majority of fly fishers are never taught to distinguish between good rods and not-so-good rods, and where most of us have never been lucky enough to fish a truly stellar rod. There are absolutely no guarantees that you would pick up a slow, smooth 904L and have a transcendent experience. It would likely feel different, and perhaps even strange, to anyone used to modern graphite rods. Heck, you might not like it at all.

Nevertheless, I’ll reiterate that Dan and Doug at Montana Brothers are building the very finest fly rods I’ve ever had the pleasure to fish.

An unrelated quote I ran across in Forbes might give you a better feel for the Montana Brothers 904L. Describing a Redbreast 27 Year Old Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey — a “Gold Outstanding medal winner” — the judges at the 2023 International Wines and Spirits Competition wrote: “Red and dark fruits interlace with tropical notes, enriched with an elegance of warming baking spice, nutmeg, and cinnamon. The palate delivers a fabulous mouthfeel, rich with caramelized pineapple, apricot jam, milk, dark chocolate, and gingerbread. Exquisite, multi-layered, and fantastically complex.”

If Montana Brothers created award-winning whiskey instead of fly rods, they’d no doubt grace us with something akin to that 27 year old Redbreast. While whiskey is not their niche, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that their 904L fly rod is exquisite, multi-layered, and fantastically complex. If that analogy strikes you as intriguing … well, you can always cast a Montana Brothers rod and decide for yourself.

— Todd Tanner


bajio low light purple mirror
Photo: Bajio Sunglasses.

Bajio Low-Light Purple Mirror Lenses

These days, virtually all but the greenest of anglers is well versed in how essential a quality pair of polarized sunglasses is to success on the water — representing just as vital a piece of an angler’s quiver of gear as his or her fly rod, reel, or line. What many anglers aren’t as tuned into is how important having a pair of quality, polarized low-light lenses amongst that quiver. Whether it’s during the evening hatch, a midday tromp on a blue line stream with a dense tree canopy, or a cloudy day on the bonefish flats, low light lenses allow fly fishers to see their quarry when a full sun lens, which blocks significantly more light, will end up balanced on the brim of your hat or dangling around your neck by their retainers — simply because they’re too dark to prove useful.

Over the last year or so, Bajio’s low-light purple mirror lenses — released initially in polycarbonate and more recently available in glass — have supplanted several of my well-loved offerings from Bajio’s big name competitors. It’s rare that I reach for another low-light lens these days.

But it’s not the low-light performance of Bajio’s purple mirrors that make them stand out. In fact, Bajio’s low-light offering blocks a bit more light than its competition — offering a VLT (visible light transmission) of 22% where other options let through 25-33% of light. What separates Bajio’s lenses from other low-light lenses is their polarization. Across a myriad of varying conditions and light levels, the polarization in Bajio's purple mirror lenses consistently outperformed other low-light lenses— and polarization, more than selective light blocking or any other feature premium sunglass lenses offer — is most vital to seeing your quarry.

At 22% VLT, Bajio’s low-light purple mirror lenses carry me well into the evening session, excel on cloudy days and, thanks in no small part to my now 47 year-old eyes that don’t pick up quite as much light as they used to, often stay perched on the bridge of my nose from sunrise until the light fades on all but most sun-bleached days.

— Chad Shmukler


bajio wet wade performance backpac
Photo: Bajio.

Bajio Wet Wade Performance Backpack

Like a lot of traveling anglers, I depend on a backpack to be a multi-faceted storage bin, both during my journey and when I’m on the water upon arrival. In recent years, I’ve gravitated to waterproof packs – for obvious reasons – and, generally speaking, I’ve been appreciative of the protection the packs offer my gear, both while fishing and while I’m tucked into an aisle seat on my way to somewhere fishy.

The new Bajio Wet Wade Performance Backpack is my latest tote, and I’m a fan. First, unlike other earlier-model backpacks, the Wet Wade offers some significant external (and water-resistant) storage. A fully-zipped vertical sleeve allows for storage of must-access items, like my phone or passport while I’m traveling, or frequently used fly boxes, small camera gear or things like tippet spools, leader sleeves and the like when I’m on the water.

Inside, the pack offers some really generous space. With 25 liters of room, the pack is ideal for toting along waders and boots to the river or a laptop (yes, there’s a laptop sleeve on the inside back of of the pack), a tablet or all the chargers and cables we use as we keep our electronics charged over the course of a long trip. For boat trips, the pack is essentially a dry bag, so you can roll up your puffy jacket or your sweatshirt and tuck it in the pack with no fear of it getting wet. The pack’s exterior features removable rod holders, interior zip pockets and padded shoulder straps.

The Wet Wade has everything I look for in a “daily driver” backpack, and it’s ideal for the river, the drift boat or the flats boat. I’m impressed with the thoughtful construction as well. A previous iteration of a competitor’s waterproof pack ballooned up on me and almost exploded on a low-altitude flight from Nassau to the Berry Islands a couple of years back. The Wet Wade includes a handy pressure-release valve near the top of the pack, making it an ideal catch-all for fly-out trips to far-flung loges across the world.

But the best part about the Bajio Wet Wade Performance backpack may be its price, coming at around half the cost of some of its competitors.

— Chris Hunt


Fishpond Wader Mat

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Fishpond sent me a wader mat to check out. I used it when I put my waders on, and when I took them off, and then I wrote nice things about it. And that, as the man says, was that.

In retrospect, though, I had no idea how much I’d fall in love with that damn wader mat. It is wonderful. It not only protects my feet from rocks, dirt and other assorted debris, and keeps the neoprene booties of my waders almost pristine, but it fulfills a ton of other roles as well.

When I kneel down on the fireplace hearth to add kindling to my wood stove, it keeps the bricks from grinding holes in the knees of my pants. It keeps my backside dry when I sit on a wet log or a snowy rock. It gives my golden retriever a perfect, cushioned spot in the back of my pickup at the same time it keeps mud & crud off the seat. It screens my Yeti cooler from the sun, and it covers up expensive fly fishing gear in my truck that might otherwise attract the attention of thieving hooligans and other ne’-er-do-wells. It’s incredibly helpful and amazingly versatile, and I am stoked that it has held up so well for so many years.

Sadly, Fishpond, for reasons beyond my ken, no longer makes that particular wader mat — or, best as I can tell, any wader mat. Which means that unless you can find a used one on EBay, you’re completely out of luck.

That said, I recently found a very similar — albeit slightly smaller — wader mat on the Vedavoo website. Vedavoo makes great angling gear and if my Fishpond mat ever gives up the ghost, I’ll be calling Vedavoo and ordering one of their wader mats to replace my original.

— Todd Tanner