An Expert Guide to Fly Fishing Vests

Vests are a great way to carry all your trout fishing gear to the river. Below are a few features to look for in a vest and an overview of some of the top vests on the market.

A fly fisher stands in a river with a vest and hat on.

Photo by Henry Fraczek

One of the most copied pieces of fly-fishing gear is the vest. Back in the beginning of the 1930s, legendary fly fisher Lee Wulff sewed together what is acknowledged as the very first one. He created a garment intended to hold the various items he needed with him in the water.

Lee had been hanging what he needed from a lanyard around his neck. In his mind, a good vest needed to distribute the weight of the gear over and around the shoulders instead of the neck. It was a great idea and took off immediately. But how do you pick the best fly fishing vests? Let’s take a look.

Take a Gear Survey

Before you continue shopping to upgrade your old vest, spread the items you feel are absolutely necessary for your type of angling expedition on a table. Warning, don’t forget items like a split shot, floatant, and strike indicators if you intend to use them. Things like a thermometer, nippers, or pliers should be on your fly vest for serious organization.

Fly Boxes and Wading

Fly boxes are likely one item you’ll have with you. But it’s easy for them to slip out of your hands when fishing. Cut a length of mono tie and loop it through the box’s hinge to secure it closed and to you. When wading in a current, clip the loop to one of your zingers or retractors when you take it out of your vest pocket in case it tries to escape!

Its contents represent a serious investment in time and effort if you tied the flies and big bucks if you bought them. And do you carry a net when wading? If the answer is yes, look for a loop on the back of the vest as shown below, or some other provision for attaching a hand net retractor.

Back of a fly fishing vest with a D loop attachment.

Photo courtesy of Robert Levin

Color and Design

Fly-fishing vests are produced with high-quality materials that come in different colors. Remember that darker colors will absorb heat from the sun, which is something you’ll want to avoid when fishing during the summer months in the blazing sun. Darker vests are a much better choice for winter fishing.

Vests with many zippers and Velcro fasteners seem appealing at first. But if you fill them up with separate items, you need to remember which pocket has what. And if you aren’t fishing every day in the same vest, it’s easy to forget. You’ll spend a lot of time searching—that’s for sure. A quality vest will equally distribute the load you are carrying, but you’ll be much more comfortable if you don’t fill every pocket. Get just enough accessory attachment points to carry the essentials.

Better vests are made with water-resistant fabrics and won’t get heavier when wet. Remove any cotton vests you are considering from your list. Every manufacturer makes several models. Pick one that meets your needs, and if you’re not sure, reach out to a Fly Fishing Expert here on Curated.

Vest Size

The next and potentially most important aspect of your purchase is the size. Most vests come in standard jacket sizes, like small, medium, large, and extra-large. Vests also tend to offer adjustable sizes.

For ultimate comfort, a vest that is a looser fit is better than too small since you’ll want to be able to add fishing apparel like a rain jacket over your day wear or extra layers. All the well-known brands post a size chart on their website with various measurements like chest size. If a vest you are considering does not post size measurements, make sure you can return it for free.

Additional Features

Many vests that are new list a Velcro loop front closure that serves as a built-in rod holder while you change a fly. Start by placing the butt end of the rod in the partially opened front pocket. Then fasten the rod holder loops over the rod at chest height, as seen below.

A fishing vest laying on a table with a fishing rod and reel lying diagonal across it. The fishing rod is attached to the vest in the rod loop.

Photo courtesy of Robert Levin

Some models include a sheepskin fly-drying patch so you don’t have to return flies to their box wet. A small sheepskin patch on a hat is a simple idea that works well for this, too. Other models have extra padding along the neck and shoulder area. Although this isn’t a necessary feature, you’ll feel the difference after a long day in the water.

Even though a typical fly-fishing vest has multiple external pockets, some items you normally carry are better hung from a retractor or zinger, as they are sometimes called. The classic example is the ubiquitous nipper used for removing the tag end of all the knots you make.

Two photos, on the left is a nipper retract and on the right is a release tool. Both are attached to fishing vests.

Two items that are usually attached to the vest instead of being kept in pockets. The nipper retract (left) and release tool (right). Photos courtesy of Robert Levin

Packs, Bags, and Slings

Various chest packs, hip packs, bags, and sling packs have entered the marketplace in recent years. From my experience, they are typically priced below the average cost for a well-made fly-fishing vest. Although you can carry a lot of gear with a backpack, I have never needed to take that much out on the water with me. I prefer not to have the added bulk that might get in my way.

I have always been comfortable in a vest and don’t see the need to change for my current fly-fishing adventures. However, I don’t represent everyone with a fly rod in their hands! These items have their fans and certainly work for some.

Fly Fishing Vest Recommendations

I’ve hand-picked the models listed below. If you see something that interests you, contact your Fly Fishing Expert. They will be happy to set up your purchase. Tight lines!

Fishpond Sagebrush Vest

The Fishpond Sagebrush Vest.

In those warmer months, reach for a lightweight vest that still has great carrying capacity to cover whatever the conditions. The Fishpond Sagebrush Pro is a brilliant choice for those summer fly-fishing adventures and the brand's environmental conservation efforts are a bonus.

