What I Keep In My Bag and Car For a Day of Fly Fishing

Ready to hit the water but feel like you’re forgetting something? This is everything that Fly Fishing expert Marshall McDougal packs for a day out on the water.

Photo by Karli Quinn

It is finally Friday, and you plan to get out on the water for the weekend. Here is a quick go-over of everything you need in your fishing bag for a successful day trip out to your favorite honey hole!

The Pack

Everyone will have their own preference when it comes to packs. Ask 100 different anglers and you might find two that agree on the same pack setup. It all comes down to comfort and functionality. Go try a few of these different packs on and decide what works for you and your fishing style.

Waist or Lumbar Pack

Did you know fanny packs are coming back in style? Well, they never went out of style in the fishing world. A waist/lumbar pack is the Ferrari of fanny packs. It is an awesome style of pack that offers easy access to all of your gear. Most packs have a sling strap that offers added support when you are not using them. They are versatile in how you wear them and can easily be rotated around your waist for comfortable positioning. The downside of these packs is that they sit so low on your body, they can often get submerged when wading. That being said, many companies make a waterproof version that keeps gear bone dry in these situations. These packs also tend to be a little smaller than a sling or backpack and since they sit on your waist, it can be an easy place for your fly line to get caught when casting.

Backpack

This style of pack is pretty self-explanatory as many of us own some form of backpack already. The good news is if you are on a budget and need a place to keep gear when you are on the river, just grab any old backpack and load it up for the day. The main benefit you are getting when fishing with a backpack is the space it offers. These are great if you want to pack in waders, an extra rod, or are carrying gear for a group of people. The obvious downside is that your gear is not easily accessible and when packs are loaded down, they can get pretty heavy.

Sling Pack

Then there is the hybrid. In my opinion, this is the best of both worlds. For the longest time, I was anti-sling pack… then I fished with one. These offer the perfect amount of space for a day trip; they comfortably sit on your back like a backpack but can be easily rotated around to the front for easy gear access without having to take it off. I will let you know if I ever find a downside to my sling pack. It has been close to a year now that I’ve had it and I am still working on finding something negative to say.

What Is Actually in My Daily Fishing Pack?

The author has laid out his pack, his net, a camp jacket, a water bottle, tools, tippet, snacks, and more on a carpet.

Photo by Marshall McDougal

First Aid Kit

One of the most important pieces of gear in your pack will be your first aid kit. Hopefully, you never have to use it, but it is something I recommend everyone have on a day trip. This kit might look different depending on if you are taking a boat out to the flats or hiking up to a high alpine lake but I think it is an overlooked piece of gear for most anglers. Check out this guide to building your own.

Water Bottle

Make sure to stay hydrated! I always bring a 32 oz. Nalgene with me for a day out on the water. In addition to a full water bottle, I also have a few purification tablets in my pack for the days I am wading or hiking into a more remote spot. These will allow you to refill your water from the river and have the peace of mind that it is safe to drink. You can read more about portable filters and water purifiers here. There are also lots of water purification bottles on the market that are awesome alternatives to my current setup.

Rain Jacket

My favorite piece of gear I like to keep tucked away for a rainy day is my rain jacket. A good rain jacket keeps you dry in a monsoon and will pack down to take up very little space in your bag. If you’re looking for a better one, check out this guide to technical shells. In the event that you didn't quite look at the forecast for the day or Mother Nature decided she wanted to throw you a curveball, you will be happy you have something that keeps you bone dry!

Fly Box

At this point, you are probably wondering if we are hiking or fishing. Well here are the fishing-related pieces that are a must-have in your day pack. Fly Boxes! Duhh! These nifty inventions that hold your flies come in all shapes and sizes. Where to start? You need something that will carry anywhere from a dozen to a couple hundred flies. If you are an expert angler and never lose flies (cough, cough, liar) you might only need to bring a handful of flies you know will work for the area. Other times if you are exploring a new area and do not quite know what the fish are eating, you will want a variety to choose from. I typically always keep two boxes with me. My home waters hold lots of bass and stripers, so my first box is full of streamers that mimic common baitfish in my area while the second box has all of my surface flies and poppers.

