Minimalism is popular these days and for many, it is a lifestyle pursuit. I’ve spent most of my fly fishing life as a minimalist but I never knew it. I always thought of it as keeping things simple. I like to travel light when walking the creeks carrying as little as possible. But it was actually using a minimalist approach to fly fishing. I think it is a good idea and let me explain why you should use a minimalist approach to fly fishing.
Why you should use a minimalist approach to fly fishing? A minimalist approach means making decisions based on what you need instead of taking or having everything you want. By taking this approach there is less gear, less stress, less preparation time, and less hassle. You’ll find yourself fishing more by not being distracted with meaningless unnecessary “stuff”.
When I played soccer we had a thing we called “going back to basics”. It meant practicing basic skills and performing simple passes. A minimalist approach to fly fishing is along the same lines. It’s going back to the basics to streamline things, evaluate what is really necessary and apply it to your fly fishing. But how do we do all this? By having some fun with the process, as usual, let’s take a look.
What Is Minimalist Fly Fishing?
I’ve always taken a minimalist approach to fly fishing but never knew it. As a fly fisherman who travels light. I carry only what I need on the stream, everything in its place, either stored in a pouch or hanging from a zinger. Today that is called “minimalism”.
The minimalist concept isn’t new. People have been practicing minimalism for as long as there has been the need to have things. But regardless of the word used to describe it, the act of going with as little as possible is really what this is all about.
I became a minimalist fly fisherman by accident many years ago when I hung my vest on the bumper of my truck only to remember I did so an hour and a half and many miles later. That experience made me search for a way to carry everything I needed without using a vest any more. Ideally, it would be great to have everything either in or attached to my waders.
I realized shedding my vest meant the loss of dozens of pockets for storage. But did I really need all those pockets? I mean, what was really in those pockets? The reality for me was, once something went into a pocket it would reside there almost indefinitely becoming an “I can’t get rid of that” kind of item. “I might need that someday”. This is a train of thought that became a driving force, an excuse, as to why pockets were stuffed with things.
The loss of that vest was a new beginning, a new starting point to acquire gear again. This time I had to rethink storage and use “a minimalist approach to fly fishing”. (Tah Dah!) or as it was back then, keep things simple, back to the basics?
What Do I Really Need To Fly Fish A Stream?
This became the starting point question, “what do I really need on the stream?”. I had to take a hard look at what is absolutely a “necessity”. So after thinking it through, I tested the water (no pun intended) by putting together a bare-bones list and then went fishing. After a few trips to the creek and pondering a bit, I eventually came up with a list of what I really needed. (For Start-up Cost to Fly Fishing, Click)
- Fly Rod and reel (line of course)
- Fly Box(s) with flies
- Line Straightener
With the exception of my fly rod and waders, the next logical step was to decide how to store these items and in what? Suddenly, the waders themselves had become my replacement vest because I never fish without wearing waders. Lightweight breathable waders are the best because they can be worn during summer and winter months over whatever clothing you wear under them. I needed to figure a way to use my waders as storage along with keeping me dry.
Most waders come with a pocket built into them so it can hold the littler items, leader, weight, indicators, floatant, but I still needed to find a place for the main item for fishing – fly boxes.
How Many Flies Do I Need For Fly Fishing?
Flies and fly boxes are another consideration. How many flies does a person really need to fly fish? How many boxes do I need, what size? I figured I should take a good look at how many flies I really need. When it comes to using a minimalist approach to fly selection, it really gets hard.
I decided to break my flies down into groups based on my style of fishing. Streamers, dry flies, nymphs, and terrestrials. I made the decision to limit my fly boxes to 4 to match these groups. But I realized the size of the boxes could vary.
Terrestrials and streamers are the two smallest groups for me. I rarely fish terrestrials so creating a limited supply of those flies was easy. Streamers are another very streamlined selection. I have gotten them down to a very small number and styles. I could also combine these two groups into one box and save even more space, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do that. Funny how that is. Reminds me of people who can’t mix their mash potatoes with their peas, oh well.
