I haven’t quite made my peace with that iconic bit of fly fishing gear: the fly vest. What I want is something to carry my gear, be accessible, stay out of my way, be reasonably comfortable, and not make me too hot in summer (I mean within reason – you can’t really escape the heat in the South during summer). I’ve gone through several iterations of this, and it’s beginning to look like a slow evolution that will
eventually hopefully end at something I’m happy with. Actually “evolution” isn’t quite right. What it really looks like is one of those nonlinear problems in my old mathematics and engineering text books. The ones where you plug in a “best guess” solution based on past experience, common sense, black magic, etc. You solve the system and then adjust your best guess repeatedly and sometimes seemingly at random until you get close enough to the right thing. And sometimes the way “close enough to the right thing” is determined depends on the problem solver’s intuition, skill with black magic or zeal at pursuing the right answer to its end. If all that sounds confusing and/or completely irrational, well, these are the people building the bridges you drive on. And the fly rod you cast with. Luckily in this case, I just want close enough to the right fly vest, so no lives are at stake.
One of my problems, I know, is that my fly fishing is in a constant state of flux (I appear to be a rather fidgety fellow), so my needs in a vest are likewise always changing. My first fly vest would probably still be okay if all I ever fished for was bluegills, like when I first took up fly fishing. I only needed space for a single box (one of those clear plastic Plano boxes), a few tools, a bottle of CocaCola, some sunscreen and a can of vienna sausages, and it didn’t really matter how accessible any of that stuff was. That first vest came from the bargain rack at either Walmart or K-Mart. When I took up fly fishing for trout, I felt like I needed several more fly boxes. I’m not sure why. Buying lots of useless or only semi-useful gear is just one of the things you do when you take up fly fishing for trout. Maybe that’s everyone’s initial “best guess” in the certainly nonlinear problem of how to catch a trout. Whatever the reason, the new boxes didn’t work with that old vest. All the pockets were the wrong sizes. On top of that, it was just plain hot. It was 100% cotton and held water and sweat like a sponge. The shoulders had no padding, so all the extra gear wore on my shoulders. On top of that, it was useless for winter fishing because it was too small to wear with warm winter clothing.
So I ordered another vest. This time it wasn’t really a vest. It was one of those chest packs. I liked the idea behind it, and it worked well for awhile. I had these ideas of using the nifty little fold-down shelf to do all sorts of work out in the middle of the river, but that never happened. There’s the very real problem that it’s just plain tough to do much detailed work while standing in the middle of a river. I don’t really know what I had in mind. Vague ideas about tying up a quick fly or building a leader, I suppose. I have enough trouble simply tying on a new fly, which, by the way, that little shelf did make a little easier. But then I just ran out of space. I missed all the pockets on my old vest, even if they were the wrong sizes.
So I ordered a new vest, this time a more traditional vest in one size too big so I could wear heavy winter clothing under it. Actually, I didn’t order it. It was a gift, which is important. It was made of mesh, which I figured would keep me cooler in the summers. I liked the vest okay, but it turned out to be two sizes too large rather than one, and it tended to slide off my shoulders. I kept trying to use it for no other reason than it was a gift, and I felt obligated to keep it. I could have sent it back for one of the right size, but I thought that might offend the gift-giver (aka Jacqulyn, my wife). So I kept at it for awhile. This is irrational. I know it. Don’t try to convince me I should have acted differently. Sometimes I’m just irrational, which gives me hope that I’m beginning to think like a fish. A trout must be fairly irrational to hit a size 12 royal wulff during a bwo hatch or any other time for that matter, but I digress.
This was around the time I went on my “traditional” kick. I decided to buy an old school satchel bag to carry my gear. I had these images in mind from those old outdoor magazines of a “real outdoorsman” fighting a deadly trout the size of a Buick with a cane fly rod while fending off a vicious black bear with his free hand. There hanging from his side was a satchel bag! No vest. I loved this set-up for awhile, and I’ll still use it on trips when I don’t carry much. For example, the ideal time for the satchel bag is on a short trip up a small stream when I don’t plan to take several fly boxes and my big camera. The problem with the satchel bag became apparent when I decided to buy that digital SLR camera with a few lenses and a tripod, all carried in a hefty backpack. There was just too much stuff hanging around my neck at awkward angles. I tried taking the camera with a single attached lens and placing them in my satchel bag, but that just made it difficult to get to my stuff. Plus I purchased the extra lenses and tripod to use them, not leave them at home. I have to admit that I also missed the handiness of all those darn pockets on a vest. So I went back to the last vest, but the camera bag only exacerbated the problem of the vest slipping off my shoulders.
I thought a graphical representation of my vest search might prove useful in understanding the math involved. Certainly, I wasn’t consciously using my old math lessons to solve this vest problem, but as one of my professors was fond of saying, “Life imitates Math.” Okay, I made that up, but I’m thinking maybe it’s true, and I always wished I’d had an eccentric professor who said things like that. Anyway, here’s what I’m hoping for, graphically speaking:
And so now I’m about to order a new vest. Anyone have a brilliant idea for me? Computers are supposed to make this sort of iterative math way easy, so I started plugging away at mine and found this: Fishpond’s Sagebrush Vest. It has a tiny version of that fold-down shelf from my chest pack. It has adjustable straps so I can resize it for winter or summer. It’s made of mesh, so it should be fairly cool. I think I can wear my camera bag with it while still being comfortable, and, if not, I can carry the camera and a couple lenses in the back with my rain gear and food while wearing the tripod on a strap. This is kind of one of those random “best guesses.” This vest just “looks” close to what I would like, with a blend of features I found useful in previous iterations. I’ll try to find one at a fly shop and test it out.
P.S. — As a result of this search for a vest I have a couple items which I no longer need. They’re still good, and I hate to see them go to waste if someone could use them. One is my current vest. It’s from Cabela’s. My only problem with it is really the size. It’s an XL Regular. You can see the current version of it here: Cabela’s Three Forks Mesh Vest. Mine is the Grouse color. The other is my old chest pack. It’s also by Cabela’s, but it appears they no longer make it. You can see some images below. I’ll let them go for $25 each with shipping included or $20 each if you pick them up. Neither has seen especially heavy use, and they are both in very good shape. Shoot me an email if you’d like one or both of them: tvanglerwebmaster[at]gmail.com.