• Fly Fishing Hacks: How to Not Forget Anything on Your Next Fishing Trip
  • Post author
    John Zimmerman
  • fly fishingfly fishing tips

Fly Fishing Hacks: How to Not Forget Anything on Your Next Fishing Trip

“Rod, Reel, Pack, Waders, Boots, Lanyard. Oh Yea, Socks!”

I have repeated this mental checklist at least 1,500 times over the last 10 years.

Being organized from the moment you leave the house to having an organizational system in place for when you’re on the water will keep you fishing more and spending less time looking for that stream thermometer you left at home anyway!

I started getting organized in my fishing habits after arriving at the South Holston River (a 2.5-hour drive for me) one winter day and realized that in my morning grog (or hangover if I’m being honest) I took off with no waders and no reel.

I vowed that would never happen again.

Here are my tricks for never again showing up at the river without a rod or boots or a reel or fly boxes – something that each of us has done, even if we’ll only admit to ourselves that we went on a hike that one day instead of fishing because we packed two left-foot boots!

1. Keep All Your Fly Fishing Gear in the Same Place

Keep it in the same part of the same room. All of it stays right there together.

In your excitement to get to the river or hitch up the boat, you’re far more likely to forget an important piece of equipment if you’re having to go to different parts of your house or storage unit to gather individual items.

Here’s how I do it:

  • All of my reels are lined up on a table by line size. This helps me make sure that when I pluck a rod from the rod racks, I don’t pick up a mismatched line to go with it.
  • All of my rods are organized in the rod racks first by weight and then by length. It makes it really easy for me to walk into my equipment room and pluck exactly the rod that I want because of how they’re organized. I save a lot of time this way. Time saved in the rod room = more time in the river.
  • Waders and boots are gathered together and organized by size; pairs are tied together by the shoestrings in an easy to remove loop knot – remember that two left boot jab from above? Yeah, that happened. 
  • Fly boxes never leave the storage tub unless they’re getting refilled.

2. Buy One of Those $15 Tubs From Your Local Discount Store

This tub will be your new best friend in fly fishing.

You think I’m kidding, but if you follow these instructions for packing your tub, you will never arrive at the river without something you need again and your stuff won’t go missing in your car from getting jostled around on those backcountry roads on your way to your favorite blue line.

The Art of Stripping Streamers: Fly Fishing Tactics

Imagine your process when you arrive at the stream. For me, this is how my process goes when I pull up to the river:

  • I put my socks and waders on. 
  • Then my boots. 
  • Then I grab my rod and joint it together. 
  • I then affix the reel. 
  • I then pull off enough leader and line to run the fly line through the guides. Now it’s time to get serious. Fishing is coming soon. 
  • I put my pack on and dangle my lanyard across my shoulders and neck. 
  • I examine the current leader to see if it needs to be replaced. If it does, I reach into my pack and pluck a new one from the pack. If it doesn’t, I pull off a yard of fresh tippet and tie on.
  • I reach into my pack, select a fly box, tie on a fly. I’m ready to fish.

What on earth does that have to do with getting organized?

I pack my tub in reverse order of my gearing up process.

So in my tub:

  • My pack and lanyard are at the bottom.
  • My reel and fly rod are in the middle.
  • My waders and boots are at the top.

If you pack your tub in reverse order of how you gear up:

  • You’ll be efficient in your gearing up time (which means more time fishing) because the next thing you need is the next thing in the tub.
  • You’ll never forget what you need at home!

3. Organize Your Pack!

I watch so many clients waste our time on the river digging through their vests or their packs looking for this thing or that, which many times they don’t even have to start with!

In the front of my pack, I keep all of my spare leaders organized and rubber bound together by length first and then by size.

Everything that goes on a leader is also in that section of my pack—tippet rings, strike indicators, splitshot, etc. If goes on a leader, it’s with the leaders!

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The next section of my pack is where the flies are kept. I organize this section by fly weights and fly kinds.

Nymph boxes on the right; streamers, dries, midges, eggs and worms, on the left.

Everything that gets added to or used to deal with a fly is with the flies—silicone products for water proofing, shammy material for drying off waterlogged dries, etc.

4. Organize Your Fly Boxes by Fly Type and Size

Fly box full of Surface Seducer Double Barrel Bass Bug poppers.