Check out these stand-out features:

  1. A highly breathable mesh design to stay cool.
  2. An integrated rod holder.
  3. Has 17 interior and exterior storage.
  4. Fly boxes and accessories are easily accessible for all-day use.

Fishpond Upstream Women’s Vest

The Fishpond Upstream Women’s Vest.

This vest has been recently updated with a lightweight design and tech changes for a more comfortable fit. This vest has these key features:

  1. Comes with 14 interior and exterior gear compartments.
  2. An adjustable sternum strap that can be positioned wherever you like.
  3. A completely customizable fit around the chest and torso.
  4. This main body fabric is made of regenerated nylon from discarded material trims.
  5. The ultimate use of function and environmental concern.

Orvis Pro Vest

The Orvis Pro Vest.

The PRO Vest has room for everything you need. It is very light and breathes easily for comfort but is still built to last no matter how you abuse it.

  1. Made with abrasion-resistant nylon fiber with a DWR coating.
  2. It has 18 quick-access pockets ergonomically designed and made with new materials to maintain the shape.
  3. The two lower main pockets offer compression-molded construction.
  4. The upper pockets are medium size, both with Orvis custom hideaway tool port.
  5. Fly patch areas to dry nymphs, streamers, or dry flies before returning them to your box.
  6. Made with a padded collar for comfort.
  7. Has a tri-ring net holder centered on the rear yoke.

Orvis Clearwater Vest

The Orvis Clearwater Vest.

For anglers who prefer the traditional well-stocked fly-fishing vest, the Clearwater Mesh Vest offers modern, lightweight construction. Based on the classic Clearwater Vest, this mesh version has hybrid construction combining the breathability of mesh and the durability of polyester. It has the following features.

  1. Eight exterior storage pockets—four smooth conceal zippers, four Velcro, and four fly boxes.
  2. Loops for accessories.
  3. Padded collar for all-day comfort.
  4. Tri-ring landing net holder.
  5. Fixed buckle closure.
  6. Two fly drying patches

Orvis Ultralight Vest

The Orvis Ultralight Vest.

The Ultralight Fishing Vest offers a new modern and functional design and fits well with the Ultralight Wading System.

This vest has these great features:

  1. Lightweight material, treated with DWR, which dries fast.
  2. Integrated, lightweight mesh interior offers ventilation and form-fitting comfort.
  3. Eleven pockets—six exterior, four interior, and one rear.
  4. Four large vertical chest pockets for fly boxes.
  5. Two multi-function hook-and-loop attachment points and fly patches.
  6. Forceps can be slid up from the outside underneath the patch.
  7. Two elastic cords on the exterior of chest pockets for adding accessories and tippet spools.
  8. Soft poly/spandex blend lined foam collar for maximum comfort around the neck.

Simms G3 Guide Fishing Vest

The Simms G3 Guide Fishing Vest.

This vest has accompanied many fly fishermen onto the water for their adventures. Simms products are top-shelf and dependable.

This model vest has the following features:

  1. Plenty of pockets with a well-organized strategy.
  2. Chest includes two vertical molded weather-resistant front pockets.
  3. It has two zippered side-access pockets and two flap-closure cargo pockets.
  4. Waist exterior includes two large storage pockets, two horizontal molded weather-resistant pockets, and four flap-closure cargo pockets.
  5. The chest interior includes two quick-access mesh pockets and two large storage pockets.
  6. Waist interior includes four Velcro fastener drop pockets. The back exterior includes one weather-resistant split-back pocket & one deep bellowed back cargo pocket.
  7. It has two patented built-in retractors with magnetic docking stations.
  8. Third-hand loop rod holder with Velcro fasteners chest tab and reel seat sling.
  9. Cushioned, stretch mesh shoulders with padded rib knit collar.
  10. Four tool attachment D-Rings on front and one net D-Ring on back.

Kids' Fishing Vests

Young anglers benefit from having an organized kids' fishing vest with ample storage. A little fisherman needs options where the product information design offers maximum functionality with a minimum hit to mom and dad's wallet. A solid option is Field & Stream youth fishing vest. A younger angler will like its softly padded collar, front zipper closure on the left chest, and foldover tabs. It has a sturdy polyester/ cotton construction so it's durable and the internal pockets offer great storage options. A large back stuff pocket can hold a travel jacket or an extra sandwich, and the unique flip-down fly holder pocket keeps their rod off the ground or in the water.

If you have any questions about these vests or if you are ready to turn that outdated fit into the perfect fit, reach out to a Fly Fishing Expert here on Curated, and we would be happy to help! Curated Fly Fishing Experts are with you throughout the gear process, with a product comparison, and even act as customer service with our clients can get faster resolution on issues. Experts can even help out if you have trouble with your shopping cart at checkout or have questions about exclusions on exclusive deals, promotions, and special offers.

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Written By
Robert Levin
Robert Levin
Fly Fishing Expert
I have been an avid fisherperson since my teenage years. Caught the bug from my dad who fished exclusively with a fly rod. Not that he ever fished with a fly on that rod, he trusted the weight of the fly line as it would not break when he pulled a five foot Chain Pickerel out of the lily pads in the...
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