It’s almost spring and fly fishers are prepping for a new season on the water. Predictably, manufacturers are launching new product lines and anglers in need of gear upgrades are going to have plenty of choices to make. From wading boots to travel luggage to attire, the industry’s leading manufacturers are coming in hot with new products that might feel like must-have stuff for 2023.
Adding any of this new gear to your quiver will, of course, mean digging into your wallet. How deep you’ll need to dig depends on which items you covet. The good news, at least in the fly-fishing space? Generally speaking, you get what you pay for, and things like new rolling duffles, wading boots and waders are designed to last a while. Additionally, most of the reputable brands have solid warranty and repair programs.
New gear should be viewed as an investment over time. So, yeah, it’s OK to shake your head and mutter about the price under your breath. But before you get too upset, do some simple division and realize that the stuff you buy this year should still be serving you in three or four years. For now, on with the gear.
Orvis PRO waterproof packs
Orvis is having a big spring, and the company’s new PRO line of waterproof packs (pictured above) looks like its best yet. These dunkable packs not only keep your gear completely dry, but they offer some great features that other products in this space don’t. The line includes a sling pack, hip pack, two sizes of backpack and boat bag. The 30-liter-capacity backpack features a zippable outer storage compartment, a stretchy side pocket for a water bottle on one side, and rod straps on the other. It features a TIZIP zipper that won’t blow out and a net scabbard. Inside, there are multiple compartments for storing everything from flies to tippets – an enterprising angler could probably even roll up a pair of guide pants and squeeze them in. Retail: $179-329.
Patagonia Women's Swiftcurrent Expedition Zip-front waders
The new Patagonia Women's Swiftcurrent Expedition Zip-front waders feature easily adjustable suspenders that allow wearers to convert the chest waders into waist-high waders when things start to get a bit warm on the river. The new waders are constructed of lighter-weight material above the waist and heavier, breathable fabric (Patagonia’s patented, recycled H2No material) below the waist that’s designed to be puncture-proof and comfortable for long periods in and on the water.
The waders also feature a rear buckle drop-seat system that makes it easier to take a potty break without dangling straps in the way. Throw in things like removable knee pads, adjustable hems and anatomically correct booties that mold to the feet, these waders were definitely made to fit female bodies better. The waders are women-tested and billed as “the finest women’s waders on the planet.” Time will tell, of course, but it’s good to see more options specifically for women anglers — it’s a growth market for manufacturers, and Patagonia is putting in the time to capture its share of this lucrative market. Retail: $799.
Skwala Fusion Snap T insulated shirt
Insulated button-up shirts always seem like a good idea, but practical applications don’t often match up with the hype. Here’s hoping Skwala’s new Fusion Snap T insulated shirt is all it’s billed to be — namely a great on-the-water insulated shirt that’s perfect for a chilly day spent fishing but also might work just fine for dinner at the lodge. Skwala says the shirt is solid for heat retention and offers enough stretch to give wearers better range of motion (important if you’re swapping out time behind the oars or doing some riverside scrambling). I got a look at the Snap T at a recent Fly Fishing Show, and I was impressed with the garment’s look, feel and its water-shedding ability. Retail: $229.
Korkers wet-wading All Axis shoe and Swift Sandal
Wader haters rejoice! I might have to start a wet-wading fan club. If I don’t have to wear waders, I’m not gonna. And thanks to the folks at Korkers, I have a couple more wet-wading options that are new on the market this month: the Swift Sandal and the All Axis shoe. Both feature Korkers patented OmniTrax Interchangeable Sole System, so wearers can go from tacky Vibram to felt to a carbide-studded sole with little effort. The Swift Sandals feature solid toe protection and sport wrap-around foot support that makes them a decent option on the trail. Korkers' All Axis shoes are vented to shed water and are built to be agile hikers as well wet waders. It's also very much worth noting that Korkers designed both pieces of footwear with the goal of providing versatility beyond the water. Whether you're wearing the All Axis shoe or the Swift sandal for fishing, kayaking, rafting, or what have you — the goal in terms of both style and functionality was to create a shoe that could go serve double duty on the plane, or at the bar, shop, or restaurant you head to before or after. Retail: Sandals, $119; shoes, $129.
