A new tool for the tackle box – the Hook&Roll lure retriever

A brief diversion from fly fishing, to announce a new product for those of you who fish baits and lures.

Full disclosure: wearing my copywriter’s hat, I just put the Kickstarter page together for the guys launching the Hook&Roll lure retriever, so it would be a poor show if I didn’t give their efforts a mention here.

They’ve come up with a lure retriever that improves on those that went before; allowing you to retrieve snagged lures more than 30 metres away, with a device they claim is ruthlessly effective in dislodging snagged or jammed lures.

I had initial reservations over the price, but then I discovered what American anglers in particular hand over at their local fishing tackle store for high-end lures.

If you fish six times a year over snag-free terrain, then the Hook&Roll isn’t for you. If you’re out there most days, on the other hand, dangling your Slick Lures, Slayer lures or Rapala X-Rap where angels fear to tread, this thing could pay for itself within weeks.

More details here.

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.

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.

8 things the best budget fly reel still needs

A Simple Fly Reel

Pic courtesy of BrandonLord

There’s no law that says fly reels can’t be ‘designer’. If there was no market out there for aesthetics, indeed, Abel might have long ago transitioned to lawnmowers.

If you’re choosing a fly reel at the other extreme, though, compelled by budget or personal preference towards cheap reels that do all they need to and no more, then don’t be fooled by the old cliche that “it’s just a line-holder”. Yes, it is but even cheap fly reels must tick the following boxes…

1. The reel will be the first thing to hit the ground whenever you drop your rod. It needs to be sturdy enough to handle the kind of fishing you do.

2. While you want it tough, you don’t want it so heavy that it unbalances the rod, so you feel like you’re fighting the reel every time you cast. Instead, you want the reel as light as possible for the job required without being fragile. If you can maintain the rod’s centre of gravity or balance point – normally found about a third of the way along the rod, starting from the front edge of the handle – it will add impetus to your forward cast.

3. Make sure the reel can be easily disassembled and put back together so that you can clean it thoroughly, especially if you’re a shore angler likely to encounter sand and grit.

4. You must be certain that the spool is deep enough to house both your fly line and the backing line to which it will be attached. How much of the latter you need depends on the type of fishing you’re doing – 75 yards for small lakes and rivers, 100 yards for large lakes and reservoirs. Don’t make a false economy here and settle for a reel whose depth is only made possible by a narrow ‘base’ (ie the central barrel around which backing and line will be wound). You need a broad base (aka a mid- or large-arbour spool) which not only retrieves more line with fewer turns but also stops your fly line from looking like a coiled spring when it’s off the reel, as it will when it’s been wrapped around a base the width of a pencil.

5. In the split-second before you register that a fish is hooked (a bit longer if you drop your fly line in the excitement) you’ll be glad that your reel has some sort of braking system to stop the fish taking too much line too quickly (resulting in either a bird’s nest on your reel or the fish spitting the hook when the line slackens). Reels usually have a ratchet system at least (okay for smaller fish) but do check if the ratchet is adjustable and also the sound it makes at speed. The ratchet on my first, highly inexpensive reel made it sound as if I was molesting Donald Duck in the reeds. I grew to dread winding in.

6. One notch up from the ratchet is an adjustable drag system (memorise your reel’s drag button location from the outset). While the extra reassurance is nice, don’t set the drag so harshly that your leader goes ‘ping’ the moment a hooked fish digs its heels in. In his book Trout From Small Stillwaters, Peter Cockwill advises that if you can’t strip fly line off your reel when holding the line between your lips, then the drag is too tight.

7 If you do go for a drag system, make sure it is either fully sealed from the outside world or alternatively, that you can reach it easily for maintenance. Like a stone in your shoe, grit in your drag mechanism brings a level of torment out of all proportion to its size.

8. Fly fishing reels that come complete with several detachable spools mean that you can fish a range of lines with just the one reel. At some point, though, carrying a second reel will be highly advisable, lest the first one breaks while you’re fishing. ‘Enforced tenkara’ sounds like something from The Bridge on the River Kwai and is probably only marginally more pleasant.


