Clearly, fly-fishing gear depends largely on the venue and the season. But whenever I embark on a trip, there are some things I seldom go without.
Although I have a closet full of modern (chiefly Patagonia) clothing, I am at heart a traditionalist. This is why I still wear my dark-green Barbour “Bedale” waxed fishing jacket whenever I get the chance. Fly-fishing is much better in North America than in the Old World, but if you want to fish in style, then the Scots and the Irish know how things should be done.
Every fisherman has a favorite ‘lucky” sweater, and mine is a cream hand-knit Aran. (These were originally made in the Aran Islands, County Galway, with unwashed wool that still contained natural sheep lanolin, making them water-repellent.) My backup is a black-and-white “lopapeysa” sweater made from Icelandic sheep’s wool – and given the island’s climate, you can safely assume that the local sheep know a thing or two about insulation. It reminds me of happy times on the Thvera-Kjarra River in pursuit of summer salmon.
My favorite kind of fly-fishing is “sight fishing,” casting in clear water to specific fish that you can actually see. For this, the one indispensable item of equipment is a pair of good polarizing sunglasses. So I never, ever, leave home without my Maui Jim shades (that I bought online from Orvis).
My retro obsession continues with a preference for wooden landing nets — especially those made in St. Paul, Texas, by Wachter — which are lovely things in themselves, whether you have occasion to use them or not. And the aluminum dry fly boxes from Richard Wheatley, with their tiny compartments, each with a spring-loaded lid, also seem to me art objects in a way, independent of their function.
There are times when — however skillful you are and whatever means you employ — you just aren’t going to catch anything. This is when my small traveling library comes in handy. Most people agree that the classic of American fly-fishing is “A River Never Sleeps,” by Roderick L. Haig-Brown. I also rely on John Gierach’s “Trout Bum” and “Another Lousy Day in Paradise.” But, if you haven’t read it, I recommend “A Jerk on One End: Reflections of a Mediocre Fisherman,” by Robert Hughes. The author was a fine writer, a distinguished documentary filmmaker and, for more than three decades, the art critic of TIME magazine. But he was also a passionate fisherman, and wrote about his chosen recreation with characteristic gusto and panache.