At its core, fly fishing is pretty simple. A long, supple rod helps propel a heavy line out into the water. That line carries a nearly weightless fly to where the fish are feeding. Fish snatches fly, angler reels in fish, removes fly from lip, and releases fish. Simple.
But getting those basic components working flawlessly together can be a bit more complicated. The complete act requires lots of secondary actions and tools to help achieve the primary goal.
Regarding the tools, there are some that are essential, and others that are simply helpful. Here are some that we recommend.
There are two essential tools nearly every fly fisher carries: nippers and forceps.
Nippers come in a huge array of styles, sizes and prices, but they perform the same basic functions: nipping off the tag ends of tippets and leaders after tying knots. Most nippers also have a tiny spike on the end opposite the nipper jaws that’s used to clear out the eyes of hooks to make it easier to thread the tippet through.
We’ve examined dozens of nippers, from $0.99 nail clippers sold at the local drug store, to $150 titanium-bodied works of art from premium gear manufacturers. Our favorites fall well in the middle of this range.
An angler’s nippers get used more than any other tool they carry so it makes sense to carry a quality nipper that will work day-in and day-out. The new Orvis Nippers feature corrosion-resistant machined aluminum grips, and replaceable hardened steel cutting blades. The powerful leverage of the grips allows the nippers to slice through 30-pound monofilament as easily as 7x tippet material. An eye-cleaning needle swings out from the body of the tool when needed, but stays safely tucked away when not in use. Though far from the most expensive, the Orvis Nippers do carry a hefty price tag. But the durability and functionality of the tool — along with the replaceable blade design — means these nippers will last a lifetime. Price: $79
Loon Outdoors Nippers with Comfy Grip
The simple, straightforward design of the Loon Outdoors Nippers makes them efficient and effective. The butt end of the nippers holds a fine-pointed hook-cleaning needle. That needle is somewhat recessed to reduce the chance of it snagging something while hanging on your pack or vest. The body of the Nippers feature a textured rubber coating for a non-slip grip. The surgical-grade steel body resists rust and the sharpened edges of the jaws hold an edge every well. The nippers worked well on all trout-strength leaders and tippets, but as with all sharpened blades, edges wear down and get dull. After a month of heavy use, the nippers were less effective on thick leader butt sections, and after a few months of regular use, they struggled with OX and even some 2X tippets. Unfortunately, when the blades get dull — usually every year for moderate users — the nippers have to be replaced. The good news is the price is right for that at just $7.50.
StreamWorks Forceps with Power Jaws
Unlike most other forceps on the market, the StreamWorks Forceps feature a pair of anvil-like appendages near the pivot point that work perfectly for crushing barbs on hooks. This is important for the survival of released fish, and for the health of the angler’s wallet, as many game wardens use the “will it snag cotton” method of checking hooks in places where they are legally required to be barbless. That is, the wardens run a piece of soft cotton over the inside edge of the hook and if it snags at all, the barb isn’t sufficiently removed, and could result in a fine. The StreamWorks Forceps with Power Jaws crushes barbs into oblivion. But that small anvil-jaw bump-out doesn’t interfere with the tool’s other core purpose: removing hooks from fish lips. The fine, needle nose taper allows for an easy – and safe – reach into a trout’s mouth to get a firm grasp on the hook bend while disengaging the fly. This leads to a fast, efficient release. The forceps are available in straight or curved jaws. Price: $14