By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor
If your pandemic and resulting quarantine experience has been anything close to mine, you probably haven’t been out fishing enough lately. I’ve been cooped up, looking at all the new toys I plan to buy when work picks back up and the world goes back to normal. Thankfully, we’re starting to see that return to normalcy in a few places – my native Utah being one of them – so I figured now was as good a time as any to release the 2020 Spencer Durrant Outdoors Fly Fishing Gear Guide.
I tried to find great gear at various price points, because I know as well as anyone that we don’t all have the budget for a brand new Orvis H3. For those who do, however, I’ve included my opinions on the more expensive items. If you have any follow-up questions about any of my gear recommendations, leave your comments below or feel free to contact me directly.
Best Overall Rod – Douglas Sky G 9′ 5wt
I’ve made no secret that my current favorite production fly rod is the Orvis H3. But with a price tag that runs from $850 – $950 or more, it’s a steep asking price. The $795 tag on the Douglas Sky G is a bit more palatable – and, the Sky G has the lightest swing weight in its class. It’s also frighteningly light at 2.7oz, and has a bit more of that intangible wow factor than the H3.
For the everyday Rocky Mountain trout angler, I can’t think of a rod better-suited to tackle the various rivers and fish than the Douglas Sky G. Read my full review of it here.
Best Expensive Rod – Orvis H3D 9′ 6wt
At $950, the Orvis H3D commands a serious commitment – but it’s 100% worth it. While the Douglas Sky G is a great rod, it doesn’t have the outstanding versatility that the 9′ 6wt H3D does. I’ve used my 9′ 6wt H3D for everything from fishing Alaskan rivers for big dolly varden and sockeye, to catching pink salmon in the surf, to chucking big streamers for trout on the Green River. I can also turn around and fish dries when the situation calls for it.
The H3D is head-and-shoulders better than any other rod you can buy right now, but it’s priced just enough to be out of the reach of most anglers, which is the only reason it didn’t take the top spot as Best Overall Rod for 2020. If you have the money, though, buy an H3D. You won’t regret it.
Read my full review of this rod here.
Best Inexpensive Rod – Fenwick Aetos 9′ 5wt or Orvis Clearwater 9′ 5wt
At the sub-$200 price point, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything better than either the Fenwick Aetos or the Orvis Clearwater. Neither is better than the other here, which is why I had to have a tie. The Fenwick feels a bit faster in my hands than the Clearwater, while both rods have similar swing weights. Honestly, I’d put both of these rods up against a lot of rods that are two or three times more expensive. They’re that good.
They’re not as flashy as the other rods on this list, but they’ll get the job done.
Read my full review of the Orvis Clearwater here, and read a review on the Fenwick Aetos here.
Best Overall Reel – Ross Animas
Ross updated one of their most popular reels ever – the Animas – for 2020. It’s light, looks absolutely fantastic, and the drag is as buttery-smooth and strong as we’ve come to expect from Ross. At $295, it’s right at the sweet spot for a bombproof reel that’ll last you for years and not break the bank. It has the power to put the brakes on big trout in heavy water, but there’s almost no startup inertia – which means fewer instances of broken tippet and lost fish.
Read my full review of the reel here.
Best Expensive Reel – Abel SDF
I’ve had an Abel TR-2 for years now, and that reel will outlive me. My good friend Ryan McCullough has some from the 90s, with Abel’s signature cork drag system, that are still stopping brown trout in their tracks. Abel is pricey, but they’re worth it.
The SDF is their fully-sealed disc-drag reel for freshwater. With a nearly unlimited array of color options, custom finishes, and hand-painted trout skins, the Abel SDF is the best reel you’ll find if money isn’t an object.
Read the full review here.
Best Inexpensive Reel – Orvis Clearwater
I waffled between this and the Redington Zero, but at the end of the day, the Clearwater is just better. It’s a die-cast aluminum reel, so it’s not going to blow you away with its light weight. The Clearwater isn’t egregiously heavy, though, and its drag is fantastic when you realize you’re paying less than $100 for it. I’ve used the Clearwater to wrangle big browns and rainbows in big water, and aside from less-than-ideal startup inertia, the drag is rock-solid.
Read a full review here.
