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.
Redington RUN fly reel
The Run is a humble die-cast version of Redington’s Rise that you can fish alongside the Rise or any other polished machined units with your head held high. Easy on the eyes, the arms, and the wallet, Redington’s Run is all the reel most of us need for 95 percent of our fly fishing.
For starters, it’s a pretty reel with airy cutouts that give it a modern and confident look. Those cutouts also slim the Run down considerably as it weighs in at only 4.7 ounces — quite a bit lighter than its competitors in the affordable reel division. Utilizing this fantastic segue into bang for the buck, with an MSRP under $120 you can pair a Run with your favorite rod and have money left over for line, leader, tippet, and flies. But besides looks, weight, and value, the Run also offers quality you might not expect. Its carbon-fiber drag breaks free with the astoundingly smooth and near effortless tug you’d expect from reels costing five times as much. And when you combine that drag with a large arbor, soft-touch handle, and push-button simple disassembly you’ve got a whole lot of reel for just a little bit of money.
— Johnny Carrol Sain
RIO Creek Line
While bombing the banks with bulky bass payloads was probably not what RIO had in mind for their dainty but plucky Creek Line, they can now add it to the resume. Engineered for short, fast rods (specifically the Sage Dart) and small stream trout fishing, Creek Line proved exceptional at tossing surprisingly large flies to smallmouth on medium-fast/fast 9-foot 5-weight rods.
The secret to this skinny line’s fierce performance is its short and aggressive taper. It also helps that the Creek Line is built a half-size heavy. All of this means the line loads quickly and with a surprisingly short backcast. Barely room among the tag alders and willows is all you need for Creek Line, paired with a medium-fast/fast action rod, to sail a large hopper or popper with authority. It can also lay down smaller flies with delicacy and floats high and tough thanks to Rio’s AgentX layers. Despite its coldwater core, Creek Line served us well even on 90-degree-plus days in the Ozarks.
RIO’s Creek Line comes with a loop on both ends, shoots with a dreamy slickness (thanks to Slickcast coating), and its 75-foot green and cream-colored length spools nicely on smaller reels. In both tight quarters and across the stream, Creek Line consistently delivered whatever flies we tied on with accuracy. All in all, it’s another stellar line from Rio that’s offered in sizes 0-5 weight.
— Johnny Carrol Sain
Sage Dart 1-weight fly rod
It had been a while since I pulled my Sage Dart — a creek-freak 1-weight with an outsized attitude — out of its protective tube, and I knew the minute I strung it up, I was going to love it. Again.
At seven-and-a-half feet long, it’s ideal for small water and, of course, smaller fish. But don’t let that be your barometer — I’ve tied into some larger-than-expected trout with my little Dart, and it’s a performer. First, it’s fast for such a light rod (hence the attitude). Second, it’s more forgiving than a typical small-water noodle. I think that’s a product of its tight construction.
Recently, I fished a favorite cutthroat trout stream in the Caribou National Forest, and the Dart was kind of a last-minute decision. As I dug through my rod vault, there it was, and I remember thinking, “Well hi there! I haven’t fished you in a while!”
It was a good call. I had a blast “creekin’” my way upstream, putting size 10 Chubbies over deep water and enjoying the deliberate rises from the stream’s respectable cutthroats. When I put the rod away as the day got a little too hot for fishing, I made a point of putting on the top of the stack — it’ll be my first choice on my next trip, too.
— Chris Hunt
Simms Dry Creek Z backpack
I had the OG Dry Creek backpack, and, while I greeted its arrival with something of a skeptical eye at first, it’s become my go-to travel backpack, airplane carry-on and, when needed, a pack I can wear on the trail or on the river.
Since the first go-round, it’s gone through some important iterations. First, on the original version, outside-the-pack storage was super limited — one tight zipper pocket, and a net sleeve. That’s it. The newest version (pictured at top) has a roomier outside pocket, and it has two stretchy water-bottle pockets.
When I first got it, the waterproof zipper (dubbed TRU-Zip by Simms) was wonderful. In fact, on a short puddle jump from Nassau to Long Island in the Bahamas, the zipper proved its boast of being waterproof — I kept it at my feet on the plane and, because the cabins in those small aircrafts aren’t pressurized, the air in the bag expanded and turned my backpack into an airtight balloon.
However, I’ll say this, the zipper — which is kind of a heavy-duty ziplock system — needs to be clean of any debris to function well. When it’s clean, it works, and works well.
But perhaps the best thing about the Dry Creek pack is its durability. Its nylon ripstop construction is virtually bombproof. I've had it in torrential downpours, swamped during deep wades, and sitting, unbeknownst to me, in several inches of water on the bottom of a boat — and it’s never sprung a leak.
— Chris Hunt
Arcturus Military Wool Blanket
A good wool blanket makes a good camping trip great. But it’s more than that. Where we often camp, night-time temperatures can dip in the low 30s, sometimes even below freezing. In summer, I despise running my propane-powered furnace in the camper — it’s literally like setting money on fire. So, I’ve always been one to toss another blanket on the bed.
But finding the right blanket has always been a challenge. If it’s too heavy, I’m too hot. Not heavy enough, and I’m shivering. Call me Goldilocks, but it is what it is.
The Arturus military wool blanket is now my go-to bed cover — it’s made of 80-percent wool, but is also machine washable and it’s wonderful. It’s not too heavy, but solidly constructed for durability. It’s great for spreading atop the bed, over a couple of sleeping bags, or even for sharing around the campfire.
Don’t have a wool blanket in the camping go-bag? Get one, and consider the Arcturus. You can thank me later.
— Chris Hunt
Swiftwick Socks Pursuit Hike Lightweight
You can only go as far and as long as your feet allow and backed by that truth I would argue that one of the most important pieces of outdoor equipment for any venturing outdoors person is sold by the pair. I’m not talking about boots. I’m talking about socks. The finest boots in the world ain’t worth a damn if moisture-wicking, blister-preventing, temperature-regulating, foot-comforting socks aren’t on your feet before anything is laced up.
Merino wool is the gold standard for three of those four requirements and does a fair job at moisture-wicking, too. But with the addition of wonder wicker Olefin fiber, Swiftwick has created what might be the ultimate sock for hiking, hunting, and even wading.
I’ve been trying to wear out a pair of Swiftwicks Pursuit Hikes for a few months now with woodland treks, half-day wade-fishing excursions, and a brutal afternoon or two of hanging treestands in preparation for autumn deer hunts. The Pursuit Hikes have smoothly handled it all and they don’t even stink. With this stellar performance, we’ve put them on the short list of must-haves for nearly all outdoor pursuits that require boots of any type.
— Johnny Carrol Sain