How To Set Up Fly Fishing Vest: Which One Should You Carry?

Heading out for a fly-fishing adventure? Wait! Before you hit the water, you first have to load up on a bunch of tackles for that bountiful catch.

But here’s the catch: lugging it all around by hand can leave you sweat-soaked, not to mention the gear might mess with your casting mojo.

And here is my secret weapon: a fishing vest, an unsung hero that keeps everything well-organized and within your reach. Let me guide you on how to set up fly fishing vest like a pro!

Why Do Fly Fishermen Wear Vests?

More Convenience

We all agree that a fishing vest is the treasure trove of any fly fisher, holding all the essential gear while keeping your hands free.

With everything you need within your sweet spot, you can focus on your casting and retrieving game.

In my fishing sessions, I’m always on the move between spots, and the beauty is I don’t waste time gathering my tackle. Why? Because my vest has got “the luggage” covered, the whole process becomes seamless.

Better Weight Distribution

It’s easy to notice that the pockets on a fishing vest are used for storing fishing tackle, and they are scattered in the front, back, and inside the vest.

Unlike other fishing packs, this design takes care of your comfort by evenly distributing weight across your shoulders.

Trust me, I didn’t fully appreciate the magic of a vest until I felt the strain and chest pain when wearing a fly fishing vest pack. It’s a game-changer! 

Less Interference When Casting

Storing all the gear in a vest means that they will stay close to your body and won’t get in the way of your cast or fly presentation. Feel free to stretch and move your arms in any direction you want.

Just be mindful not to overload any pocket to avoid restricting your movement. It’s worth noting that organizing your gear wisely is key to preventing anything from falling out when you bend down. Now, let me reveal my secrets below!

How To Set Up Fly Fishing Vest

Important gear, like fly/streamer boxes, split shots, strike indicators, floatants, tippets, leaders, etc., should be stored in the front of the vest. Meanwhile, you can put a pocket knife, headlamp, and grab bag inside the vest.

The ample room in the back is perfect for large tools like a net, a first-aid kit, a rain jacket, and gloves.

What To Put In A Fishing Vest In The Front

Fly Boxes (Dry, Wet, And Nymphs)

What is the point of fly fishing when you venture out without a fly box? The upper front pockets prove to be the best spots to store these boxes.

While many prefer to travel light and opt for only one box, I always bring various types, like dry and wet flies or nymphs, to attract different fish species.

For those who want to keep it simple, choose a double-compartment box, using one compartment for wet flies and the other for dry ones.

Split Shot or Weight

Admit it, it’s once in a blue moon to catch a huge fish lingering in the upper water column. So, when you want to target these games, you need a split shot or weight to go deeper. Unless you go for weighted flies or streamers, remember to carry some split shots when fly fishing.

Strike Indicator

As the name suggests, strike indicators are meant to indicate whether a fish is eyeing your flies. Even a seasoned fly angler will find these items handy in mastering the art of fly presentation.

I’ve been using yarn-style strike indicators for a solid 5 years and haven’t thought of switching to other types. They are lightweight and sensitive to even subtle strikes. After years of use, they still stay afloat and can land gently without spooking fish.

Floatant & Drying Powder

A friendly reminder: bring floatants, drying powder, or both if you are about to use dry flies on that day. The fact that I put them in the front of the vest somewhat underscores their importance.

Dry flies, contrary to their names, are made of permeable materials, meaning that they will get soaked after a while in the water. That’s why you need to bring some floatant (gel, spray, liquid, or paste form) or drying powder to save your water-logged baits.

Streamer Box

Let’s face the truth: giant trout are less likely to eye your tiny flies, let alone striking or chasing them. So, if you want to catch bigger fish, carrying a streamer box is a must.

Streamers are designed to simulate baitfish, leeches, or other sizable aquatic insects, potentially attracting bigger game species. I usually stash this box in the lower half of the vest because, honestly, crossing paths with those giant fish is not an everyday affair.


Tippets are where the magic begins, hiding the fishing line and leaders from hungry fish and making flies more realistic. Their size should match with your flies’ size, so carrying several spools of tippets is necessary when you want to change flies.

Oftentimes, I use 3X-4X tippets for streamers or large nymphs and 5X-6X for smaller flies. It’s recommended to use fluorocarbon tippets since they can sink faster than monofilament ones while remaining invisible.

