Boat fishing bag or box?

Old-style fishing bag
Image by photogramma1

This is one of those areas where that famous British snobbery still shows its face.

Not everyone buys into the minimalist philosophy of fly fishing; the happy wanderer with a modest bag slung over his shoulder.

Some fly anglers – often those with competitions to win – prefer the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink philosophy, and they and their 27 fly boxes are therefore understandably wooed by the famous tackle boxes with which Shakespeare is synonymous.

Now these boxes are big but you’d never call them the elephants in fly fishing’s room, I suspect, were they exclusive to fly fishermen and coloured a discreet rustic green.

Alas, they are more commonly favoured by tackle-laden coarse and sea anglers and come in what I believe is known as ‘Crayola Cerulean’. Vivid blue to you and me.

So they have their detractors, let’s say.

But what if we make a stab at being objective where the boating fly angler is concerned? He or she is out on what is often a large body of water for the day. Popping back to the car for forgotten tackle items is out of the question. Is a box really so heinous in these circumstances?

I’ve heard from two experts who say an emphatic “no”.

Bags for the boat angler have one thing going for them, they suggest. You would have to be an aesthetic barbarian not to acknowledge that the offerings from Fishpond (UK anglers go here) leave the Shakespeare box for dead.

But it’s not aesthetics you’re worried about when the rain’s horizontal, the wind’s funnelling down the valley and your boat feels like the loneliest place on Earth.

That’s when the box steps up:

  • ‘Waterproof’ is a questionable label with certain makes of bag but with plastic, it’s not up for debate. The lid holds off the rain while the base holds back the water that builds up in the bottom of the boat. Drying yourself out at the end of a sodden day is bad enough; drying out all your gear just compounds the glumness.
  • If your boat’s from the spartan end of the market, the box can double as a boat seat (subject only to how ‘full-figured’ you are).
  • The box comes complete with a side tray and is roomy enough for everything you’d need while afloat. And there’s no holding back the walls while you rummage inside.
  • Boxes kill bags on price. 50 pounds or $63 at current exchange rate. See how good a specialist bag that buys you.

Some fly anglers fall in love with the box concept even when shore fishing: transferring the essentials to a small toolbox that comes complete with a carrying strap.

You can buy a black version of the Shakespeare box. It’s a moot point whether they would make even bigger inroads into the fly fishing market were they to manufacture a version in British racing green, but that’s a subject for a marketing blog.

Fishing shops of the world – my top 5 directories

If buying fishing tackle online was the only retail show in town now, I wouldn’t even bother posting this.

Only we know that’s not true, of course.

Nice as it is to Google whatever rod, reel or fly box we hanker for, click Shopping and filter and sort away, that will never fully scratch our itch.

Anglers are like those Kindle-spurners who insist that you can’t beat the feel of a real book in your hands. Now and then, we want to feel a real bricks-and-mortar tackle shop beneath our feet.

Our ideal trading environment sometimes involves more than just barter. Occasionally, we want to handle stuff first, find overlooked bargains in dusty corners, enjoy the whiff of tweed and swap wisdom with a kindred spirit behind the counter, safe in the knowledge that the nearest river, on which we might otherwise be asked to demonstrate our outlandish theories, is several miles away.

Fishermen were subconsciously demanding ‘the customer experience’ long before marketing people even knew it was a thing.

So while no-one’s pretending that Main Street fishing shops weren’t feeling the squeeze even pre-virus, no-one will be surprised if it’s a while yet before the last tenacious few slip gently into the night.

But who logs them in the meantime? Who are the best chroniclers of those non-virtual tackle shops still out there?

Putting aside all the uninspiring, flat websites that simply list web addresses, I like these that follow. Some of them will lead you to online as well as bricks-and-mortar outlets and no, I haven’t checked every single link within the links to see how many of them still work, what with having a life and that. Subject to those caveats, though, in reverse order…

5th – Worldwide – The Fly Fishing Guide Directory – Last only because, while it refers to ‘outfitters’, it seems to be more guides than outfitters, but then if the guide doesn’t have the item you’re after, he’ll probably know someone who does. Even on Christmas Island. Links to each contact mean that you can be eyeing up the world’s most glamorous fishing waters within seconds.

4th – UK – Fish Buddy – no links or clarification of the type of fishing catered for but at least you see at a glance where your nearest store stands. Possible cross-reference with Sea-ex below to obtain email addresses at least.

3rd – Worldwide – Sea-ex – Brought to you all the way from Kenya and I make no apologies for its high ranking being due to the listing of more uncommon corners of the fishing universe. Esoterica is my thing. Short of tippet material in Bangladesh, Malta or Saudi Arabia? Sorted.

2nd – Ireland – Angling Ireland – Neat, county by county arrangement, with at-a-glance icons and email and/or web links.

