Personal Floatation Devices (PFDs) serve a valuable primary purpose, but all too many PFDs function only for that single purpose.
Anglers, however, tend to already wear vests or packs loaded with other gear and accessories, so adding another single-use vest doesn’t make much sense. Fortunately, some PFD makers understand that fly fishers who fish from rafts, kayaks, or even drift boats, benefit from multi-use vests. We found a few that proved especially functional for fly fishers.
The NRS Chinook Fishing PFD earned praise from a variety of testers, from experienced guides to newbie casters. The Chinook features semi-soft foam flotation pads that fit comfortably from day one. But over time, the foam starts to mold itself to your body contours and regular motions for a near custom fit.
Regarding that fit, the back foam panel sits high, right on the shoulder blades to avoid ‘blocking’ against high-backed drift boat or kayak seats. The lower back utilizes open mesh for good ventilation and support without interfering with boat seats or casting motions. A D-ring situated above the foam panel let anglers clip nets to their PFD as they do to their traditional fishing vests.
The front of the Chinook sports seven zippered pockets to hold a variety of gear. I found I could stash a couple Tacky Fly boxes, a small waterproof camera, and an assortment of tippet, leaders, and fly floatant in the vest without trouble. The Chinook includes a gadget zinger — a nylon coil retractor that’s strong enough to hold a pair of forceps or nippers.
Adjustable shoulder straps and three adjustment straps on each side (from waist to ribs) allows for a precision fit. Once dialed in, the vest is easy to slip on and off via the zippered front closure.
But, just as not all modern fly fishers like traditional fishing vests, not everyone loves a foam vest style PFD. Among many of our team — especially those who favor fishing with small sling packs rather than bulky multi-pocketed vests — the Mustang DLX 38 drew rave reviews for its slim fit and lack of interference with slings. The DLX 38 is an inflatable PFD, and our team tested the auto inflator model. This version provides fast inflation after a total emersion in water, through there is also a manual inflation cord should you need it.
The soft, wicking liner covers the neck and should section of the DLX body for a comfortable fit over light shirts. The two front panels secure together with a side-release buckle, and easy-adjustable straps on the sides give a snug, custom fit. The tough nylon outer fabric of the body encases the PFD’s inflation cell. That air bladder features a bright yellow fabric sporting SOLAS reflective strips for easy visibility in the water. A small safety whistle is also attached to the air cell.
The DLX 38 lays flat so it doesn’t hamper casting, rowing, paddling motions. I found I can hop out of the raft, and slide on my sling pack to fish a section of river on foot without worrying about the PFD getting in the way or tangling my sling. Indeed, I frequently forget I’m even wearing it when working the sticks of my fishing raft.
Mustang has added functionality to the DLX38 by positioning a small zippered pocket on one front panel, and a MOLLE-style attachment pad to the other. This pad allows customization of the PFD. Mustang offers the MOLLE Fishing Pocket and this proved to be a decent addition. This semi-rigid zippered box holds a small assortment of flies, and tube of fly floatant. But I found I liked to use the MOLLE pad to secure a small river knife, as well as my stand forceps and nippers. My small sling pack held all the rest of my fishing gear, keeping it readily accessible without the DLX interfering with the pack’s functionality in any way. Price: $200