Simms Freestone stockingfoot waders
Simms' Freestone line of waders is one of its longest running a most popular product lines. Billed by Simms as the “ultimate wader for your almighty dollar,” the Freestone stockingfoot wader is constructed like most Simms waders. It’s heavy-duty, with front and back leg seams that tend to increase mobility (and durability, according to Simms), and four-layer construction throughout. Above the waist, the waders feature a stretch-woven storage pocket, fleece-lined hand warmers and a fly patch. The waders’ suspenders are stretchy and allow for easy on-and-off — or conversion from chest waders to waist-waders, which I think is perhaps the most important feature in all-day waders these days. Downstairs, the Freestones featurr solid neoprene gravel guards to keep sand and gravel out of wading boots. But the best part? The price. The new Freestones retail at $379.
Orvis Trekkage Adventure LT Roller Bag
Fly fishing travel is back with a vengeance, and high-quality luggage is something many anglers who travel to fish constantly keep an eye out for. Count me among that group — with trips in the last year ranging from the Mayan Riviera to the Yukon, I put some miles on my current rolling duffle, and I’m constantly frustrated by how quickly these vital items tend to wear out. Yes, most of the soft-good manufacturers offer solid warranty and repair plans, but that doesn’t do you any good when the wheel bar bends halfway between Cancun and Houston. New this spring from Orvis is the Trekkage LT roller bag, part of an all-new full lineup of Trekkage luggage aimed at anglers. The Trekkage LT Roller is a bag that’s meant to travel as checked luggage (which means it’s going to have to endure the not-so-tender transfers between aircraft and conveyor belts at the mercy of baggage handlers. The bag, made from fully recycled material, features two compartments, including hard-sided bottom that can accommodate fly-rod tubes for multiple 9-foot, 4-piece rods. It features a lot of what you would expect as a frequent traveler, including an easily deployable handle and reinforced fabric around high-wear areas, plus beefed-up, oversized wheels (that can be easily replaced, as well). The best feature, at least at first glance? The Trekkage is 23 percent lighter than its Safe Passage predecessor — it weighs all of 10 pounds when empty. Retail: $399.
Skwala Thermo 350 Pant
Everybody who wears breathable waders eventually needs insulated pants to go under them. It's one of those product categories that offers lots of good options, but few great. Someday, someone will make a perfect (okay, near-perfect) pair of under-wader pants — ones that provide serious, meaningful warmth; breathe well; move well; are comfortable; and work overtime doing plenty of other things besides keeping you warm inside your plastic pantsuit. Towards that goal, the folks at Skwala have a new candidate — their new Thermo 350 Pant. When describing the new Thermo 350s, Skwala says "imagine if your favorite sweatpants, your favorite joggers, and your favorite cold-weather pants had a lovechild." Add in the fact that the Thermo 350 Pants are built almost exclusively with long-fiber New Zealand wool for serious heat retention, with a bit of synthetic mixed in for stretch, and we're sold. Sold on trying what Skwala is calling "the under-wader pants you might never take off," that is. And, with the Montana brand's 30-day money back guarantee, we will do just that.
The new Thermo lineup includes a hoody, too. Retail: Pant, $169; hoody, $199.
Simms Flyweight Access wet-wading shoe
Here's another option for those of you that ditch the waders the moment (or perhaps a few moments before) the weather allows it. New this month from the Bozeman-based stalwart is the upgraded Flyweight Access wet-wading shoe. This shoe is meant to be lightweight and durable, and previous iterations have met those standards, as well. What’s new then? First and foremost, Simms has done away with the lace loops, which I’ve found to be the first feature to fail in these shoes. The loops have been replaced with adjustable “lace garages” that allow the wearer to push and adjust the tightness. That’s right, no need to tie and retie that damned double knot. I’m interested in seeing how this feature holds up. The shoe also features a new adjustable “gasket” seal at the ankle to keep gravel and sand out of the shoe, as well as a solid Vibram sole. At first blush, it looks like Simms has seriously upped its game on these wet-wading shoes. When we get a pair to test, we’ll let you know what we think. Retail: $199.95
Zen Tenkara Hachi small-stream tenkara rod
I’ve dabbled in Tenkara on and off for a good 15 years — there are fly-fishing applications for which a tenkara rod is the ideal implement, and many of those applications are on smaller waters. My experience with tenkara is generally with longer rods — 11 feet or longer. But the new Zen Tenkara Hachi rod is about half that length with fully extended — it measures only 6’10”, which might seem miniscule for a fixed-line rod. But this is a tenkara rod for very specific use — think of that little city creek that’s almost totally overgrown, or that high-country trickle that’s choked with willows. That’s what the Hachi is for. More than that, I’ve long contended that tenkara is the ideal teaching tool for kids interested in the fly game — the Hachi could easily be the first “fly rod” a youngster casts. With it, the basics of casting can be readily accomplished in a manageable package. Just something to think about. Retail: $200.