I remember when I first started fly fishing. I was of high school age and had set out to fish a small mountain stream for native trout with another friend. We had fished for about an hour with some success and soon came upon a gentleman who was also fly fishing this stretch. I was amazed at his vest and the multitude of pockets it had in it. Being young and fearless, I questioned what in the world he could possibly have in all those pockets. Needless to say, I was amazed at the contents.
A fly fishing vest is a very important piece of equipment. Many beginners seem to select a vest that’s going to look good on them but there’s more to it than that. The vest must be functional as well and meet your basic needs. Some new anglers go out and buy the cheapest one they can find while others go out and buy one based on looks and it ends up being much more than they need (but they'd never admit it). You’ll want to purchase a good quality vest. If you buy a cheap vest from a local department store it may begin to deteriorate in a few years.
Purpose of the Fly Fishing Vest
Let's start with the role of the fly fishing vest. Very simply, a fly fishing vest is what holds all of your fly fishing accessories and tools such as flies, clippers, tippet and leaders, various tools, floatants and weights and anything else you feel you need to have.
Mesh or Fabric?
This question is a highly debatable one and really all boils down to a matter of opinion. I’ve seen more fabric vests on the stream so they must be the popular choice although mesh offers a few benefits such as its ability to stretch a little more if needed and being cooler on warmer days. Other than that, it’s all about aesthetics. Don’t get too hung up on this one.
Pocket layout and size
You want a good number of pockets to adequately carry your accessories but don't get carried away. Naturally the right mix is important because if there are too few pockets there won’t be enough room to fit everything you need. On the flip side, if you have too many pockets, you’ll have plenty of room for your accessories but you’ll also end up trying to fit those pockets with unnecessary items that will lead to a heavy vest and eventual fatigue on the stream. I once observed a man pulling a mini fly tying kit out of his vest and sitting down at stream-side to tie a local fly. I don't know if I'll ever get to that point but I must admit, I certainly admired that man.
Another important point is that if you have too many pockets, you’ll never be able to remember where everything is located which will lead to frustration. In my humble opinion, I would go for somewhere between 15-20 pockets and no more. Select a vest that has maybe 5 or 6 smaller pockets to hold the smallest items (like your split shot or soft weight, spare leaders, fly floatant, etc). The remainder of the pockets should be of the medium to large size to hold your fly boxes (you’ll end up having a couple of these), digital camera and other things you're likely to need while out fishing. Again, anything more and you'll just end up trying to fill those pockets with useless stuff.
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