Stillwater Kit Bag

When fly fishing there are some things we can control and some things we can not. We have no control over our weather or our physical environment such as water temperature, barometric pressure and wind. Our fly fishing equipment is controllable. If we as fly fishers focus on what can be controlled, we will be better prepared for what we cannot. If our equipment is in order and we have everything we need, we will be consistently more successful.

On any given day it’s what you have in your arsenal as opposed to what you left at home that can make a big difference. A well stocked and organized kit bag can make this difference. A kit bag is your stillwater nerve center that should be ready to go at a moments notice.

The Stillwater Kit Bag

sage-dxl-bagThe Sage DXL Bag
Let’s take a look at the kit bag itself and what you should consider when getting one. It must be portable and have enough compartments, pockets and sections to house a wide array of gear. This allows you to sort and store equipment in a logical and easy to find fashion. You must develop a system and have discipline to make sure items are put back in their place. Take the time to put everything back in its place after each day of fishing. This is not always easy. I’m often tired at the end of a day’s fishing and just want to get on the road and home as soon as possible. Its a case of “just do it”.

Look for a bag with good strong zipper systems. Be wary of bags that have pockets that zip around 90 degree corners. Look for weatherproof kit bags with lots of compartments. A shoulder strap is another handy feature. Water resistance is paramount, especially if the kit bag is also home to camera equipment. Most quality gear bags are waterproof or some come with waterproof covers in the event of a damp day.

A very good bag is the Sage DXL. It is large enough to contain most everything that a stillwater angler should carry. This is especially true if you are fishing out of a boat or pram. Fishpond also makes some great bags as well as Cabelas.

Pocket Bags For Pontoon Boats

XL Splashproof pocketThe Outcast XL Splashproof Pocket Bag
I have a pontoon boat that I fish from. If you are a pontoon boat guy or gal, Outcast makes large pontoon boat pocket bags that can hold most if not everything you will need on a day’s outing. You may need to be a little more selective with the amount of extra spools and lines you carry, but you can usually rig a storage box on the rack behind the seat to carry extra items.

The Items you Need to Carry

There are six main categories to consider when outfitting a gear bag:

(1) Reel Spools & Lines
(2) Leaders and Tippet
(3) Accessories
(4) Fly Boxes
(5) Safety and Comfort
(6) Miscellaneous Items.

Category #1 – Fly Rods, Reels, and Lines

444-clearcamoIt is recommended to carry a minimum of two fly rods, so you will need at least two good quality reels that will be rigged and ready to go.

I usually have one rigged with a floating line and one with a clear camo.

The number of extra spools and lines you need to carry in your kit bag depends upon time of the year, the physical make up of the lake, and the number of fly rods you intend to carry. In a boat you can carry more. In a float tube or pontoon boat typically two.

The lines you should carry or have available are:

(1) A Weight Forward Floating Line
(2) A Clear Camo Intermediate Line
(3) An Additional WF Floating Line – A second floating line can be particularly handy during a chironomid emergence. Where regulations allow, an angler can work two floating lines, one with and indicator and one without.
(4) A Traditional Intermediate Line – Depending upon the manufacture these sink slower than most clear intermediates which tend to sink at a type 2 rate. Intermediates are the perfect choice for creeping scuds, leeches or damsel nymphs over shoals or along shorelines.
(5) A Clear Tip Line – The Clear Tip Line is also an excellent addition. This line is ideal for deep, long leader nymphing, as well as working flies through the shallows. Clear tip lines offer a different retrieve angle that can sometimes make all the difference.
(6) A Type 3 Full Sinking Line – The Type III line will cover most of your deeper presentations
(7) A Type 6 Full Sinking Line – The type 6 line is ideal for working deep reaches, stripping leeches and dragon patterns over the shoals or crawling buoyant flies over sunken weeds and debris.

Category #2 – Leaders and Tippet

trout-7-ft-ldrNever leave home without a good selection of leaders and tippet. Leaders and tippet are the critical connection between the fly and the angler and are sometimes overlooked. Depending upon leader set up preference, carry butt material for long leader setups or braided loops.

You will use both types of leader connections depending on the line and presentation. For example, for a floating line, long leader system begin with 2-3 feet of .025″to .030″ butt section and add a tapered leader and tippet for length.

Always keep your kit bag stocked with a good selection of tapered leaders from 9 to 15 feet. These are items that can get overlooked. Who wants to get to the lake and then find out they forgot to restock their leaders. Make it a habit to restock.

Tippet sizes should vary from 3X down through 6X depending upon conditions. As a general rule the clearer the water the finer the leader and tippet. Stock your kit bag with tippet spools that match leader strength in both fluorocarbon and co-polymer. Use fluorocarbon for clear conditions and sunk flies. Co-polymer tippet is fine for stained waters and dry fly presentations as it does not drag flies beneath the surface. Fluorocarbon will sink which is not a good idea for dry fly presentations.

Category #3 – Accessories

accessories-stillwaterThere are many accessories that a well stocked kit bag should have inside.

