GRAY’S BEST 2020

ANGLING

BY SCOTT SADIL & MIKE FLOYD

PATAGONIA FOOT TRACTOR WADING BOOT

Anyone who wade-fishes rivers and streams understands the problem: How do you construct a wading boot comfortable enough to keep you upright all day but also sufficiently sturdy to withstand the abuse it receives banging about in the rugged substrates of wild rivers? My particular needs pit miles-long jaunts or even bicycle forays into hidden steelhead runs against a history of “guide quality” boots that disintegrated like the proverbial $10 dollar suit.

This year, Patagonia teams up with the renowned boot crafters at Danner to meet this challenge head-on, offering up the Foot Tractor Wading Boot ($499–$549), which is a stout, generously cut boot that’s not only resoleable but also “recraftable”—that is, designed to be repaired or rebuilt in the manner of traditional handmade footwear. An old-school fan of felt, I went ahead and ordered boots with the Vibram sole and aluminum inserts; felt, we know, easily transports aquatic pests and is even illegal in certain watersheds. I took my new pair on a rocky stroll to inspect a distant piece of water, and even though I kept looking around for Fred Astaire because of tapping noises coming from the trail, I returned to camp feeling I could go plenty of miles more without foot fatigue. Once in the river, the biggest freestone trout stream on the continent, I was pleased to find the boots’ clever soles kept me steady in the current, even while waist deep swinging a long two-handed rod. www.patagonia.com —SS


ORVIS MIRAGE LT

I generally pooh-pooh the idea of trout reels with sophisticated drag systems and backing capacities better suited for bluewater pelagic species. Does anyone really need more than rim-control and a few dozen yards of Dacron buried beneath the fly line? Yet once again, this year I found myself perched atop a knuckle of rocks with my trusty 10-foot 6-weight, discovered years ago on the bottom of the Poudre River, watching the contents of the reel I first found attached to that rod vanishing at an alarming rate, the shiny spool exposed like the bottom of a polished-off bowl of nuts. Uh-oh. Finally, I conceded—after this, my fourth spooling in weeks—and turned to a size III Orvis Mirage LT ($349–$429), the refined little sister of the heavier and stouter and more capacious lineup of Mirage reels. All the design elements and engineering, including the sealed maintenance-free drag system, appear unchanged; the LT, however, promises to balance modern trout rods, aimed toward the delicacy that seems appropriate for nearly all sweetwater species. I still don’t know quite how to reconcile light tippets, big water, and heavy currents that result in oversized trout misbehaving beyond the hundred-yard mark. But the Mirage LT offers the kind of genuine help I seem to require in these and other such foolish endeavors. www.orvis.com —SS


SAGE IGNITER

My favorite trophy bass pond is roughly 200 acres of pure joy composed of standing timber, lily pads, and crystal clear water atop a rocky, sandy bottom of undulating depth. Perfect in every way, save one—its topography means the slightest breeze often turns this otherwise ideal fishery into a relentless wind tunnel of white-capping debauchery that requires big flies to land accurately around structure to find success. Plus, if the fish misses my streamer the first time, I’ll need to pick up quickly and cast again—often with some distance— in order to put it back in range for a second eat. Leave it to Sage (long an industry leader when it comes to designing rods to solve a specific problem or catch a certain species) to find a solution with its new Igniter ($900) series.

The Igniter is available in weights 4 through 10 and pairs perfectly with the assertive front taper of Rio’s InTouch OutBound Short line, which helps load the rod quickly to produce high-speed action that cuts through heavy winds and tough conditions. It proved equally capable on the flats, chasing redfish and bones and presenting streamers flawlessly in situations that might otherwise prove impossible. Admittedly, this extremely fast-action setup is not for everyone. But if you’re looking to throw bulky flies for distance against a tough blow, need to pick up and shoot line for quick presentations, and don’t mind casting aggressively, then the Igniter is exactly the rod you need. www.sageflyfish.com —MF


SIMMS CHALLENGER ULTRA TACKLE BAG

As organizational options have shifted away from vests in recent years, I’ve found myself combing a market that is rich in alternatives. Many candidates allow for more gear storage, but the abundance of zippers and cubbyholes often leaves me wasting time searching through my stash. The solution is a bag large enough to hold essentials—taking more than one bag often compromises boat space—but small enough to ensure things are easy to find. And there can’t be too many pockets or compartments, because that’s where whatever I need inevitably hides as valuable time slips away. Thankfully, the Simms Challenger Ultra Tackle Bag ($180) has solved my problems with just the right amount of everything without too much of anything. There are perfectly sized pockets in precisely the correct places. An easy-open lid hides a main compartment that boasts adjustable dividers to create dedicated zones for fly boxes, hooks, and leaders. And there’s a pocket on each end of the bag that makes a perfect home for extra reels or spools. Meanwhile, high-use items are never far from reach, thanks to exterior zippered pockets that are easily accessible and highly visible but not so deep that things get buried. The handles tuck away, and there’s a detachable shoulder strap for easy transport to and from the boat. Finally, I have found my happy place, and it was right where I thought it would be—fishing, instead of digging through scores of pockets, trying to find what’s evading me. www.simmsfishing.com —MF