What’s in Your Fly Vest?


With almost three million websites selling hundreds of different brands of fly fishing accessories, it’s not surprising new fly fishers may be a bit confused; as if buying the rod, reel and fly line weren’t bad enough! Let’s cut to the chase – here’s what you really need… and what you don’t.

Accessories you need:

Stream Thermometer: Trout are sensitive to water temperature with their feeding range being between 50 and 68°F (10 to 20°C) for most species. Match it and find active fish. While not waterproof, I like using the small infrared thermometers that cost around $12 from Harbor Freight or even less from Aliexpress even though their accuracy varies. Another critical use is to determine when the water is too warm to fish. Stop fishing when the water exceeds 70°F to avoid stressing the fish. Brookies are even more sensitive than other species.

Nipper: Use a small nipper to trim tippet. It is much easier to use than a pocket knife for a smooth cut. Most nippers come with a pin on the opposite side to clear thread from the eye of the hook. Instead of using the included pin since it is usually too thick, I advocate taking a thin sewing pin (with the beaded top) to do the same thing. Quick tip – always cut tippet on an angle to make it easier to thread through the eye.

Fly Patch: If your vest does not have a fly patch to hold frequently used flies, buy one. Based on what is active, I’ll put different sizes of that fly on the patch to avoid digging in the fly box.

Forceps: This tool is used to remove hooks, squish split-shot and tie knots. Check out my YouTube playlist for how to tie knots quickly.

Forceps can double as a knot tying tool

Hook Size Chart: One of the most confusing things to a new fly fisher is figuring out hook sizes. Your buddy tells you to use a size 16 prince nymph, and all you can do is stare vacantly at the hundred flies in your box wondering which is the right size. Print out this free hook size chart from TMC Fly Hooks and use it to compare the size of the hook to the recommendation. You do not need to carry the entire document on the stream. Instead, print it at 100% (turn off the “fit to paper” option in the printer dialog) and cut out the TMC100SP-BL or TMC100 section for the most common sizes. Laminate it!

Use the original from the TMC Fly Hook reference document (not this example) to understand hook sizes
Dollar Store zingers work fine for light accessories

Floatant Holder: Use a floatant holder to hang a small bottle of dry fly floatant as well as Xink (fly sink dressing for nymphs and wet flies) from your vest.

Amadou Fly Dryer: Once a dry fly gets soaked, it must be dried off before reapplying floatant. Be sure to have a drying patch as part of your kit.


Zingers: Rather than digging through pockets, reduce frustration by hanging the most commonly used accessories from a zinger. Zingers can be expensive, and it is worth having a high-quality one for bulky items like forceps. However, everything else can usually be supported by the lightweight zingers, three in a pack, from the Dollar Store.

Pocket Knife: Have a small pocket knife for any use beyond the scope of the nipper. I like using the authentic Victorinox/Wenger Swiss Army knives and buy them used on eBay. The ones confiscated at TSA airport checkpoints end up there for a few bucks each. Avoid the little keychain models.

Accessories that are a waste of money:

Fly Threader: Most fly threaders are awkward to use, and if you learn the simple trick of sliding the tippet adjacent to the eye of the hook until it pops in, you don’t need one. Check out this YouTube video for the process.

Stomach Pump: I know many hard-core fly anglers use stomach pumps to see what a fish has been eating, but I just think it’s over the top and hard on the fish. Besides… you have to catch a fish first to use the pump, and it ate the fly used to catch it. That’s a hint at what’s right.

Knot Tying Tools: Learn how to tie knots with forceps to avoid buying and carrying these accessories.

Soooooo…. What about a net? Unless you are fishing for fish larger than 16”, you do not need one banging around and getting hung up on pretty much everything as you work your way to the stream. If you get a net, use models with rubber netting. I like the versions with the magnetic holder that clips to the back of the vest.

There you go! Conserve cash and only get the accessories you need. Obviously, stash a fly box, tippet, spare leaders, indicators and split shot in the vest as well.

7 years of scouting…

100% public places…

Get out there!

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