Fly fishing is a gadget-intensive hobby. The stuff you need to land fish, to wade safely, to meaure water temperature, to tie on a size #20 fly, to waterproof that fly, and to weight your line seems to multiply at an alarming rate. Since I don’t want my fly vest to weigh as much as a WWII flak jacket (about 22 pounds), I regularly go through it and take out items I don’t need.
But in the interest of safety, there are five fly fishing safety devices that I never leave at home or in the truck. These devices are, ultimately, more important than split shot or forceps or fly floatant.
1. Bear Spray.
You must carry this with you whenever you fish in grizzly bear country.
Dave, my podcast partner, and I prefer UDAP (http://www.udap.com/), the spray developed by Mark Matheny of Bozeman, Montana. The spray canister is designed to fit into a hip holster so that you can shoot from the hip. There may not be time to remove the canister from the holster to spray a charging grizzly.
Why am I so insistent on carrying bear spray?
Several years ago, a friend and I bow-hunted in the Taylor Fork drainage northwest of Yellowstone National Park. The next fall, my friend took a business partner to the same spot. They were charged by a grizzly, and my friend’s business partner ended up with some broken bones and needed surgery. But my friend unloaded his canister of UDAP at the grizzly, and it fled before inflicting any more serious damage.
Keep in mind that a canister of bear spray does no good buried in a pouch somewhere in your fly vest. So you need to hang it from your wading belt (and that is the next device!).
2. Wading Belt.
This is not a luxury item, yet some beginner fly fishers forget to scrounge through their duffel bag in order to find it.
Ideally, you shouldn’t need to search your duffel bag. Keep the belt looped through the single belt loop in the back of your waders. You can’t afford to leave it behind. Without a wading belt, your waders can fill up with water if you fall or get swept into water over your chest. That means you will sink instead of float to the surface.
3. First Aid Kit.
A friend of ours got a hook deeply embedded in his finger while releasing a trout last summer. After Dave, my podcast partner, removed it, we were glad to have some Neosporin and a band-aid. Besides, you never know when you’ll get blister or sprain an ankle. I could keep listing the injuries which a first aid kit will treat. But hopefully you get the point.
4. Communication Device.
In some cases, a cell phone works great. Honestly, I get better cell reception at certain spots in the backcountry of Yellowstone National Park and Rocky Mountain National Park than I do in my office in the northern suburbs of Chicago.
Apparently, the team of Verizon workers who appear in those television commercials prefer the great outdoors to the ‘burbs. There are a few places, though, where Dave and I carry two-way radios. We’ve been known to swap information about what flies are working best or to brag about a trout we’ve just landed.
But we carry these to make sure we can call for help if needed.
There’s no excuse to be without a flashlight. Twisted ankles happen. Or inclement weather slows down your return hike. Sometimes, even the most punctual fly fishers (if such persons exist) can’t resist the urge to keep fishing until Dark Thirty (or O Dark Thirty!).
One alternative is to load a flashlight app on your cell phone. However, this will drain your battery in a hurry. With so many compact, lightweight flashlights on the market, you’ll be better off keeping one of those in your fly vest.
If you hike in far enough to fly fish a mountain lake or a remote stretch of river, you might also consider fire starter (a butane lighter and a folded paper towel) and even a space blanket (a thin metal-coated sheet which folds up into a pouch the size of your wallet).
Water-purification tablets are advisable, too.
Even though you are anxious to get to the river, don’t forget the items that will help you avoid or at least cope with dangerous situations. Yes, you could lighten the load by removing the first aid kit that you’ve never used once in the last five years. You probably won’t need a flashlight, either, since you’re planning to get back to your vehicle before dark.
Chances are, though, that there’s going to be a fly fishing safety device that will help protect you during one of your fly fishing trips this year.
Don’t leave home without it.