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. And, 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.
Sage R8 Core Rods
The newest offering from Sage was released to rave reviews last year. These sticks are the real deal — quick, responsive, lightweight. Any other superlative you can throw at them will stick like glue. I’ve been lucky enough to spend a great deal of time fishing the 4100 and the 590 models (pictured at top) in pursuit of fussy trout and can confidently claim the R8 Cores as my favorite Sage rod series since the beloved Z-Axis lineup.
Sage has always been on the forefront of rod design and concepts and, with the R8 Core rods, has developed a fantastic fusion of lightweight responsiveness, accuracy, and power. Tossing a long line to selective PA browns has rarely been as effortless and as rewarding. The rods are no doubt premium sticks and their price tag ($1050) is reflective of the quality and performance they deliver. The R8’s features new materials, resins and tapers that have made it this season’s most desirable new fly rod.
YETI Sidekick Gear Case
The YETI Sidekick Gear Case is one of those items that, at first glance, seems sort of pointless, leaving you scratching your head as to why anyone would buy it. Sure, it’s waterproof. And its bulletproof construction — the same you’ll find throughout YETI’s entire lineup of waterproof Panga bags — is just that. But it’s relatively small and anglers these days have no shortage of waterproof gear storage options that swallow far more than the Sidekick could even if you carried two of them. As it turns out, for a number of reasons, YETI’s Sidekick Gear Case is actually wonderfully functional and versatile and has become a staple in my on-the-water outings as a result.
First and foremost, the Sidekick is designed to be modular. That is, it’s meant to pair with any number of other items — from bags to coolers to raft frames and drift boat seats and so on. Thanks to the combo of four horizontally-mounted hardy velcro straps along the back of the pouch and two vertically-mounted pass-through straps, you can mount it on almost anything. And it pairs particularly well (as it’s designed to) with any bag, pack, or other implement that dons MOLLE webbing. Second, and likely most importantly, the Sidekick offers wonderfully easy in-and-out access. Despite being fully waterproof, a lift of a velcro panel and separation of the case’s magnetic “HydroShield” closure is all that’s required to get to what’s inside. It’s something that can be accomplished easily with one hand, which sets it far apart from other waterproof bags, virtually all of which suffer from one common failing — it’s a pain in the ass to get things in and out of them. Finally, the Sidekick, while small, swallows far more than you’d expect. I’ll often stuff mine with multiple fly boxes, lens cleaning cloths, an oversized iPhone, and a video-stabilization gimbal.
Most commonly, I’ll pair the Sidekick Gear Case it with YETI’s Panga backpack, letting the backpack house the items I need access to less often. But it’s often strapped to my raft frame, other non-waterproof backpacks, or even my wading belt.
Note: The YETI Sidekick is currently being recalled due to safety issues. If you're a Sidekick owner, you can learn more about the recall here.
Skwala Thermo 150 Hoody
I’m not sure when the trend of using merino wool as an all-weather material started, but I’m happy it’s something the fly fishing community has embraced. Wool isn’t just for cold days on the water, as evidenced by one of Skwala’s newest products, the Thermo 150 Hoody. This is a lightweight 100% merino wool fishing shirt that offers a 50 UPF rating to protect from sunburns. It’s light enough to wear as a sunshirt during summer, but it works as a light baselayer during colder weather just as effectively.
Skwala has a reputation for precise product design, and that’s what you’ll find with the Thermo 150. The scuba hood is the same one on their popular Sol Hoodies. It offers sun protection without cutting off peripheral visibility. Thumb loops are included to help keep the sleeves in place when adding or removing layers. Skwala built in extra articulation in the armpits to help prevent the Thermo 150 from binding up when worn as a baselayer. The Thermo 150 Hoody is priced at $129, which is on par with many other merino products.
P-Line 6.5-inch aluminum pliers
I could have gone big with this handy little tool, but why? The P-Line 6.5 pliers’ aluminum is rust-resistant. The handles are comfortable and perfectly suited for larger hands. The stainless-steel jaws are durable and can do everything from bend a hook barb to remove a fly from the mouth of a toothy bowfin or barracuda. And the cutter near the base of the jaws is tungsten carbide — P-Line says the cutter is designed for cutting braided line, but I use them to cut heavy tippet and even light wire. They sport an always-open spring, which really helps when you’re trying to be expedient and remove flies from the mouths of bonefish or tarpon, and they slide into a nifty little holster for quick storage. For my saltwater or blackwater fishing, these pliers just perform. No heroics or “wow!” moments — they just get the job done. And, for about a tenth of the price of big name-brand competitors, you won’t find a better deal.
Simms G3 Guide Wading Jacket
I’m down with the whole migration away from per- or polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in our fishing gear. The long-chain chemistry that makes things like Simms’ G3 Guide Wading Jacket work so well is also ending up in our environment and even in our own bodies. While we work to understand just how noxious these chemicals can be, Simms and other soft-goods manufacturers are working like crazy to find alternatives that can perform just as well and be a bit more environmentally inert.
Does this mean I’m ditching my existing wading jacket? Uh, no. Truth be told, I might wear this thing a handful of times a year. But when I do, I need it. And I need it to perform as advertised. The wildly popular G3 line of gear has a sterling reputation among fly fishers, and it’s earned. The G3 Guide wading jacket is no exception. Mine has worked very well — it fought off the worst the Tongass National Forest could throw at me a couple of summers ago on Prince of Wales Island, and it stopped a tropical downpour in Chetumal Bay just last fall. It really does work. It also has some nice features that I absolutely love when I have to wear it, like big zippered chest pockets for fly boxes, tippet and leader (or maybe a nifty little digital camera!), and adjustable hood, an inside storage pouch and an inside zippered storage pocket. It also has two outside zippered pockets perfect for keeping hands dry while the Caribbean sky opens up above you.
It’s not cheap. But it’s worth every penny.
Howler Brothers Shoal Water Tech Pant
Light weight, comfortable and stylish, I’ve been eyeing up Howler Brother’s Shoal Water Tech Pants ever since they hit the rack in fly shops earlier this season. I finally pulled the trigger and bought a pair three weeks ago, much to my delight. My wife has asked me several times since if I ever plan on washing them. I’ll get around to it.
Technical enough to wear wet-wading the flats with a spool of tippet and a Ziplock bag of crazy Charlies stuffed in your pocket and comfy enough to wear under your waders or just lazing about the cabin sipping whiskey, every part of the Shoal water pant is thoughtfully constructed. Drawstring cords on the ankles keep them from riding up under waders or letting excess sand into your flats boots. Pockets that swallow pliers, nippers and your phone are all well placed and functional. They’re also quick-drying and good-looking, making them equally at home on the water or “dressed up” for dinner after a full day outdoors.