10 tips when buying a fishing vest

fly fishing vestChoosing the right fly fishing vest is like choosing luggage for a long-haul fishing trip. You need the right sort, properly packed. Here’s what you need to bear in mind:

  • Type. There are fly vests for the minimalist; slender and basically equipped, and there are vests for the hard-core angler, with so many pockets and zingers, they could be marketed to Special Forces. Decide beforehand which type is better for you.
  • Material. There’s a trade-off between mesh and fabric. Mesh is a highly-breathable netted material that you’ll be glad of on hot days. It is also stretchable, and so less likely to impede your movement. Fabric is not so flexible or breathable but it is more durable (think thorns). The most popular fabrics are cotton, nylon, and polyester, with cotton the most comfortable if the day is warm. The mesh-to-fabric ratio should be governed by the degree of foliage you typically negotiate to get to your favourite spots.
  • Weight and mobility. These two characteristics are interlinked because a vest that feels bulky even before you fill its pockets will feel like a millstone after several hours on the river, at which point hopping from pool to pool will feel as enticing as a January triathlon. Check that your arms can move freely when the vest’s on and that you’re not conscious of it rubbing against your neck and shoulders, as they will take the brunt when it’s fully packed (a cushioned collar will help take the strain, while broad, adjustable shoulder straps are another plus). A large mesh component will reduce the overall weight of the vest considerably. Bear in mind that the vest will grow tighter by the time its pockets are full, so you want it to feel roomy when you try it on while it’s empty. Unless you are a fair-weather fisher, you might want to be wearing several layers of clothing and a rain jacket when you try the vest on, to be sure it can accommodate them.
  • Length. Depending on the depth of water that you routinely wade, too long a vest may routinely get wet. If you’re rarely wading above the thighs, though, extra length means more storage. Some vests allow the lower section to be detached if you’re venturing into deeper water.
  • Number of pockets. Usually the deal-breaker but then different anglers need different amounts of storage. Once you know the pocket-count, check the specifics. How secure (and waterproof) is the pocket where your car keys and other valuables will go? Is there a deeper pocket for sunglasses, insect spray and a small torch (for all those times you swore you’d be back at the car before nightfall)? Can the pockets be opened and closed easily with one-hand? Does the back of the vest boast an upper pocket that keeps its contents (eg lunch and fluids) well clear of the water when you wade deep? Don’t buy a vest and then fit your gear to the space available: list the most items you’re ever likely to store in its pockets and then make sure the vest can take them all. There should be a pocket that is easily reachable with your dominant hand and big enough for the fly box containing the flies you are most likely to use. Nippers and haemostats should have first dibs on the zingers available and consider buying tippet caddies to hold spools of tippet on the vest.
  • Colour. Some fishers believe we fret too much over this but if you’re not one of them, you should assess how easily the colour of all your fly fishing clothing will blend with the kind of backdrops against which you usually fish.
  • Fly patches. Fleece patches might look fashionably ‘retro’ but they are yesterday’s accessory and can discolour flies as the latter dry. Foam patches provide a surer footing for your go-to patterns.
  • Washability. Oh to have five bucks for every fly angler who wouldn’t normally give this a thought. A multi-pocket vest can become as rank as old sneakers over time, though, so you should address the logistics of keeping it minty-fresh. Not all types slip effortlessly into a washing machine. Some manufacturers stipulate dry-clean only.
  • Somewhere for the rod? When you’ve mentally stored everything else in that vest you’re after, check to see if it also offers a rod keeper. Steadying yourself in fast-flowing water will come easier when you have both arms free.
  • Safety. If boat fishing or wading lively water is your fishing staple, some manufacturers have combined the fishing vest concept with a lifejacket. Some makes also incorporate reflective strips, should you be likely to fish at night.

And once you’ve bought the best fishing vest for you…

a) There is no law says that every single space in a multi-pocket waistcoat must be filled. You’ll be amazed how quickly the weight of all those small ‘essentials’ adds up. If you’re transferring pocket contents from your old vest to a new one, make a mental note of how many items you’ve actually used over the years…

b) Your spine must be the first concern when deciding what weight of vest plus contents you can live with, but if you’re fishing rough water for a short session, consider some advice from the man who invented the fishing vest. American angling legend Lee Wulff said that he liked the feel of a heavy vest when he was wading heavy currents. The ballast meant that he wasn’t quite so much at the mercy of the river’s flow.

c) Consider also some advice from the late fishing writer, Art Lee, for whom buying the perfect vest was just half the battle. If you are to fish effectively, he said, you must know your way around that vest blindfolded. When you’re loading it up, make a note of exactly what item is stored in each pocket. Fumbling time is not fishing time.

d) If you’ve found this post useful enough to share, please share it to any photographers in your social circle, too, as a trout fishing vest can also make good photography clothing. Their gear/storage equation mightn’t be as pressing as ours but it’s close.

Finally, the following reviews will give you some idea of what’s out there:

Top 10 Best Fishing Vests in 2020 Reviews

The Best Fly Fishing Vests – Store And Use Fishing Gear Easier