What would you say are your most important pieces of fishing gear? Well, probably a rod, a line, and some sort of fly. But after those essentials, you should really think about how you can carry all those gadgets and keep them organized – and here’s where the FLY FISHING SLING PACK enters.
If you fish from a boat or from a spot near your vehicle, you might use some sort of heavy multi-tiered tackle box. On the other hand, if you like to hike out to the best fishing spots or spend your time wading waist deep in the river, you’ll need a way to carry all that gear on your body. That’s where the fishing pack comes in.
History of the Fishing Vest and Bag
Back in your grandfather’s day, a fishing vest was the method of choice for carrying gear. It was bulky and had innumerable pockets (organization was key to being able to find what you needed) that got uncomfortable if you overfilled them. It got the job done, though, and kept all your supplies relatively accessible.
Since then, technological advances have been made, and it’s now possible to carry our gear somewhere other than the pockets of our clothing – enter the fishing pack. Manufactured in a variety of different styles, fishing packs let you carry your gear in a comfortable and organized manner, and keep it easy to access, even when you’re standing knee-deep in an icy river.
First came the chest pack, an outgrowth of the chest box that was a common accompaniment to earlier fishing vests. Chest packs permit easy access to your gear, but they get irritatingly heavy if you put much in them. Next came the hip pack, which, as the name suggests, holds gear near your waist, but has the advantage of being able to slide around to your front whenever you need something. It can then be rotated out of the way while you’re casting.
My favorite style of fishing pack, though, has to be the sling style. These nifty bags can rotate from front to back just like the hip pack, and also sit high enough that they don’t become submerged during wading. Below are some of what I consider the most important things to keep in mind when choosing your next sling pack for fishing.
Find Something Comfortable
When choosing a fishing pack, nothing is more important than comfort. Why? Because an uncomfortable pack is a pack left in the closet during your next trip. That being said, sling packs can take some time to get used to if you’ve never worn one before. Unlike a normal backpack, sling packs have just one strap and distribute their weight across the top of a single shoulder.
If you’re carrying less than ten pounds, it’s probably safe to choose any style of sling pack that fulfills all of your other needs. However, with a load over ten pounds, it’s important to find a bag with a wider strap that has more padding, which will better distribute the weight.
Additionally, most sling packs are designed to be worn either over the left or right shoulder; the padding, buckles, and pockets only work properly in that orientation, so you can’t switch from side to side. However, a few models currently on the market are reversible, and these are great for when one shoulder gets tired.
Get Enough Space, but Not Too Much
Sling packs come in sizes anywhere between 8 and 30 liters, with the smaller models capable of carrying just a single fly box and some tools and the larger ones able to store all your essential fishing gear for a full day away from the car.
I like to carry two working fly boxes and an assortment of lead and indicators, which means a bag somewhere between 15 and 20 liters is perfect. Anything more than 20 liters, and you’re just tempting yourself to throw in more gear than you’ll need – and a heavy bag leads to a sore back the next day.
It Needs to Be Made from Good Materials
Nothing will ruin your day faster than having an equipment failure in the field; a broken zipper or a tear in your bag could mean losing valuable gear to the river. Never skimp on material quality.
The first thing to look at is the fabric – packs made from 600-700D nylon or a similar grade of polyester are incredibly tough and can withstand a decade of abuse. If you find yourself moving through thick brush to reach your favorite fishing spot, you’ll be glad you have a pack that can handle a few scrapes against twigs and thorns.
An equally important feature to look for is sturdy, non-corrosive zippers. Choose one with YKK zippers (the gold standard for quality zippers) with plastic teeth – metal will corrode and eventually seize up. A plastic zipper is doubly important if you’ll be fishing in salt water, which is five times more corrosive than freshwater.
