Pack Like A Pro: Professional Fishing Guide Sarah Gardner

Pack Like A Pro: Professional Fishing Guide Sarah Gardner

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Sarah Gardner has been fishing for nearly her entire life. In fact, her love for angling can be traced back to when she was first learning to walk. The sport has stuck with her ever since, and for nearly 20 years she has been a full-time charter boat captain, with more than 25 years of fly-fishing experience under her belt. Her boat – the Fly Girl – takes clients out onto the Atlantic and along North Carolina’s Outer Banks for some of the best fishing found anywhere in the world.

Recently we had the chance to chat with Sarah about her job and the gear that she uses out in the field. Here’s what she had to say.

Gear Institute: Hi Sarah! Thanks for spending some time with us today. Can you tell us what you’ve been up to recently?

Sarah Gardner: This winter I experienced the best ever sailfish fly bite while fishing out of Casa Vieja Lodge in Guatemala. During winter 2016 it was common for boats to release a dozen fly-caught sailfish, and many days more than 20 were released. Nearly 100 percent of these fish were successfully de-hooked before release and many were tagged for scientific purposes. I’m not a numbers person, but after almost 200 sailfish releases I still have not landed a marlin. I’ll be happily singing the blues for another year, while armed with a SAGE Salt 16 and RIO Leviathan fly line.

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GI: It’s always the one that got away, isn’t it? Can you tell us what pieces of gear you always take you when heading out on a trip?

SG: I cant believe that within two years, I’ve gone from caveman to tech geek, or that I’m even admitting to it. Even my clothing is high tech. The Patagonia Sunshade Hoody has a high SPF rating, dries super fast, and the fabric hides bloodstains. This top protects my neck and hands without using stinky gloves or neck gators. The Sunshades are so well designed that I can run full throttle and the hood stays on!


My other favorite new tools require batteries and good cell service. For instance, the new Sony RX10-II has been a really exciting addition to my “run-n-gun” video shooting outfit. It’s lightweight, has a great lens, records 4K video, and transfers images wirelessly to my phone. This camera has excellent shooting modes that allow me complete creative control or to turn my brain off when the fishing situation gets crazy. Like that ever happens!

The iPhone 6 has become indispensable on Fly Girl, rarely being used as a phone. Weather apps—especially ones that display weather radar—are cheap insurance in the summer, when thunderstorms build with frightening speed and produce ferocious electricity. Other Apps will let me track other iPhone-using anglers without nagging phone calls or running to the radio.

Most of my anglers are tech savvy and I can transfer photos to them on the water. This mean instant gratification for them and less late-night computer time for me. With a Lifeproof case on the phone I’ll shoot in horrible weather when the expensive cameras are safely stowed. I also can run my GoPro cameras with it.


Social media skills have quickly become a requirement in our business; clients want to know what we are doing. Posting photo and video reports from the boat gets immediate feedback. I can work with fly-casting technique on the water with my iPad and an app called Coache’s Eye. I can record them casting from many angles, replay it in slow motion, backwards or one frame at a time to identify, then correct technique flaws. It’s amazing how quickly folks improve when threatened with Internet exposure. They also run out of casting excuses when I hand them a SAGE Salt and matching RIO line.

GI: Wow! You really are a gadget girl! And what gear from your sponsors do you find indispensable?

SG: In summer, my boat Fly Girl carries at least four different fly outfits and none are alike. New fly clients are often surprised by the lack of floating lines and abundance of sinkers. The InTouch 24-foot Sink Tip is my mini workhorse, with the 150-grain flavor paired with a five- or six-weight rod. The eight-weight rod if armed with a 300-grain line for fishing stripers and small sharks. My “drum beater” spends a lot of time waiting in the rack, but a SAGE Salt 10-weight rigged with a 500-grain Leviathan 26-foot Sink Tip and gull-sized half and half stands ready for bull reds.

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Sometimes it takes coaching to help anglers understand how to manage sinking lines, but when they get the feel, they get the distance! That understanding of “feel” transfers to every other rod they use that day. When water temps hit 70 degrees, then a nine- or 10-weight fly rod rigged with Tropical Intermediates or Tropical OutBound Shorts becomes the weapons of choice; this rig is perfect for cobia or sharks.

GI: Can you share some packing and gear protection techniques.?

SG: Seasickness has a different meaning in my household, because it’s not just clients that feel bad in the ocean. Gear gets sick too, so protecting it from salt water is critical. My phone and tablet live in Lifeproof cases, but cameras need padding and salt water protection.

For this I love Patagonia’s Great Divider (GD) Bags. They hold multiple cameras, lunch, an iPad, and even my purse. Yes, a purse. The GD’s soft sides make it easier to stow in tight areas and live in puddles and its interior can also be reconfigured for other uses. Most importantly, it can be disassembled completely, hosed down and hung up to dry.


Gortex rain gear is really lightweight and super comfortable compared to the traditional rubber stuff. However, Gortex does not hold up in salt water like rubber does. When I do wear Gortex, I hose myself down when I clean my boat and tackle at the end of the day. It’s important to flush the salt out of the waterproof membrane to keep it breathable, and to desalt zippers. Every zipper that lives in salt water MUST be lubricated with silicone to prevent corrosion. One tiny corroded zipper tab will ruin a day! We use Ziptec, but there are many zipper protecting products.

GI: Is there any new equipment are you are really excited about?

SG: I was able to fish with the improved RIO InTouch OutBound WF8F/I last fall. It was a rocket launcher for clunky salt water flies in difficult conditions. It will be fun to try these lines on our salt water six- and seven-weight rods, which are really well suited to our fishery. I think they will be great for tossing baitfish patterns to mid-sized bluefish and Spanish mackerel. North Carolina has a lot of small- to mid-sized predatory fish that love to eat flies and are great sport on smaller salt water rods. People transitioning into salt water fly fishing are a little less intimidated when handed a five-, six-, or seven-weight rod instead of an 11.

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GI: Sounds great! We know more than a few anglers who will be waiting to get their hands on that. Any other news you’d like to share with us?

SG: I’m getting a new boat! Fly Girl number four is nearly complete, and I’m super excited. I’ve had a lot of input during her construction at Jones Brothers Marine. This boat is special, because she is designed for fly and light-tackle charters, but on a much more seaworthy platform than a classic flats skiff or bay-boat. She can fish shallow backwater or safely venture 20 miles offshore. Fly Girl will also have a cobia tower that will let me stand about ten feet above the deck, so that I can see fish far away or down deep. This second tower steering station is controlled with an electronic system that requires minimal wiring. Even my boat is high tech. Maybe I should name her Wifl Girl.

Thanks for sharing your favorite gear with us Sarah and good luck with the new boat!