  • Thermometers – Are a critical tool as water temperature dictates fish activity and feeding as well as insect emergence’s. Knowing the preferred temperature range of rainbow trout (55F-65F) allows fly fishers to eliminate non productive water. Using a traditional thermometer on a string, anglers can vertically probe the water and locate fish.
  • Nippers – When it comes to nippers have good pair or even better two. Purchase a key floaty and attach your nippers to it. This helps when they accidentally flip over the side in the water. It’s also a good idea to place your nippers on a retractor and attaching them on the shirt or jacket.
  • Hemostats or forceps are necessary to crimp barbs, remove hooks from fish and friends, or even set indicator depth. If possible look for a pair with cutters.
  • Bell Sinker – A bell sinker works for fine tuning indicator depth. Attach a beg sinker to your deepest fly, attach your slip indicator to the approximate depth and slowly lower the bell sinker until it hits bottom. Check the depth of the slip indicator under the surface which will tell you how deep your flies will be floating and adjust accordingly.
  • Clothes Peg/Clip – To transfer a fly line using a clothes peg, reel the leader back to the reel. Clamp on the forceps between the stripping guide and the reel preventing the leader from snaking back through the guides. Cut the leader and replace the spool. Reattach the leader to the new line and you are ready to go. No more adventures standing in a boat feeding line through rod guides.
  • Knot Tying Tool – Knot tyers for forming nail knots are handy if attaching leaders or butt sections to a fly line is a preferred set up.
  • Indictors – Carry a good selection of sizes, types and colors. It is recommended to carry, slip Indicators, corkies and yarn indictors. Yarn indicators cast easily and work well in shallow clear waters where the splat and look of a corky may spook wary trout.
  • Shot – When using floating lines in windy conditions weight is often needed to aid presentation. Include a selection of split shot or non-toxic putty.
  • Swivels – Barrel swivels are another option. A small bag of #12-#16 swivels should suffice.
  • Floatant, Sinkant, Line Cleaner – Include floatant, leader sinkant and line cleaner. Use both paste and powder floatant. Apply paste floatant prior to casting. Dry fly powders are a desiccant that quickly dry sunk or trout slobbered flies. Sinkant degreases leaders and tippet, a necessary step when fishing dry flies on calm clear days.
  • Throat Pump – Throat pumps are a valuable accessory but should only be used on fish larger than 14 inches and if the angler is comfortable doing so.
  • Vials or White tray – This allows for clear inspection of the contents guiding fly selection and determining feeding depth. Bottom dwelling contents would suggest presenting patterns just above the weeds. Conversely, emergers and adults would indicate fish are cruising near the surface.

Category #4 – Fly Boxes

flyboxes-stillwaterAfter years of experimenting I prefer smaller fly boxes that store easily in the kit bag. Use a label maker to identify the contents so time isn’t wasted looking for a favorite pattern. Clear compartmentalized boxes are ideal for dry flies as they tend not to squash hackle.

Choose a sorting system that makes sense, group them by food type; chironomids, caddis and mayflies, leeches, dragons and damsels, scuds, boatman and backswimmers and dry flies.

Category #5 – Safety and Comfort Items

sunglasses-stillwaterSafety and comfort items typically have nothing directly to do with fishing but everything with an enjoyable day on the water.

  • Sunglasses – In addition to providing eye protection from errant flies polarized sunglasses are critical to penetrating the sun’s glare and seeing into the water. Underwater obstructions, weed beds, drop offs, migrating invertebrates and cruising fish are easily seen. Keep the glasses in a protective case when not in use and make a regular habit of cleaning the lens.
  • Sunscreen and lip balm are recommended kit bag additions, especially for the fair skinned.
  • Band-Aids manage small nicks and cuts as well as providing fore finger relief from line burns caused by fleeing trout.
  • A small bottle of Aspirin, Advil or Tylenol handles any dehydration headaches that pop up.
  • A roll of toilet paper in a Ziploc bag is a welcome sight for obvious reasons.
  • Keep a small towel in the bag for wiping wet hands. On cool days letting hands dry through evaporation leads to frigid digits in short order.

Category #6 – Miscellaneous Items


  • Camera – Never leave the shore without a camera. A DSLR or small point and shoot system adds to the experience providing lasting memories.
  • Include a pen and note pad in a plastic bag to record detailed notes of the day’s experiences and observations. This habit reduces the learning curve as important items are not forgotten. Keep track of everything, including weather patterns, diet analysis, hatches, successful patterns, structure types, leader set ups, presentation techniques and any general observations. This information is key to a fly fishers growth and development.
  • Fishing license.


Having confidence that you have everything you need when your are going fishing is very important especially when a fly shop is hours away. having what you need lets you concentrate on what you’ve journeyed for, fishing..

A well thought out and stocked kit bag plays a pivotal role in becoming a successful stillwater angler. This often goes as an unrecognized role fly fishing stillwaters. Knowing your kit bag it is complete and stocked allows you to focus on the other variables on the stillwaters. There are enough uncontrollable aspects to a day’s fishing. Get organized, and get out there ad have some fun!