It Needs to be Organized
As with the fishing vest, this usually means it should have plenty of pockets and dividers to keep everything neat and tidy. However, you can’t expect the pack manufacturer to fulfill everyone’s organizational needs, and I’m a big fan of buying something that just flexible enough to customize. While it might seem like a good idea to get a pack with lots of small pockets and mesh organizers, they clutter the bag and can prevent you from adding organizational tools that would better suit your needs.
I preferred design has just one roomy main compartment I can slide my fly boxes and organizer trays into. Then a smaller pocket or two on the outside of the bag, which can be a great place to put things like pliers and release tools that I don’t want to go digging around for. It’s a simple design, and it usually costs less than packs equipped with all kinds of organizational features.
It Should Carry a Net
This one is non-negotiable for me – my fishing pack must carry a net. This is also one of the ways a sling pack triumphs over the hip pack design. While a hip pack can be quite comfortable, and it’s convenient to slide the bag around from front to back whenever you need to change out gear, they are incredibly inconvenient for carrying a net. The net stands vertical from the hipbelt, which makes it nearly impossible to move the bag around to the front without it getting caught up in your armpit. For me, that’s reason enough to not use a hip pack.
Even with a sling pack, having a net attached will make it harder to rotate the pack from front to back. The better sling packs have the net handle slip into the rear of the bag at a slight diagonal to lessen the amount of shaft that sticks out. After fine-tuning the length of the shoulder strap, you should get to where you can pull the pack around fairly easily and retrieve your net at that critical moment.
Get One with Some Attachment Points
Once you’ve settled on what things go inside the pack, you’ll inevitably be stuck with a few things that didn’t fit. Fortunately for you, a good fishing pack always has a few attachment points. Even if you’re a fastidious planner and made sure that every last piece of equipment fit inside the bag, you still might want a few items to be close at hand.
The best fishing packs are the ones with the greatest amount of flexibility, and for our purposes, that means having a variety of D-rings, bungees, and lash down points. Waders, rain gear, and your rod case are all things that should go on the outside of your pack. I prefer having a variety of lash down points so I can add my own cord to keep everything strapped down. The bungees that come standard on many fishing packs won’t last long if you strap down too much gear, and they’re bound to break at the most inopportune moment.
The Waterproof vs. Non-Waterproof Debate
Almost everyone’s first inclination is go to with a waterproof fishing pack, because even if you’re not waist deep in a river, it just makes sense that you’d want to protect your gear from water, right?
The answer’s actually not quite so clear-cut. A waterproof pack will keep your gear drier in most circumstances, but it also means that nothing wet should ever go inside – it will not dry, at least not in any reasonable amount of time. The fabric doesn’t breathe, and a wet piece of gear will be growing mildew in no time. In my opinion, waterproof packs are also too expensive for the benefits they provide, and they usually don’t have as many pockets or places to stash your gear compared to their non-waterproof counterparts.
If you do go with a waterproof pack, make sure it has a sufficiently waterproof zipper. Quite a few models just have a piece of waterproof fabric that covers the zipper, which makes it water-resistant, but hardly waterproof. A zipper with interlocking teeth, like YKK’s Aquaseal, is necessary to keep moisture out if the pack gets submerged.
Getting the Pack that Suits You
As you can see, finding a good sling pack can take some time and a fair amount of research to get something that will suit your needs. Generally though, it should fit comfortably, constructed of durable materials, just large enough to carry the gear that you’ll need (most importantly, a net), and have a few place to attach things to the outside. My personal preference is to forgo the waterproofing on a pack, but many anglers swear by it.
Ultimately, finding the right fishing pack is all about knowing yourself and your needs. Before you decide which pack to buy, consider how much and what type of gear you’ll be carrying, how you prefer to organize things, and what you’re most comfortable using.
FishSeekers: Choosing the Best Fly Fishing Sling Pack in 2018
Vail Valley Anglers: How to Choose the Right Fly Fishing Pack
Swim Bait Zone: How to Choose the Best Fishing Bag for Your Next Outing
Hatch Magazine: Backcountry Flyfishing Choosing a Backpack