Fishing | Gear reviews

Back to the vest

I had back surgery last winter—three vertebrae were fused just above my tailbone after a lengthy battle with sciatica and what turned out to a cracked and splitting bone.

I was honestly worried about the future of my fly fishing. The first few weeks after surgery were miserable. It was so bad, I questioned my decision to go under the knife.

Now, almost six months out from that fateful day in late January, I can report that I’m in pretty good shape (although I still have weight to lose after a winter and spring spend pretty much doing nothing). There’s some pain, but that comes from overuse. There is no nerve pain, though, so that’s something.

As for fishing, well, I’m pretty tentative, although I’ve been getting better and better as the summer progresses. The operation has, though, required me to make some changes.

Years ago, I converted from the fishing vest to the sling pack—I’ve told folks in the past that once you find a sling pack you like, you’ll ever go back to a vest.

That is, until you have back surgery and having the weight of all the gear a sling pack can carry slung over one shoulder starts to take its toll. I’m back to the best. And I’m OK with it.

I chose the Redington Clark Fork mesh vest—I like it for a couple of reasons. First, it’s nice a light and it doesn’t feel like I’m wearing much more than my fishing shirt. The mesh is breathable, which helps battle the heat (but let’s face it—a vest is always going to be hotter than a sling pack). Second, it’s loaded with easy-to-reach compartments and lends itself to ample zinger and hemostat placement.

When I first fished with it on the Gibbon River in Yellowstone a couple months back, packing fly boxes, nippers, hemos, floatant, tippet and the like was kind of a trial-and-error process. I wasn’t sure what I liked, so I tried several methods of hauling gear. I’ve since settled on a simple plan—I put my dry fly boxes in the zipper pouches on the right, and my nymphs and streamers on the left. Tippets slide nicely into one of the chest pockets, and the floatants go in little pockets on the right side near where I keep my dry flies.

I’ve attached a zinger with my nippers on it on the little ring to the left of the middle zipper, and I’ve squeezed hemos onto the zipper string for the compartment where I keep streamers, wets and nymphs.

The back has a great compartment for a pack lunch and a water bottle or two.

In all, it’s about balance and treating a surgically reconstructed spine with some kid gloves.

And, I’ve found out, I don’t really mind the vest at all. It may not be able to hold all the gear that my trusty old sling pack can hold, but I’m more comfortable.

And … sometimes … less is more.