One year. One rod. One reel. One fly.

Fly rig monogamy, for 12 straight months
striped bass
Photo: James Joiner

I’ve always been good at self-handicapping.

Sometimes it’s intentional, like when I head to a multi-day shoot (I’m a photographer and writer by trade) and only bring one camera and lens. Or, you know, when I decide I’m only going to fish with a single rod and reel for an entire year.

Yep. One rod. One reel. One year.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that, for a guy who travels constantly and fishes in nearly every environment over the course of twelve months, this is more self-sabotage than self-handicapping, and you’d probably be right. But I’ve learned I’m better at having limitations than not. I’m the textbook example of unmedicated ADHD; having choices leads to a never-ending nightmare of second guessing and what-ifs.

I’d rather know what I’m dealing with. One rod. One reel. Grab a spool and go fishing, whether in a tight Montana trout stream or blistering Cape Cod headwind.

And so, as of June 1, 2020, I’ve become a single setup man. Fly rig monogamy.

At least packing will be easier, assuming we ever get to travel again.

So, what rod?

This obviously took heavy consideration, the sort that often devolved into panic. Luckily, I’d had months of winter to sort it out over countless drinks, arguments with friends, internet research, and rationalizations. Should I go heavy or light? Bamboo? Graphite? Glass? Fast or slow action? There were many good contenders, just amongst my own quiver, let alone in the flooded fly rod market. But after more meltdowns and false starts than I care to recount, in the end it was obvious: my Orvis Helios 3F 7 weight.

Within my 30+ years of fishing, the H3F has been a standout. I learned to cast on fiberglass and bamboo, and love the F’s slower, deliberate feel.

F = feel, by the way. Or at least that’s how I interpret it.

Hailing from Cape Cod and addicted to the pursuit of striped bass, the 8 weight H3F was my go-to last season. But, especially during winter months, I spend a lot of time in ponds and rivers harassing smaller fish. I needed something that’d allow occasional delicate presentations, that’d maximize fish-fighting exhilaration no matter what size or environment. Scaling down to a seven weight offered enough play to make it all super fun while still mustering up enough backbone to rely on when headwinds, flies, or fish get big.

For a reel, I figured I’d just stick with my trusty Mirage IV. But the folks Orvis suggested the Mirage LT IV instead, and I gave it a go. After a couple test runs it was clear they were right – the lighter weight balanced perfectly. I’ve spooled up 4 different lines: two saltwater and two freshwater, a mix of sinking, intermediate and floating—stuff I can use in a (hopefully) infinite number of fishing applications.

One rod. One reel. How could things get simpler? How come I have a feeling that, somehow, I’ll still make this complicated?

I mentioned this project during a conversation with Yvon Chouinard, and he reminded me about his year with just one fly, gruffly suggesting I try the same.

Who am I to refuse?

One year. One rod. One reel. One fly.

But which fly?

This presented a bigger challenge than rod selection. What about matching the hatch or bait? Initially, I leaned toward a Wooly Bugger. Is there a more humble or multi-faceted pattern?

But then Blane Chocklett stepped in and offered me his Game Changer. With a name like Game Changer and the fly’s inventor willing to supply ‘em, I was hooked. But, while waiting for Blane’s package in the mail, I found myself without a fly. Cape legend Chris Kokorda was kind enough to give me a variation of his Fish Sauce pattern to hold me over, and, once the Game Changers arrived, I realized I was gonna have to send ‘em back.

The Changer is an amazing fly. A work of art, really, articulated at multiple points and complex in its design. That’s the problem. I’m an admittedly sub-par and impatient tier, and the thought of having to assemble an emergency Game Changer in the middle of nowhere would be, for me, an impossible task. Meanwhile, the less-complex Fish Sauce seemed at least attainable.

fish sauce fly
Fish sauce (photo: James Joiner).

I know my limits.

So far, I’m a month in. One rod, one reel, one fly. The striper fishing has been pretty epic, and chasing big fish with a relatively light rod has been exhilarating. I even got a fish on the very first cast I took with my new setup. Okay, sure, it was a side-snagged pogie from a channel so choked out with them we couldn’t get our flies below their school, but I’ll take it.

A fish is a fish is an omen of good things to come.

You can follow this project and all the traveling and fish tales it sparks here, via Orvis’ fly fishing Instagram, and most immediately on my own social media, @jjamesjoiner.

Think I’m crazy? Tried something similar? Have ideas for maximizing my gear, or questions? Want to share your secret spots? Just need someone to yell at? I’d love to hear about it.