1st – UK & Rep. of Ireland – Where to Fish – Its Rest of the World listings flatter to deceive but the British Isles are well served in the neat layout, with a snapshot of each shop’s homepage providing a gateway to its website.

Landing nets – 12 tips on buying and using one

River angler deploys landing net
Pic courtesy of Herry Lawford
  • You like to think that old-school knotted nylon fishing nets, like racists, are gradually dying out but until they’re all gone, examine one carefully if it’s offered to you after years in the attic and “It used to be your granddad’s…”. Those knots do damage when they rub against fish and they can be prize tangle territory once your hooks get in the vicinity. Go for a net with modern, rubber mesh.
  • On the subject of modern materials; we should pause here to give thanks that we live in the times we do. This is from Tom Iven’s 1973 book, Still Water Fly-Fishing: “I now mesh my own nets using 40lb breaking strain twisted Terylene which has been immersed on its spool in boiled linseed oil and varnish and allowed to dry”. Good grief…
  • The net should be big enough to handle the largest fish that you could potentially catch on the water you’re fishing. I was once with an angler at big-fish venue Dever Springs when a visitor turned up with a river fishing net. “Good luck with that,” my colleague muttered…
  • Where a big net is called for, you must assess how cumbersome it will be to carry with or on you for any length of time. Is it foldable, in other words (but in a way that doesn’t compromise the strength of the handle)?
  • Shore- and boat-fishing nets are rarely interchangeable. A boat net requires a long handle, so that fish can be netted away from the boat, which would otherwise spook them at close-quarters. Given that accidents happen, a boat net that floats is also a plus.
  • Some landing nets have a built-in weighing scale, for minimal fish handling and a rather better look than the Boga Grip
  • Just as a soccer team is never more vulnerable than when it’s just scored, according to cliche, so you are never more vulnerable to an escape attempt than when the net is close enough for the fish to see it. Try and minimise the state of alarm by crouching as low as possible as you wait to net your catch.
  • To hide the net, net a fish in water deep enough to keep your net below the fish and therefore unseen.
  • “No attempt should be made to net a good fish till it has turned on its side, and ceased to struggle or splash, and till the net is right under it. The best way is to draw the fish over the net, not to push the net under the fish. In practice, there is often a combination of both these movements…” – from Fly Fishing.
  • Bring the fish in head first, never tail first. If it feels the net frame, the trout will dive in a last bid to escape: you want it diving into the net, not away from the net, as will happen with a tail-first approach.
  • When the fish is within range, lift the rod tip so that the fish’s head is pointing upwards, ideally just out of the water. At that moment, it has no leverage and is ripe for netting.
  • If a netted fish feels powerful enough to be capable of one last vertical leap as you raise the net, tip the frame sideways so that there is mesh directly above the fish. Only do this if your net is deep, mind.

Demand drag free drift – as if one reason wasn’t bad enough

Visible river currents
Pic courtesy of Tim Painter

From the moment we turn our attention to river fishing, the importance of drag free drift is a lesson that’s hammered into us repeatedly.

The moment your dry fly and leader are fully at the mercy of a river’s numerous currents and eddies, we’re told, the fly’s languid glide downstream is about to be disrupted by a sudden lurch sideways, as a cross-current briefly exerts itself.

While it’s not uncommon to see humans ambling down a high street suddenly speeding off at a tangent, having remembered there’s somewhere else they need to be, it’s a much more alarming look when it comes from a water-borne insect.

To any trout sizing it up from below, that tangential dart is nearly always a passion-killer. If you’re fishing sedge (caddis) patterns, you may get away with it, as the movement caused by drag echoes the fidgety actions of those natural sedges that are either making a commotion as they attempt to dry their wings after hatching, or else are skittering across the water to hatch on land.

If your pattern looks nothing like a sedge, however, then drag-induced alacrity across the top screams two words to wary fish. ‘Unnatural’ and ‘avoid’.

And your pain doesn’t stop there. I had thought that Upstream: Fly Fishing in the American West, was simply a photo-journalistic celebration of fishing, but Thomas McGuane’s words also offer educational pointers such as this one:

Trout push so much water with their open mouths when feeding on grasshoppers that they sometimes fail to engulf them. The slightest drag on line and leader will mislead them as to their trajectory and once their mouths are fully extended they do not seem to be able to see well enough for last-minute adjustment.

Oh crap. So not only does drag cost you the ‘floating voter’ fish, still sizing up your offering from afar, but it can also rob you of those fish who have fully committed to your fly and would otherwise be yours, all yours…

This is a sobering realisation. What’s an angler to do?

