Winter Fishing Project: Clean and Organize Your Vest (or Pack)

It’s the dead of winter, and for many of us trout fishers, that means spending more time in the warm indoors than making casts in the great outdoors. Of course, the intrepid among us are still making trips to unfrozen rivers. Heck, in some tailwaters (rivers that flow from bottom-release dams), the trout barely notice the difference between January and July. Though the days are indeed shorter and the insect menu might be a little different, near-constant water temperatures mean it’s still “game on.”

I’ve always felt that fishing is a state of mind, whether you actually wet a line or not. As such, there’s no better way to beat the winter doldrums than to tinker with your fishing gear and make plans for the coming thaw.

For me, that starts with reorganizing my “office,” a.k.a. my fishing vest. Whether you wear a vest or a pack, now is the time to lean on the New Year’s adage, “out with the old and in with the new.”

Spread out some newspaper on a workbench or your kitchen table, and empty out your vest or pack. Sometimes, that literally pays dividends, as you find a few spare bills or some loose change, maybe that lost car key, or something else you’ve been missing. I actually use a vacuum cleaner attachment to suck out all the grit and grime, loose split shot, spent flies, bubble gum wrappers, and so on, from my pockets.

I also wash my empty vest without detergent in a gentle rinse cycle, then hang it to dry (though I understand some of us wear the smudges and spots like badges of honor). A wash is purely optional.

If you fly fish, open your fly boxes. Inspect your hooks for rust. Leave your boxes open so that they are completely dry. I sometimes slip little silicone packs like one finds at the camera store in my fly boxes to make sure all moisture is wicked away.

Test your lines and tippets. Old, rotted spools will inevitably break on fish. Now is the time to make sure that won’t happen when you hook Mr. Big.

Take inventory. If you’re missing that extra box of split shot, or you misplaced your pliers/hemostats, go ahead and replace those things now. If you’re missing some hot fly patterns, now is the time to reload, whether you tie them yourself, or visit the bargain bin at your local fishing shop. You don’t have to load your vest or pack now. If you’d rather, keep everything in an organized box, and load up right before you hit the water.

But believe me, having your “office” in order now in the winter is one of the best things you can do to ensure a positive start to your fishing season, whenever that happens.

Kirk Deeter

Kirk Deeter

Kirk Deeter is an editor-at-large with Field & Stream, and he co-wrote The Little Red Book of Fly Fishing with the late Charlie Meyers.