Next was the nymph box and dry fly box. I figured these would be the largest of the boxes because a larger selection of fly choices was needed to handle matching hatches. But over time I found even these boxes are able to be limited.
Throughout the season I take time to go through my fly boxes and eliminate those flies that are rarely used in an effort to keep the most productive flies. Oh, sure there are those that survive the cut because “well I might need that one”. But “cleaning out” the fly box has another reward in that I carry, what turns out to be, the most consistent producers.
How To Go Vestless
I mentioned earlier that most waders come with a pocket built-in. I purposefully look for these types of waders because their pockets can hold all the little stuff. But for the fly boxes, another way of carrying them had to be “invented”.
One day while in the camping section I saw these little zippered pouches that had straps across the back. These were great because I could slide my wader suspender through the straps and fasten the pouches to the suspenders. Each pouch had a storage capacity of two fly boxes each of which was perfect.
I attached the pouches to my waders at shoulder height where they were out of the way and didn’t affect my casting or fishing in any way. They were easy to access and because they were attached to my waders, they were always with me. (Unlike a vest). Between the pocket and the pouches, I had developed a streamlined storage system. A place for everything and everything in its place.
What Can Hang, Must
The next important item is Zingers. These can be pinned anywhere and have a retractable line or string with which you can hook your hemostats or nippers too. There are a number of “gadgets” available for this purpose, that is, to attach the tools you readily need. I like having my hemostats where I can get to them fast. I often use them to help release trout by grabbing the fly with them. This way I don’t have to handle the trout. (it helps to use a barbless hook for this purpose as well). I also use the hemostats to hold my flies as I tie them on to my tippet.
The other item I use and have hanging from my waders are my tippet spools. Tippet spools are made to connect together. You can buy a lanyard which goes through the center hole of the spools which you can attach, in my case, to my waders as I said.
The combination of hanging items, pouches, and a pocket has totally eliminated my vest. I have everything I need tucked away and easily accessible. I know some guys who have gone to a fanny pack to achieve the same thing and if you find that works for you, by all means, use it. But I can just picture a fanny pack being left somewhere. As stated at the start of this article the concept was to have everything I needed, attached to my waders.
How Should I Pack For The Trip To The Stream?
Ok, so far we have examined what we actually carry with us while on the creek and explored how to carry or store the stuff we need literally on our body. But there is another reason why you should use a minimalist approach to fly fishing and that’s when it comes to going to the stream.
Most of us in Pennsylvania have the luxury of being within close proximity to our car or truck when we go fishing. It’s not like we have to walk miles to the stream but more like we walk a few hundred yards to the stream. Additionally, we tend to fish creeks in sections, meaning we fish from point A to point B return the vehicle, and drive to the next point and repeat. Many times we fish and return to the truck for a lunch break.
If you think about it then, carrying a whole lot of stuff while fishing is really not at all necessary if we can return to the truck at some point. But even still, keeping things organized in the truck is equally as important as carrying less on the creek.
I started a few years back keeping all my gear in a plastic container. I’d put the container in the truck and off I’d go. When returning home, the container goes into its storage place until the next trip. I need to be honest here as I say that. The container spends months riding around in the truck as I’ll fish any time at the drop of a hat and it usually gets replaced during hunting season. But that said, let take a look at the container.
How To Pack
The container has one job to do, carry all my gear. It needs to be long enough for my rod case to fit into it. That has been the trick to find a Tupperware container that was big enough to hold my rod case while still being small enough to fit easily into the truck and easy to carry. I have a 4 piece St Croix rod which is perfect for this purpose. Unfortunately, I have a two-piece Orvis rod that is stored in an aluminum case which always needs to be carried separately because it is just too long.
So, you may ask, what needs to be taken in the Tupperware container. Besides my waders, shoes, and rod, I carry two small compartment boxes. They both are used for holding additional flies. It’s from here I replenish my fly boxes carried on me. (It from here, my buddies, end up with some extra flies too). One box is dry flies only and the other has all the rest.
The next important item is a small Tupperware container that I use for extra clothes. In it are a tee shirt, pair of sox, pair of underwear, and a pair of sweatpants all rolled tight in the box. They are the emergency kit in the event I get caught in a bad storm, or heaven forbid, should ever fall into the creek. The last item I carry is actually in the truck at all times and isn’t part of the “Tupperware” collection, but is extremely important. That’s my rain gear.