Fishing License

Stay legal everyone! Game wardens can be your best friends but also your worst nightmare if you don’t purchase an annual fishing license. I keep my license in a dry bag so it does not get wet—a Ziplock baggie will work just fine for this too.

Miscellaneous - Leaders, Tippets, and Nips

Some of the less talked about items you should always keep in your pack fall under the miscellaneous category. I always have extra leaders in my bag so it is easy to change them out. This is a really good idea for newer anglers as it can be common to get knots and tangles in your leader when casting. It makes life easy to swap out the tangled leader for a new one – you can always try and untangle the old one at home.

Tippet is another item I keep on me. If you change flies often, your leader will slowly but surely get shorter and shorter. Having tippet on you will help you stop burning through leaders. There are certain fishing scenarios that tippet is great for! Fishing double fly rigs requires a small amount of line to be run, usually from the bend of the hook to the next hook eye, tippet is the perfect line to do that with.

Nippers and forceps are two key items to carry on you. The nippers allow you to easily cut the tag end off your knots while the forceps can help with hook removal.

Lastly, a net! Make it easier and safer to land and release fish. Try to minimize the time your fish are out of the water. Keep ‘em wet and make sure they have recovered fully before sending them back off!

Snacks!

What do you call a hungry angler? A bad fisherman! I find this to be very true. Sometimes fly fishing can be frustrating and sometimes there will be days where the fish just flat out do not want to cooperate. Bring some comfort food – I recommend trail mix, protein bars, or cashews but if a chocolate chip cookie will keep you on the water fishing all day, then, by all means, bring it.

In all seriousness, if you are planning a full-day trip where you know you will not be sitting down to eat a full lunch, bring something that will keep your body fueled until dinner. If you have access to your car/truck when the lunch bell rings, I strongly recommend packing a cooler and taking a break. Enjoy the scenery, enjoy the company and just enjoy being outside.

The author sits in the back of his truck, next to a Yeti cooler. He wears waders, boots, and drinks a beer looking out into the distance.

Photo by Karli Quinn

Things to Keep in the Truck

Extra Fly Rod

You get down to the river and make the first cast of the day. It is perfect. Your fly selection matches the hatch and you get a hit. Your line goes tight and you are already on a fish, you fight it and get it to your net….. your rod tip breaks…. you land your fish, snap a quick picture and send it back off into the river. What are you going to do now? Fish the rest of the day with a broken rod? Thank goodness you brought an extra one and left it in the truck. ALWAYS bring a backup! You will be thankful you did.

Cooler

If you know you will have access to your truck or car during the day, pack a cooler. Throw drinks, food, and extra water in there for after you are done fishing.

Trash Bags

Two people carry nets filled with trash as they stand in the water. The image is taken from above, so we can see the trash in the nets, their rods in their hands, and their feet in the water.

Photo by Marshall McDougal

As you are packing out of your fishing hole, clean up after yourself and others. My challenge to you is to fill your net with trash on the river and take out more than you bring in. Keep our rivers clean! Not just for the health of the fish but for future trips and other anglers. I keep a handful of grocery bags in my truck and throw one or two in my fishing pack so I have a trash bag for when I am packing out.

You are now ready to hit the rivers and know the equipment necessary to fish and fish well! Remember, fishing is conservation, and we are all tasked with keeping our fisheries clean and healthy. If you have questions about gear for your next adventure, reach out to me or another Fly Fishing expert here on Curated.

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Written By
I picked up a fly rod at the age of 10 and have never been able to put it down. Fly tying started shortly after and I have chased fish all over the US and Mexico. My favorite area to fish is the Bitteroot River in Missoula, MT and my favoirite species to target is Redfish in the Texas Gulf.

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