Indicator Tippet

Source: Cabelas

An indicator tippet is not something every angler will give a second look, but back then, it helped me a lot in detecting strikes when I was still learning the ropes.

It comes in two vibrant colors and is super sensitive to strikes, so I would recommend it for beginner fly fishers or when navigating murky waters. My go-to is Rio indicator tippets with alternating high-contrast colors, standing out against many backgrounds.


Source : Orvis

Just like tippets, leaders are part and parcel of any angler’s fishing box. It’s a bit disheartening to see some of my fellows brushing off their importance, though, sticking to a single leader size throughout their fishing sessions.

Here’s my hard-earned lesson: when you are dealing with clear, shallow waters with lazy currents, a longer leader will have its moment. Meanwhile, if you find yourself in cloudy waters or facing the chaotic dance of turbulent areas, opt for a shorter one.

Preparing several sizes of leaders on hand will free up some time when switching tippets, as you simply need to swap out a new leader that matches the new tippet.

Fly Line & Conditioner

Source: Ebay

Some fish prefer cruising near the surface, while others lounge at the bottom. The secret is having a variety of fly lines to access different water depths, increasing your chances of enticing fish to swipe at your flies.

In my years of fishing, I have learned the importance of a line conditioner or dressing. Simply wipe the line clean and apply the conditioner, and you’ll notice how it responds promptly to your casting attempts and floats gracefully on the water.

I usually give my fly line a good cleanup before and after my fishing trip, especially when venturing into the sea, to keep it in tip-top condition.


Nipper and Forcep

Now that we’ve done with must-have gear, it’s time to take a look at essential accessories that can up your game.

Nippers, also known as snips, clippers, cutters, or whatever you choose to call them, are used to trim excess line or tag ends after tying on flies, tippets, or leaders.

Without these cutters, you risk fish getting tangled in knots or distracted by tag ends instead of your carefully chosen flies.

And never entertain the thought of using a nail clipper or pocket knife. I’ve been down that road; while it got the job done, I always ended up with nasty cuts.


Hardly did I go fishing without several zingers clipping on my vest. Featuring a retractable cord, it is used to hold important accessories like nippers, forceps, or pliers, allowing you to access them within reach.

And when you’re done using them, just release the cord, and the accessories will retract to their place. This design saves you precious minutes and prevents the cord from messing with your fishing gear.

Forceps or Hemostats

Only when you really get into the fishing game can you realize how versatile a forceps is. For one, the scissor-like design makes it easier to remove the fishing hook without hurting the fish and your fingers.

Trust me, it’s still a pain in the neck, recalling the moment when I took a hook out of the razor-sharp teeth of a 20-inch trout using my bare hands.

Sometimes, the forceps also double as a cutter to trim the indicator’s yarn or a flathead screwdriver to repair the fly reel.

Pen, Marker, and Notebook

Well, life teaches you a new lesson every day! Whenever a brilliant idea just crosses your mind, you need a pen and notebook to jot it down once and for all.

How you read the water in different areas and what flies each fish species loves to chase, for example, deserve a spot in your notebook.

Taking a fishing trip without a marker is not the end of the world, but it may be a game-changer in some cases.

I once used it to color my flies to attract a rainbow trout after it refused all of my available baits. The result? It worked like a charm!

How Do You Organize Fly Fishing Gear Inside Of The Vest?

Stomach Pump & Tape Measure (For Checking The Fish)

It’s recommended to stash not-so-important things, like a stomach pump or tape measure, inside your vest because you may not need to use them very often.

A stomach pump is designed to check what fish have eaten, allowing you to adapt your flies to their favorite meals.

On the other hand, a tape measure will come in handy for measuring the length of a big game or a trophy, adding a dose of excitement to your fishing session.

Pocket Knife

Isn’t it true that a utility knife is a survival compass in the wild? When you go fly fishing in nature, it’s a wise move to carry a pocket knife along.

Preparing your fish, getting food for lunch, cutting lines, or even igniting campfires, a knife proves helpful at almost every step of the way.


If you are in the mood for fly fishing at dusk or dawn when the fiery sun is just a smoldering ember on the horizon, a headlamp will enhance your visibility when tying knots or catching up with a chasing fish.

