Saturday, 8 January 2011

Thoughts on Chestpacks

Soon after I started fly fishing I developed an addiction I suspect every fly fisherman develops. The length of the addiction seems to differ from person to person - some lose it after a brief period whilst others never do, even after 40 years of fishing. I’m referring to the insatiable desire of fly fishermen to own every manner of fly fishing tackle and paraphernalia under the sun. No thought is given to the strict necessity of the tackle, if it’s fly fishing related and there is the remotest chance you may need it, you have to own it. Things like hook sharpeners, thermometers, leader straighteners, weighing scales, tape measures, the trusty Leatherman, fly dryers – you know the sort of thing I’m talking about, the type of thing that looks flashy and important hanging from the ends of multiple zingers. And that's not even starting on the innumerable colour coded fly boxes.

And yet half of the time trout manage to outwit the arsenal of gadgetry we throw at them and the other half, I suspect, they're pretty much only interested in the fly at the end of the line. In addition, owning so many gizmos and gimmicks requires a bulky fly fishing vest with plentiful pockets capable of sustaining the unwieldy weight of apparatus that will mostly never see the light of day. Eventually - for the majority of anglers at least - the penny does drop, perhaps the day you get lost taking a shortcut to the car park and have to hike to civilisation loaded down like a pack mule. There isn’t any good reason to carry around unnecessary and excess baggage that will never be used.

I’ve now flipped right over to the other end of the spectrum, even calling myself a “minimalist.” I carry with me when fishing one fly box, a couple of spools of tippet and a spare leader, fly floatant and sinkant, strike indicators and forceps. I now use a chest pack instead of a vest, but I’m still trying to find the right one.  What I look for in a chestpack is something lightweight and compact, fitting securely and snugly to my chest and comfortable to wear. A good chestpack is one that you will hardly pay any attention to when fishing. I also like the idea of it having a net ring so I can carry a net if I need to.  

I’ve tried 3:

-          the detachable chest pack that comes with the Orvis Safe Passage Waist and Chest Combo, which I originally purchased for wading the flats of Los Roques.

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-          The Fishpond Arroyo chestpack

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-          The William Joseph Watermark Midge chestpack

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Orvis Safe Passage Chestpack

This is a light and compact pack, with just enough space to make it perfect for a short session such as a late evening trip to the river after work. It doesn’t contain enough space for a full day on the river, when I would combine it with a small backpack to carry food and water, a raincoat and camera with accessories. I also found the straps were more comfortable when crossed over in an X shape (to carry the weight on the centre of your back) rather than in the fashion shown in the advertising material which places the weight largely on your neck. If you carry more items than those I have identified above then this isn’t the pack for you. One further downfall is that there isn’t anywhere to attach a net, although Orvis has recently released an upgrade “Safe Passage DS Compact” chestpack which addresses the two faults I experienced with the original “Safe Passage” – it has a net ring and also introduces more typical backpack type shoulder straps to spread the weight load more evenly.

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The upgrade version shown above retails for £49.00.

Fishpond Arroyo Chestpack

This bag gets 10 out of 10 for looks but overall I am quite disappointed with it. Again, the strap design places the majority of the weight on your neck, and to ensure that the bag remains firmly on your chest without it bouncing around too much, you have to tightly tighten the torso strap which feels quite constricting (especially in warm temperatures). Getting into the main compartment is also quite frustrating at times because the zip length is smaller than the width of the pack. On the plus side, it has enough space to easily fit in extras such as my sunglasses case and a compact camera. The Fishpond Arroyo retails for £49.99.

William Joseph Watermark Midge Chestpack

I have only recently purchased this pack and haven’t had a chance to field test it, but it looks and feels the part. It has substantially more carrying capacity than both the Orvis and Fishpond packs and it also has a similar sized rear pack (sufficient size for a sandwich, a bottle of water and more). It also feels more comfortable on than both the Fishpond and the Orvis pack because of the shoulder strap design (although the Orvis upgrade with shoulder straps looks pretty comfy too). Having said that though, the shoulder straps are quite wide fitting and I think it may not be suitable for most ladies and children. It is essentially a combined backpack and chestpack, and I wouldn’t want anything bigger. It retails for £44.99 but there is at least one retailer currently selling it for £29.99.

It all comes down to your own personal preference and I would recommend trying the pack on before purchasing it. If you are in the market for a chestpack I hope the above helps.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Introduction to Furled Leaders

Furled leaders appear to be the latest “best thing since sliced bread” in fly fishing. Some folk will probably differ and say they have used furled leaders for years and question the fuss, but I hadn’t heard of them until about two months ago – and I am increasingly hearing more and more about them. Perhaps I just had my head in the sand, blissfully unaware in my monofilament leader ignorance.

Furled leaders appear to fit into the “love them or hate them” category but encouragingly the growing legion of fly fishermen who have switched to them, and stuck with them, seems to far outnumber the dissenting voices.

I looked for furled leaders on the usual major retailers’ sites but couldn’t find any, adding to their mystery. You have to delve deeper into the fly fishing ether to find them, into the handmade cottage industry, which in itself is a good reason to buy one. It gets money into the hands of local craftsmen and, to me at least, nostalgically harks back to a bygone era before the advent of cheap, mass manufactured imports.

So what are furled leaders and what are their advantages? They date back to at least Izaac Walton’s time in the 1600’s and were originally made from horse hair, tapered by gradually lessening the amount of hair. Today, the horse hair is spared and leaders are made under constant tension using modern materials such as polyester thread, nylon or silk. They are said to be supple, with no memory and will enhance precise control and allow delicate presentation by creating less water disturbance and splash. Ideally to be used for dry fly fishing but not exclusively, as there are even furled leaders on the market with hi vis butt sections to assist with sub surface take detection. Keen to discover more, I ordered 3’ and 4’ furled leaders for line weights 0-4 for use with my 6’ 2 weight rod. They arrived in the mail today.

I still have my ingrained preconceptions about leaders. Three feet looks awfully short and it will be interesting to see how a 3 foot furled leader turns over 3 or 4 feet of tippet with a bead head nymph on the end. Or 3 feet of tippet with a dry fly and a further 3 feet of tippet to a nymph from the hook shank in the New Zealand duo style. And what of the occasions when the fish are shy to join the dance and you need to lengthen the leader to remedy their inhibitions? – just how long can you go on a furled leader?

For the time being furled leaders remain a mystery to me but I’m looking forward to experimenting and discovering just what I’ve been missing out on. I’ll keep you posted.