  • Drag avoidance is best achieved by keeping your drifts short
  • Drag can spook fish even when you assume it’s no longer relevant. Don’t yank your fly off the water to re-cast until it’s no longer visible to the fish, because that yank will inevitably create drag. The fountain of droplets from your line to the stream’s surface won’t help your case, either. Gently does it.
  • The more uniform the currents are between you and the fish, the less drag will be a problem.
  • Work on those mends. There’s more than one, you know.
  • There is a school of thought that says most drag concerns are eliminated if you cast, not across a current, but upstream, along the line being taken by that current, ideally with a little breeze at your back. Line and leader are ramrod-straight, goes the thinking, everything is moving at the same speed on the same current. Perfect.
  • Not so fast, say critics. No line of flow maintains the same velocity throughout, so your fly line could be moving faster than your fly (hello drag). Also, that ramrod-straight alignment of line and leader is like a taut violin string – very touch-and-go. The slightest, imperceptible micro-current and…hello drag.
  • No, it might not look so accomplished but a bunch of zig-zags in your line and leader beats ramrod-straight every time when it comes to beating drag. Those zig-zags absorb the current like car springs absorb the excesses of an unmade road. Only when the river unkinks everything can it begin to drag your fly.
  • So think wiggle cast and shock mending and pile cast.
  • And don’t think this is just a river problem. Breezy stillwaters can push at your floating line, causing a dry fly to drag, so the immediate post-cast reaction of many lake anglers – pulling everything straight “to keep in touch with the fly” – can be counter-productive.

The only fishing knots you need

Knots on a jetty post
ic courtesy of Judith Doyle

It was actually casting that got me thinking about fly fishing knots. I’d mentioned Italian casting to an angler with whom I worked in my days at Trout Fisherman.

Big mistake.

“What do I want to know about Italian casting for?” he argued, blue touch-paper well and truly lit. “I only know four casts and I’ve probably caught more fish than most casting instructors put together. You can ram your Italian casts right up your Jackson…”

It was that moment of empathy that came to mind when I considered the subject of fishing knots. There might be a wealth of knotty information out there but if all it does is stir bad memories of Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, you might be of the same resistant mind as my Italophobic fishing partner.

So let’s forget the frills. If you just want to know the strongest and easiest knot for each connector in the tackle set-up, this is for you.


Strongest – 100 Percent Arbor Knot“provides for a method of attaching the backing line to a fly reel that delivers 100% line strength (one hundred per cent of the rated breaking strength of the backing line)”

EasiestArbor Knot“The goal here really isn’t in thinking that a knot is going to hold if a fish has taken all the line down to the end your reel spool, but to have something strong enough to hold in the event you lose a rod and reel overboard and have to pull it up by the line.”


Strongest & Easiest Albright Knot“only moderately easy to tie but it is suitable for joining different types of fishing line”. If your fly line has a loop at the back end, connect braid to loop with a Surgeon’s Loop Knot)


Strongest – Needle Knot“more streamlined and reliable than tying a Nail Knot”

Easiest – Gray’s Loop Quick & Easy version (scroll down at link) – “I have found this to be a generally secure and reliable fly fishing knot, if not quite as neat as the needle knotted version. This simplified loop can be tied quickly on the riverbank if need be.” [Author’s note: yours truly has also found the equally easy Albright Knot (see above) to be applicable in this context, although as none of his research has found it being endorsed as a line-to-leader knot, it could be that I’ve just been lucky…]


Strongest – Orvis Tippet Knot – “very strong and quite easy to tie…most fly fisherman find that it is easier to construct than the tried-and-true Blood Knot.”

Easiest – Surgeon’s Knot – “…one of the best and easiest to tie knots for joining lines of equal or unequal diameters. In low light conditions or with cold hands or when time is of the essence…When properly tied, the Surgeon’s Knot approaches 100-percent line strength.”


Strongest & Easiest Dropper Loop Knot“…the best dropper loop knot is simple, easy, and incorporates just four steps. This fishing knot is also one of the most reliable loop knots, with dropper loop knot strength closer to 100% if comparing with a dropper loop alternative.”

HOOK KNOT (loop for when a loop is needed to allow fly extra movement; snug-fit for when no loop is required)


Strongest – Palomar Knot – At its best with braids but also works well with monofilament and fluorocarbon

Easiest – Davy or Double Davy Knot“[the Davy] is an excellent small profile knot for very small flies (size 22 to about size 18). We recommend moving up to the Double Davy when tying on flies starting around size 16 and up as it adds extra strength and seems to be more reliable.”


Strongest – Rapala Loop Knot“a non-slip loop knot that can be tied directly to the lure allowing it to move naturally and freely. It is extensively used in fly fishing.”

Easiest – Surgeon End Loop“The popularity of the Surgeon’s End Loop lies in its simplicity as well as its strength. Two overhand knots with doubled line and you’re done!”

Fishing knots are like whiskies, of course; we all have our favourites and will defend them strenuously, so feel free to leave a comment…