Trout Unlimited : Best Trout Fishing Gear Staff Picks
Story by Dave Atcheson
There is no bad weather, only bad gear.” This is a saying that not only pertains to clothing and gear, but all activities, including fishing. With that, and the annual Fish Alaska gear issue in mind, I decided to poll the gang at Trout Unlimited (TU) Alaska to see what they considered as either essential or favorite items.
I started with Eric Booton, not only one of the most experienced anglers on staff, but very likely the most enthusiastic. Eric is TU’s Eklutna Project Manager & Sportsmen Coordinator.
When asked, the first piece of equipment he mentioned was the Flyvines Recycled Fly Line Lanyard. This is a solid lanyard that allows the angler to carry all their extraneous tools, such as clippers and forceps, around their neck. For years, Eric says, he has burned through numerous clip-on lanyards or “zingers,” the ones with retractable elastic cords, while battling his way through streamside brush or traipsing to favorite fishing holes. “A few years ago, I made the leap to the Flyvines lanyard, and haven’t lost a tool since. And as an additional bonus, it’s constructed out of discarded fly line, which keeps it out of the landfill and puts it to good use.”
I went next to Meghan Barker, the Bristol Bay Organizer for TU Alaska. When not busy at her job spearheading support for permanent protections for Bristol Bay she can be found partaking in her latest passion, flyfishing. Being relatively new to angling and just beginning to dip her toes into the art of fly tying, her first pick was any of the “Tie a Dozen Kits” from the Alaska Fly Fishing Goods store, located in Juneau. These are kits with online instructions and just enough material to build 12 flies. “A great way to fill the fly box,” says Meghan, “without buying unnecessary materials. And they keep it simple, and you never have to worry about forgetting different pieces of the fly.”
For Nelli Williams, Director of TU Alaska, her first choice is her Orvis Women’s Ultralight Wading Boots. “I don’t know why I didn’t upgrade to these years ago,” she exclaims. “They’re super comfortable, even on multi-day trips, and they’re great for hiking to the river…or chasing kids on a gravel bar!” An activity that nowadays she does a lot of. Which explains the next items on her list: Kids Oakiwear waders and rain suits.
“One of the keys to making fishing trips enjoyable for all,” she says, “is making sure the kids are warm and comfortable.” She used the rainsuits when the kids were young and not steady on their feet, switching to waders when they were a little older. She especially likes the convenience of the built-in boots.
Marian Giannulis is the Communications & Engagement Director for TU’s Alaska program. “I have the good fortune of playing a role in our work all across the state from conservation efforts in Bristol Bay and the Tongass National Forest, to southcentral Alaska,” she says. Her favorite piece of equipment is her newly acquired 14-foot Aire cataraft. “After a decade of strictly wade fishing, this raft is a gamechanger.” It’s maneuverable enough to navigate smaller streams, yet sturdy enough to handle bigger water, including her favorite float, Alaska’s famed Kenai River.
Along these same lines, my newest acquisition and quickly becoming a necessary piece of equipment is my Alpacka packraft. As TU Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula facilitator, I have most recently been assisting our local chapter in watershed assessments to determine if there are anadromous fish species in various lakes and rivers. I have used my new packraft on these stream surveys as well as to access favorite fishing locales, including the Swan Lake/Swanson River canoe system. The raft only weighs about seven pounds, and with just a daypack is extremely easy to portage. On the wider trails I leave it blown up and either attach it to my pack or use a shoulder strap that I outfitted it with.
Living in southeast Alaska, legendary not only for its great fishing but it’s monumental amount of rainfall, Kayla Roys, TU’s Southeast Outreach Coordinator, immediately proclaims her Simms G3 wading jacket as her most integral piece of equipment. “It’s kept me warm and dry during more torrential downpours than I can count, which has kept me, most importantly, out fishing.”
Kayla, with her Simms G-3 wading jacket and a nice Southeast king. © Kayla Roys
The next piece of equipment she couldn’t live without is her Abel Super 7/8 reel. “I love the simplicity of its design, which allows me to keep it in good working order, and, of course,” she adds, “I love the sweet song it sings when you have a big fish on the end of your line.”
There’s always one old stalwart on the crew that everyone reaches out to for guidance. That member of the TU team is Mark Hieronymus, our Community Science Coordinator. With 19 seasons of guiding under his belt, he’s the guy we all go to for gear advice. His first suggestion: Revlon Toenail clippers. “Yes, great for gnarly toenails,” he says, “but these are the best general-purpose tool for trimming knot tags and doctoring flies, as well as hard-to-cut bead-pegging material. And as a bonus, because they don’t say ‘for flyfishing’ on the package, they only run about four bucks a set.”
Next on Mark’s list is a fly rod. The ECHO Boost Blue 790 is a rod he compares to a 7-iron for a golfer. “There isn’t much this nine-foot seven-weight fly rod can’t do for the Alaska angler,” he says, “and the Boost Blue is among the best out there. Comfortable in hand with enough flex to make short casts for small fish, but enough backbone to throw bombs and handle the big ones too. It’s been my go-to guide twig since it came out in late 2014.”
Last but not least is Jessica Speed. She coordinates the Matanuska-Susitna Salmon Habitat Partnership, working with a coalition of 66 diverse organizations to ensure healthy habitat for salmon.
Although she loves to fish—to catch, clean, and cook her quarry—she says she has a secret. “I’m new to flyfishing,” she whispers, “and my recommendations reflect that.” What she means is that they are more general and meant for newcomers or as reminders for the more experienced who are introducing this pastime to others.
First up: glasses and a hat. Not just a high-fashion statement. “Sure,” she says, “they may look nice, but as most readers will know, these items are your PPE—personal protective equipment—there to protect you from the stray hooks you are ‘learning’ to launch.” Next is the all-important wading belt. “No big deal, right? Wrong. In the event you slip or fall, it’s intended to reduce the amount of water that enters your waders. It’s the most important part of your waders!”
Finally, what she recommends is a good attitude. “It benefits everyone,” she says. “But for newbies who are mostly watching others catch fish, it’s the greatest asset. It allows you to enjoy the journey and savor—even if for just a few seconds—that meditative one-with-everything feeling of being on the river and casting your line.”
Dave Atcheson is with Trout Unlimited Alaska and based on the Kenai Peninsula. He is also the author of several books including, Fishing Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. For more info: daveatcheson.com.