Thursday, October 2, 2014

Ultralight Fly Fishing Kit

Some time ago I did a post on my ultralight spin fishing kit. You can read the post here. The outcome was a set up that weighs 13.6 oz for a 4lb test line. I have another reel that I use for 8lb test line, which adds several more ounces, and which I use if I am going after larger fish, along with a slightly more robust tackle set up. It has worked out well and has been very portable. Lately, I have been playing around with doing the same type of set up with my fly fishing gear. Now, the term “ultralight” is a bit difficult to place in this context because before we can start talking about weight, we have to determine what type of fly fishing one wants to do.

Copy of IMG_0392

For most people the notion of an ultralight fly fishing kit includes a short rod, maybe a reel, some line, and a few flies. Indeed, such a set up can be made very lightweight, and can truly be called “ultralight”. However, I wanted to do more with my fly fishing kit. I wanted to put together a lightweight, portable fly fishing kit that would allow me to fish without limiting the areas where I could actually do it. So, while my set up includes the expected rod, reel, line, flies, etc, for when I am just casually fishing during backpacking trips, it also includes things like waders and wading boots for more serious fishing trips. The rod and reel themselves are intended to be able to take any fresh water fish I could potentially go after in the northeastern US and consequently heavier than they could theoretically be. The result is a kit that doesn’t automatically bring the word “ultralight” to mind, but I think it is applicable considering the type of fishing it allows.

So, in this post I will divide the gear into two parts. The first part will be the rod, reel, line, and flies. These tools can be used by themselves to fish smaller bodies of water, or from the bank. The second part will address my waders and wading boots, which are required if fishing in deeper waters.

For the first part, the entirety of the set up looks like this:


The rod in the case gets strapped onto the side of my pack, and everything else goes in a small stuff sack, inside my backpack. Here is each component and the corresponding weight:




Rod Orvis Access 9ft 5wt Fast Action Rod 2.5 oz
Reel Orvis Battenkill III Reel 3.2 oz
Fly Line and Backing Orvis Access 5wt Fly Line 1.5 oz
Fly Box and Flies Unknown Brand 1.2 oz
Leader Orvis 7 1/2ft 5X Leader Doesn’t register on scale
Tippet Orvis 5X Tippet (roll) 0.5 oz
Indicators Palsa Pinch On Floats Doesn’t register on scale
Floatant Loon Outdoors Aquel Floatant 0.8 oz
Rod Case DIY Case 1.8 oz
Stuff Sack Unknown Brand 0.4 oz



12.0 oz

You can see above that the leader (in the packaging) and the indicators did not register on my scale. I’ve added 0.1 oz for the two combined when calculating the total. The rod case was a DIY project. You can see exactly how I make my rod cases here. This rod fit perfectly within the tube without the need for any cut outs.

So, 12 oz for the complete kit is not bad. You can certainly go lighter. A tenkara rod, if you are careful not to use any add-ons such as line holders, tippet, rod case, floatant, etc, can be several ounces lighter. Similarly, if you use a shorter rod, or a lighter reel like the Battenkill II, you can shave off a few ounces. I didn’t go that route for two reasons. The first is that I just don’t care. For a completed kit, an ounce or two is not something over which I wish to obsess. More importantly however, I wanted a kit that could be used without any compromise. A 9ft 5wt rod will let me fish any water here in the northeastern US. With this set up I can fish anything from small streams to large rivers, and I can do it without having to pull any tricks or change out gear.


One place where I did save weight was the reel. I went with an old school click-and-pawl reel, meaning that it does not have a disc drag system. The result is that you have limited drag adjustment, and no external adjustment knob. This gives a lightweight reel that is very affordable. Considering that I virtually always control the line with my hand rather than the reel, the lack of external drag adjustment didn’t really matter to me.

The fly box is something I picked up at a local store. It is a foam box of basic design. I have an assortment of flies, including Adams Parachutes, Pheasant Tails, BWOs, Sulfurs, Cadis nymphs and emergers, etc.


As you can see, I don’t have any streamers. I haven’t really gotten into using them. If I think I will need to do that type of fishing I just bring my spinning set up.

So, that is for the first stage of my kit. For 12 oz I get a complete set up that allows me to fish comfortably for anything available in my area, of course with the limitation that I can not go into deep water.

That is where the second stage of my fly fishing kit comes into play. As I mentioned above, I wanted to put together a complete set up with which I can fish wherever I wanted, while at the same time being portable enough for me to carry in my pack over long distances. Of course that is not something I would bring just in case I wanted to cast the line a few times. However, if I was actually backpacking to a location where I plan on doing more serious fishing, then I would bring the completed set up.

So, there are two big items which are needed to complete the kit. The first is the waders, and the second the wading boots.

The waders are not too difficult. Fortunately, the lighter the waders the cheaper they tend to be. The trade off of course is the durability. Lightweight waders are not designed for bushwhacking or long distance treks. If you plan on backpacking in your waders, or doing serious bushwhacking, then you need something more serious. For my purposes however, where my fishing gear including the waders is stored in my pack for the whole trip and only comes out when I start fishing, lightweight waders are ideal. I use the Patagonia Rio Azul waders. They are very minimalistic, but even so, weigh 2lb 3.2oz (35.2 oz). They are light when compared to other waders, but clearly they are a serious piece of kit at over two pounds. They compress very well. When folded up they are about the size of my winter jacket. In the picture below you see them just loosely folded next to a Nalgene bottle.


The wading boots gave me quite a few problems. The big issue for me was not the weight, but rather the size. You can find fairly lightweight wading boots these days from many manufacturers. However, while they are light, they have the feel and fit of actual backpacking boots. The result is that there is no easy way to pack them in your backpack. You have to somehow tie them to the outside and just let them hang there. Well, that was not my idea of backpack portable set up, so I decided to look outside the box. My solution, as silly as it sounds, was to buy and modify a pair of Converse All Star boots.



I bought a pair that was larger than I need so that it could fit over the waders. I’m a size 10 1/2, but got a size 12 shoe. I then screwed in studs on the bottom of the shoes. The studs are simply some #8 3/8 inch hex head screws. I got them at Home Depot. The 3/8 inch length was perfect. It was long enough to keep them on securely, while not going through the shoe. They significantly improved the grip of the shoes. I also added some extra insoles to improve the comfort.


You can see the main benefit of the shoes in the above picture. Since the shoes are made from nothing more than thin canvas, they can fold up completely flat. That makes them easy to fit in a backpack. The weight is not that light at 2lb 5.3oz (37.3 oz). The drying time is similar to that of other wading boots. While they are thinner than other wading boots and made only of a single layer, the canvas is very slow drying, so the overall drying time is about the same. That’s not an issue for me since I don’t backpack in these boots at all.


So, all of the gear combined gives me a weight of 5lb 4.5oz. Everything, together with my overnight gear, two and a half liters of water, and three days of food fits inside my Black Diamond Speed 40, 40L pack.

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