Unlike a flashlight, this item will leave you hands-free, ensuring that you can concentrate on your fly presentation.

Grab Bag (Sunscreen, Bug Repellent, Lighter, etc.)

As you venture out into the wild and under the scorching sun, it’s likely that you will encounter annoying bugs or get sunburned.

To shield you from these occurrences, grab sunscreen, bug repellent, lighter, sunglasses, and other necessary items and stow them in a small bag for easier storage.

What To Put In A Fishing Vest In The Back

Your Lunch Or Snacks

As relaxing as it seems, I have to admit that fishing is one of the most strenuous activities that drain my energy real quick, especially when I plan for a whole fishing day. That’s why I usually pack a lunch box or some snacks like chocolate bars for an energy boost.

First-Aid Kit

Like it or not, getting injured when fly fishing is much like an everyday thing, calling for a first-aid kit during your sessions. Since the kit is quite sizable, stashing it in the back will leave your vest clutter-free and more convenient.

Fishing Net

Why bother with a fishing net when you can do everything with your hand?

Well, yes, you can basically grab or release a SMALL fish with your hand, but not a trophy, say an 18-inch brown trout. So, if you aim big, a landing net can help you lay your hand on your victory, literally.

Rain Jacket

I’ve tried it firsthand – fly fishing in the rain is no easy feat. How could you focus on your target while getting soaked under torrential rain? Remember to grab a rain jacket along, just in case!

Face Masks & Gloves

If you think that gloves and face masks are just to keep you warm in the brutal cold of winter, you are right. But their uses go beyond that.

Gloves can be a year-round piece of gear, increasing the grip when the fishing rod gets wet, and a mask also shields your face from the drenching sun.

How To Choose The Best Fly Fishing Vest?

Insulation & Ventilation

A well-insulated and well-ventilated vest is a quiet source of comfort, helping you stay energetic during the fishing session.

It’s best to go for a vest with removable insulation to stay warmer in winter, whereas you can remove some patches for more breathability in the summer months.

If you mostly venture out on sunny days, those with ventilation holes or mesh panels are worth a try. Of course, you still have to check how many pockets are on the vest to see if it can meet your needs.

How Should A Fly Fishing Vest Fit?

The easiest way to check the fitness of a fishing vest is to try it on, preferably with some gear.

Try to move and stretch your arm to assess if it remains comfortable and convenient. The best vest should be padded so that it will not strain your shoulders after an extended time.

Let’s say you usually target shallow waters; a traditional vest that extends from your shoulders to your belly is acceptable. That said, in deeper waters, opt for shorter models that are above your belly button.

Materials & Durability

The choice of materials, mostly mesh and fabric, boils down to your personal preferences. Assess your fishing habit, like your favorite fly fishing season, to choose the right material.

As the vest will go through a lot of weather and environmental abuse, look for models made of high-quality materials like nylon or mesh. Don’t forget to check the strength of zippers and seams, as a sloppy zipper can turn your vest useless.

3 Recommended Fly Fishing Vests

Orvis Fly Fishing Vest

Source: Orvis

The very first fly vests that I wore were the ones from Orvis, which came in a traditional style and full-length. The common feature between Orvis models is that they are lightweight, comfortable, and built to last.

I really love their spacious pockets and cushioned patches that keep my shoulders from weariness. These vests can be a good match for beginners without digging deep into their pockets.

Simms Fishing Vest

Source: Simms

Another favorite model, the Simms vest, has its bottom row of pockets high above the belly button, facilitating you to navigate deep waters.

As compact as it is, my old Simms vest featured 24 pockets, supporting on-the-go angling. I can wear it all day while staying comfy and cool.

Patagonia Fly Fishing Vest

Source: Patagonia

If you want to travel light, Patagonia vests are the way to go! They are made of lightweight fabric with a minimalist design.

Of course, there is still enough room to pack all your essential gear, along with technical details like attachment points or a hemostat dock. The stretchy mesh material also adds a layer of comfort.

Key Takeaways

At the end of the day, how to set up a fly fishing vest is a matter of personal taste, as there are no fixed rules requiring you to stash things in a specific way.

Take my guide for reference, and feel free to adjust any details to optimize your comfort and convenience.