Best Inexpensive Sunglasses – Rheos Bahias
I’m a sunglasses snob, and I’ll readily admit it. I have more pairs of Smith sunglasses than most people deem necessary, but I figure with how often I’m outside, my eyes deserve the best.
Enter Rheos, a company that’s relatively new, and doesn’t have the cachet that Smith or Costa does. That shouldn’t matter to you, though, because Rheos is putting out a quality product. At $55, you get a pair of polarized shades that also float when you drop them in the water (I tested this multiple times on my local rivers). I fished in the Bahias for a few days straight, then switched back to my trusty Smith Chromapop+ lenses.
There’s a significant difference between the two, but that in no way makes the Rheos shades any less better. They’re affordable, they float, and they protect your eyes. What more can you ask for?
Best Expensive Sunglasses – Smith Guide’s Choice
I’ve worn Smith sunglasses for years now, and I don’t think I’ll ever change. I spend so much time outside, staring at the harsh light reflected off rivers and lakes, that I want only the absolute best in eye protection. The Guide’s Choice delivers. These high-profile, larger sunglasses, when paired with Smith’s proprietary Chromapop+ polarized lenses, combine to make for an extremely comfortable, functional accessory.
Other Random Goodies
These aren’t exactly a necessity, but I love accessories that make angling a bit easier – or more enjoyable. These products accomplish that, and I can personally recommend each of them.
Waders and Wading Boots
Best Overall Waders – Orvis PRO Waders
The Orvis PRO line of products is amazing. It’s worth every penny, as you can see from my review here. But the PRO Waders stand out as the best product from the entire line, and for good reason. Orvis uses a proprietary Cordura fabric to produce incredibly puncture and abrasion-resistant waders that haven’t failed me yet – and I’m notoriously hard on waders.
Best Expensive Waders – Simms G4Z
I love my Simms G4 waders, but they’re spendy – $849.95, to be exact. They’ll last through damn near anything, and Simms has a reputation for stellar customer service. Just this last year, I needed my G4s repaired due to an odd manufacturing defect. Simms couldn’t fix the waders, so they sent me a new pair instead. Talk to anyone who’s had to send their Simms in for warranty work, and you’ll likely hear a similar story.
Honorable Mention – Aquaz DRYZIP
Aquaz is a brand that’s new to lots of anglers, but one that I’ve come to fully trust in recent months. After Mike James, owner and head guide at the Quiet Fly Fisher, turned me on to Aquaz, I’ve become a fan. I have their DRYZIP waders, and have yet to find something to complain about. Zippered waders are one of the greatest inventions in this sport, and Aquaz delivers a great product for just under $425.
Read my full review here.
With the coronavirus pandemic forcing most of us indoors, I’ve seen tons of anglers take up fly tying. In a lot of cases, I suspect that the sale of tying supplies is the only thing keeping a lot of smaller fly shops in business.
With that in mind, please buy local when and where you can. Call local fly shops, place orders for pickup, or have them shipped to your home. Do whatever you can to support local fly shops.
If your fly shop doesn’t sell these exact supplies, they can likely order them for you.
- Loon Outdoors Complete Fly Tying Tool Kit: this kit has everything – sans a vise – that you need to get started with fly tying. The quality of the tools is pretty good – you get a lot for $120 – and for a beginner who doesn’t know what they don’t know, this is a great starting point.
- Loon Colored UV Resin: the rise of popularity in UV resin on flies has led to a lot of innovations in the resin itself. Loon just released a ton of new colored resins that are perfect when tying chironomids, or any of the popular Euro nymphing patterns.
- Loon UV Infiniti Light: this light cooks UV resin nearly instantly, and thanks to a USB port that charges it, you don’t have to worry about replacing batteries.
- Renzetti Presentation 4000: if you’re looking for a new vise, it’s hard to beat the versatility and longevity of the Renzetti Presentation 4000. If you plan to tie a lot of flies of different sizes – streamers to tiny midges – the Renzetti is a great options.
- Regal Medallion: I’ve tied on a Regal Medallion for years now, and I love it. The vise is cheaper than the Renzetti, packs up small for traveling (my Regal has traveled from Utah to Alaska and everywhere between), and holds hooks with a rock-solid grip.
You missed out on Moonshine Rods
I only included gear in this guide that I’ve personally used myself, and can therefore personally recommend. I haven’t had the opportunity to fish Moonshine Rods yet, but I’d love to fix that!