The Unbearable Lightness of Fly Fishing

Should it stay or should it go?

by Scott Sadil

I always dream of traveling light. In this recurring fantasy I see myself skipping through crowds, bustling airports or jam-packed trains, all of my gear woven neatly about me, as though I were poised to plunge over a gunwale to explore the coral reefs below – or about to scale the face of El Cap.

The climax of this unlikely tale is the moment my ride arrives: Someone – friend or family, outfitter or host – greets me warmly and then looks around, glancing this way and that.  “Where’s the rest of your gear?”

Meanwhile, in the real world, I struggle with the awful truth. I once carried a surfboard from Cape Town to Nairobi. This was back awhile, when boards were more substantial than the wafers you see today. On return to my hotel after a week of tourist safari, I found a clerk who led me to a storage closet hidden deep in the building.  “Here’s your boat!” he said.

It’s kind of embarrassing. I just finished sending off photos for a fly-tying book in which I argue, again and again, that your fly is the last thing that matters. Not an original theme, but one I profess to believe in. Yet when it comes time to travel someplace new, where I’m not sure what I can expect to find, I not only end up buying two new boxes for the flies I tie in preparation for the trip, I also spend two days sorting through and re-arranging flies in stacks of old boxes, finally feeling a sense of pride that I’ve been able to reduce my travel arsenal from eleven boxes to a mere ten.

Reels?  Spools?  Extra lines?

Don’t even ask.

Of course, the telling moment arrives when you really do have to make a final decision about which rods to carry.  Your waders and boots suddenly take up far more space than any sort of attire deserves — the same logic you’ve used to eliminate such superfluities as an extra pair of pants, a dress shirt, and the new Orvis jacket, even if the rumor turns out to be true and you end up dining with the attaché and his elegant wife.

You have to keep your priorities straight.

Which is exactly why it’s so difficult to finally set aside the two-hander. No, they said, you’re not going to get to swing flies for sea-run fish. But what if, you keep asking yourself, imagining an unprecedented natural catastrophe — an earthquake, say, or a volcano, or even a worldwide pandemic — that leaves you stranded just close enough to an eastern Pacific watershed, with faint rumors of chinook salmon creeping into the system, in increasing numbers, each fall.

It’s a painful choice. But you can’t do everything at once. A quiver of single-handed trout rods it will have to be. My oldest son, anyway, knows where to find the key to the house.  If I get stuck, he can ship me the Burkheimer and two or three more reels.


Gray’s angling editor Scott Sadil recalls a time in his life when the vagaries of travel demanded he remember but three words: money, passport, ticket.