There’s nothing worse that going through your boxes looking for that one fly you know you have but you can’t find it because it’s blending in with all the other ones.

I organize my boxes by size first and then by kind. All of the 14s in a nymph box, for example, are lined up by rows of kind. Then all of the 16s are lined up in rows of kind.

And yes, I am that OCD that I replicate my row organization in the sizes! You don’t necessarily have to do that...

Where the Heck Is My Bobbin? The Messy Fly Tyer’s Guide To Organizing Fly Tying Materials

Put It in Action

Getting and staying organized will save you so much time getting to the river, preparing to fish once there, and while you’re fishing.

More time saved on the exterior stuff = more time fishing = probably more fish caught.

Use these tips to get and stay organized for your next 10 years of fishing.

And if you’re really good, you’ll do all of this the night before so that your morning hangover doesn’t deter your efforts!

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About John Zimmerman:

With Taylor Sharp (pictured left), John Zimmerman (right) is co-owner of Upper Creek Angler and co-founder and Chairman of the Board of directors of Casting for Hope.John Zimmerman (right) is co-owner of Upper Creek Angler and co-founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Casting for Hope with Taylor Sharp (pictured left). Upper Creek Angler is a guide and custom-built fly-rod service based in Morganton, NC. Casting for Hope is a regional nonprofit that serves women and families in Western North Carolina following a diagnosis of ovarian or other gynecological cancer through financial assistance and retreat programs. Casting for Hope’s flagship fundraiser is the only official Trout Legend Gold-Level fly-fishing competition on the east coast and one of just three in the United States. Watch the brief video below to learn more about Casting for Hope and the work John, Taylor, and their team are doing in WNC for women and families affected by ovarian and other gynecological cancers.  

  • Post author
    John Zimmerman
  • fly fishingfly fishing tips

Comments on this post (10)

  • Jan 29, 2022

    To quote a phrase on the front of a t-shirt I once saw: “I have CDO. It’s like OCD except the letters are in order LIKE THEY’RE SUPPOSED TO BE!” … :-) … so, I have used lists for years to prep for a roadtrip, and I started using tubs a few years ago, using a clear one for food, a separate one for waders & boots, and a 3rd for reels, flies, etc… … I don’t store my rods in them because most of my rods are 2-pieces … I think I’ll start storing my 4-piece rods in them though … GREAT ARTICLE!

    — Mark Zemke

  • Dec 03, 2020

    Great article. I use a clear tub which gives you a quick visual to ensure it’s full. I need to work on filling it in first used stuff on top.

    — Norm Christnacht

  • Dec 03, 2020

    Hello. I am the newsletter editor for the Delaware Valley Women’s Fly Fishing Association and think our club members would benefit from reading
    about your hacks re: packing for a fishing trip. I am asking permission to use the article in one of next issues. Thank you for your consideration.

    Christine Gaydos

    — Christine Gaydos

  • Dec 03, 2020

    Good article and timely! I keep a big go-bag instead of the tub, but definitely agree with the wisdom of keeping it all in one place. You don’t want to be that fisher who shows up on the water with everything but your wading boots.

    — Mike

  • Dec 03, 2020

    Enjoyed the article. Forgot reel – once.

    — William Sherman

  • Dec 03, 2020

    I am extremely OCD and have been doing the same thing for years. It is crazy that this article mimics my exact procedure with the exception of using a separate tub for waders. After you are done fishing your boots and waders are wet and I don’t want those in the same tub as my fishing gear.

    — Mike Beachy

  • Dec 03, 2020

    I like to keep a list handy. I use the list just like a pilot uses a pre-flight check list.

    — Ken R

  • Dec 03, 2020

    Brilliant article! Need to reorganize my kit, too much time spent looking for which items sit in which pocket in my fishing vests. Thanks for the inspiration, task for the weekend: pack items in logical order in vests and bags!

    — Rob Baxter

  • Dec 03, 2020

    Thanks, almost forgot my insulated/thick socks…and the water will be cold tomorrow.

    — Larry

  • Dec 03, 2020

    Excellent info for fly fishers evry where and your support for the women of WNC and program casting for hope is great. I live in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada where we have 100,00 lakes and rivers to fly fish for all species of trout, bass, Walleye, Carp, Sauger, Northern Pike, Goldeye/Mooneye and Sturgeon

    — Lyle Hodge

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