Why Use Plastic Containers?
I have found the use of the plastic container to be one of the most important aspects of why you should use a minimalist approach to fly fishing simply because everything is in one place. I use the same concept for hunting, especially bowhunting because I can store my clothes and gear keeping them relatively scent-free.
The container, as I said earlier, can be stored anywhere during the off-season (for those of you that have one, lol) and when you’re ready to go again, simply throw it into the vehicle and you’re off. If done right, you’ll literally not forget anything as it all should be in the container.
Why Versatility Goes Unspoken
One of the offshoots of a minimalist approach is learning to be versatile. For example, think about your fly rod. If you are one of those who needs a fly rod for every aspect of your fishing, you know, one for high sticking nymphs, another for fly fishing, a 6 footer for Blue Lining, or a 5 weight today and a 6 weight for tomorrow, then minimalism will be hard for you.
But if you are willing to use a good versatile rod then you’ll only need one rod. I have throughout my days as a trout guy always been geared towards fishing the conditions presented to me throughout the day. What I mean by that is, I have been fishing where nymphing was the morning activity and suddenly caddis starts showing up, and the trout turn on to snatching flies. Time to change and off comes the weight and the indicator. I might adjust with a tippet change, and on goes an Elk hair caddis. Later, the same day, another tippet change and a streamer is the thing. These changes aren’t a big deal because even with a minimalist approach I have everything I need to adjust to the changing conditions. The key is using a versatile rod and line.
How Being Versatile Catches Trout
I could argue that versatility comes from having less. We all know that, as my Mom use to say, “we’ll make do” and that means being creative. My buddy, Paul (the Professor), and I were fishing with another friend of ours, Lonnie. Lonnie and I were sitting on the bank while Paul was in the creek fishing a nymph down along a submerged log. As the conversation was going on between us all a caterpillar fell into Lonnie’s lap. Without any real thought, Lonnie picked it up and flick it into the creek. When it hit the water a trout plucked it from the surface. “Hey, you got any caterpillars?” Lonnie asked “the Professor” and returned to our conversation. Meanwhile, Paul realizing what had happened, took a grasshopper pattern from his box of goodies, and greased it up real good with some floatant. Lonnie and I watched Paul as he repeatedly snatched trout from beside the log with that so to speak caterpillar.
The idea of being a minimalist for me simply means keeping things simple, basic, and compact. Why you should use a minimalist approach to fly fishing comes down to a few things to consider and you can decide for yourself if it’s an approach for you.
- I find it to be less stressful. I don’t worry about my gear or have to plan everything out. Everything I need is either with me or in the truck. (Container).
- Less expense. You don’t have to have every new gimmick or new fly rod or new whatever. As you learn to be more streamlined you automatically learn to evaluate what is really worth having and what isn’t. That saves you a lot of money.
- Less prep time. Considering you now have everything you need all ready to go all the time, means it’s easy to go fishing at a drop of a hat. Your buddy calls and basically you’re out the door. You don’t have to spend time running around gathering up the gear.
- Portability. Because everything is packed and in a smaller container ready to go, it’s easy to transport. Whether it’s to catch an evening after work or to take off on a camping trip, you have everything.
- Better skills. “Less” means, “making do” and one of the offshoots is skills improvement. You learn to take what you have and make it work. Because you’re using the same fly rod more often you learn how to cast it much better than changing up rods a lot. If you don’t already, you learn to tie flies and you’ll tie the flies that work.
Some guys will be able to adjust to being a minimalist and other of course won’t. There is no right or wrong to this. I for one fish as light as possible. On the other hand, there’s Paul. I will never (and I have tried) to convince him to get rid of the vest. I know here carries way too much in that thing and it’s heavy, to say the least. But, he’ll never relinquish the vest. I do have to admit though when it comes to that vest, I have on many an occasion sat down next to Paul on a creek to watch the water with him only to be handed a beer that came out of that vest. Fish on!
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