What's In Your Pack?
A while back, my post "Finding and Setting Up a Fishing Pack" focused on pack selection as well as a few handy exterior accessories. Choosing a comfortable and efficient way to transport your gear is important, but what goes in that pack can be downright vital. After all, forgetting a necessary item can put a damper on your day or even ruin it completely. To avoid such headaches or total disasters, it's essential to have a solid mental or written checklist of what exactly to bring in your pack. Of course, this applies to you vest-wearers out there, too!
Below is a list of what I'd call necessary items I include on many of my trips. My guess is that a lot of this stuff is pretty obvious for most anglers, but perhaps there's an item or two listed that may not have been considered before. I'm a hardcore minimalist and love to pack light for the sake of simplicity and mobility, but I also don't want to hit a dead end on the water because I left something behind that I didn't think I'd need or just totally omitted altogether.
Pliers/Forceps- Remembering to bring pliers or forceps on a fishing trip is like remembering to get dressed before leaving the house—it should be automatic! The thing I do a little differently is that rather than just bringing one, I bring two. This provides me with a backup if a tool is lost which has happened before since I often keep one outside of the pack for easier access. Another good idea is bringing tools of different sizes if planning on fishing flies that vary in hook size quite a bit. The reasoning here is that smaller, thinner tools (like forceps) work great on small hooks and in tight spots, while a beefier tool (like big forceps or pliers) grab larger hooks better and can offer more grip.
Scissors/Nippers- Another obvious and critical tool is a scissor or nipper for line cutting duties. For years now I have been using a small pair of Calcutta braid shears (see them here) which have worked great for me. I really like these because they are cheap, small, last a long time, have easy-to-see yellow handles, and I can use them when I conventional fish since I fish braid a ton. However, if fishing with small flies and very light tippet, a smaller and more precise scissor or a nipper can be a better choice for exact, close cuts. Like pliers, it doesn't hurt to bring two cutters with you in case one is lost.
Fly Box, etc- Fly boxes can be small, medium, large, or even huge, made with different materials like aluminum or plastic, feature various closures such as clips or magnets, and can even be fully waterproof. A fly box not only keeps your patterns organized for easy access, but it protects them from getting squashed and bent as well. There's no denying they are super handy, but you may also consider other options like fly wallets or various pouches and such not even made specifically for flies. I recently wrote about one such option from the conventional side of fishing which can be seen here.
Leader Material- Extra leader material is a must. In the case of someone like me who makes my own leaders, I usually carry spools which can be used to replace my tippet and midsections if they get ruined or busted off. For heavy-duty applications involving big fish and a much heavier overall leader, I'll even take it a step further and bring a spool of butt section material as well in case disaster strikes and I lose the whole rig. If using packaged knotless single-piece leaders, you'll also want to bring extras along and at least one additional matching tippet spool. Over the course of a day changing flies and/or retying, that tippet will get shorter and shorter until it's too short or gone completely. If that happens, just cut off an appropriate length of line from the tippet spool, tie it onto the remaining leader and keep fishing!
Hook Sharpener- Hooks can get dulled rather quickly, especially if your flies often make contact with hard objects like rocks. A good hook file is small, inexpensive, and a necessity to carry on each and every trip out.
Hair Comb- If you find yourself fishing a lot of large streamers, a small comb can be incredibly handy. When I fish the big stuff, often times the fly will turn into a jumbled mess after I catch a fish. The fibers can usually be picked back into place just using my fingers and maybe a hook point, but a little hair comb makes this process faster and reshapes the fly better. My current choice for a comb is the Loon Ergo Comb.
Floatant- Dry fly anglers will want to carry floatant which helps repel water and keeps dries riding high on the surface. A gel/liquid/paste floatant is what you'll apply to the fly before it ever gets wet, while a dry powder floatant is used to dry out and revitalize a fly after it eventually gets waterlogged.
Weight- Shot and sinking putty are mostly used by nymph anglers to help get their rigs down deep. While shot is common and easy to use, putty is also great because it doesn't pinch the line and allows the angler to add or subtract very small bits of weight depending on the water depth. Consider carrying both!
Indicators- Different rigs and water types require different indicators. Heavy rigs and/or faster water may require one that's larger and more buoyant, while shallow, slower water is likely best fished with a low-profile indicator of a muted color.
Spare Spools- A spare spool can be a great thing to carry with you even if just merely for backup. I've busted fly lines twice now while saltwater fly fishing (likely sheared off by big bull sharks) which rendered my setups useless. Luckily, both times I had a second rod/reel combo to use, but a loaded spare spool would've allowed me to get the damaged setup back into the game quickly.
Camera- Besides a massive fish you might catch, who knows what else you'll see during a day? Bring a camera! For fishing solo, I can't get over how handy my GoPro cameras are since they allow voice activated, hands-free picture taking while being small enough to easily slip into a small pack or even my pants cargo pocket.
Sanitizer/First Aid- A bottle of sanitizer is always in my pack to clean little wounds or just my hands in general. Although I usually don't (but should), carrying other items like small cleaning wipes, bandages, etc is smart.
Stock your pack or vest with gear from