Fly Fishing Vests

How To Choose Fly Fishing Vests

The purpose of your fly fishing vest is simply to carry all the tools, flies, extra clothing and water you will need to the stream with you in an organized fashion. As a carrier of these items, a vest needs to fit properly, be comfortable when fully loaded and be coolly comfortable in summer heat. Take time to look at your needs and be willing to spend $50 to $80 for a mid-range fishing vest of better quality.


Small, Medium, Large. XL, XXL. My suggestion is to go one size larger than you wear in a jacket. For example, if you wear a medium jacket, you should get a large fly vest. Remember, you will be wearing the vest over shirts, jackets or other bulky clothing sometime during colder weather.

The other consideration is your height and weight. I am 5′ 81/2″ and weigh 195. I use a large fly fishing vest. If you are tall, you may want an XL vest or a tall man’s fly fishing vest.
Waters and Weather

Also, consider the waters and weather you will be fishing. If you mostly fly fish in the summer, perhaps you will want to consider one of the new chest packs or a fanny pack.

Professional guide Janice O’Shea has tried a lot of equipment. She recommends the Orvis “Safe Passage Waist and Chest Pack Combo” as being a well thought out and organized fanny pack. Janice couples the pack with a lanyard for misc. items like tippet holder, floatant bottle, nippers, forceps and so on. The combination of waist pack and lanyard allow for more freedom of movement than the traditional fly fishing vest.

If you regularly wade deeper waters, you may want a “short” fishing vest to avoid soaking the bottom contents of the vest. In deeper waters “regular” design fly fishing vests will get wet. Otherwise a regular style fishing vest should work well for you.

Fortunately the vest manufacturers have finally recognized women are fly fishers too. Some of them are becoming enlightened and marketing fly vests designed for women. Orvis markets a line of vests designed by women for women.

The following comments apply to either regular or short style.

Comfort and Design

Since you will be spending a lot of time in your fly fishing vest, make sure it is comfortable. Except for poorly fitting waders, a vest that drags at the back of your neck or cuts into your shoulders is one of the worst fly fishing irritants.

When choosing a fly vest, choose one with an adequate number of pockets to carry the number of fly boxes you will normally want, extra leader spools, “Dinsmore” egg shaped weights, extra leaders, fly floatant, strike indicators, pliers and / or forceps and other gadgets.

There should be at least one deep inside zippered or Velcro pocket for glasses and other items you don’t want to loose. Most vests should have one inside waterproof pocket for your fishing license but most I have looked at don’t. I have seen vests advertised “30 inside and outside pockets total” I have seen reviews that suggest 20 to 30 as a good number.

I would suggest 2 horizontal pockets on the bottom and 2 vertical pockets on top for fly boxes. Four smaller pockets attached to the large pockets on bottom will hold floatant, weights, extra tippet spools, and small strike indicators or other small gadgets. I use one of the large vertical pockets to hold extra leaders and larger cork type strike indicators. The other large vertical pocket holds a second fly box.

If you are considering a new vest from your local fly shop, load the vest as you normally would. Then try it on. The fly boxes should go into and out of the large pockets easily. The smaller pockets should not interfere with casting motion.

Pockets both inside and outside should be easily accessible. If zippers bind or you have to twist the vest to access inside pockets or you have to twist your body into a pretzel to access any pockets, find another vest.

There should be at least one large zippered pocket in the back for rain gear and / or lunch. Some vests have an attached holder(s) for a water bottle. This is a nice touch as dehydration is always a consideration in our arid Colorado climate. Personally, I would rather have the water bottle(s) attached to my wader belt to balance the load.

“D Rings”
There should be a couple of “D” rings attached to the front for attaching a retractable lanyard, your leader straightener or other tools. The vest should have a rod tip keeper on the shoulder and rod butt loop on the bottom to hold your rod. This will free your hands to change flies, change leaders or release a fish. (Practically, most of us tuck the rod under our off side arm to do these activities.)

There should be a “D” ring at the back for attaching your net. Typically the D ring is attached by a loop of cloth sewn onto the neck or by an elastic band sewn into the neck seam. I have one of both styles. Unless the elastic is 1/2 inch wide, I have found it will stretch out over time and the net will twist and swing when walking. This is an annoyance and can catch your net on branches if walking through brush. I would suggest the “D” ring be attached with a cloth loop rather than the elastic.

Attach your net or a borrowed one from the store. Now try the vest on again for comfort. Nets will add considerable weight to a vest. A fully loaded vest can easily weigh more than 5 to 8 pounds. That is a lot of weight to pack around for a full hot day’s summer fishing.

Shoulder Loading or Stress
With a fully loaded vest, you should not feel chafing or load stress at the back of the neck. Different manufacturers try different approaches to reduce stress and improve comfort in this area.

Some will pad the collar, some will add a fabric collar neck, some will use a “Shoulder Yoke” design. The “Yoke” fits around the neck and shoulders to distribute the weight onto the shoulders. The front and back are attached to the “Yoke”. This is a comfortable but more expensive design. Columbia used to be one manufacturer to use this design. I don’t know if they still do so or not. Some manufacturers have started using a new Lycra stretch fabric to distribute the load. I have a Cabela’s shortie vest with fleece padded collar that is reasonably comfortable when fully loaded.
If you are a woman, try to get a vest designed for your gender. A fully loaded vest designed for a man may not be comfortable for you.

Seam Construction

Just as in wader construction, the seams are the weak point in a fly fishing vest. One seam design uses a seam tape over the seam and then the tape and seam are sown. Carefully examine all seams for any gaps in stitching or bunching of material where the two pieces of cloth could pull out of the seam over time and use. Better seams of this type would sew the seam first then put the tape over the sewn seam and sew the tape through both pieces of joined cloth.

Another design is to double fold the two pieces of cloth to be joined over about 1/2 inch and then sew a seam through both pieces. Ask the fly shop owner how the vest is constructed. The owner should know their merchandise.

Pay special attention to large seams. These would be at the sides of the vest or the neck area where there may be 3 or 4 layers of cloth sewn together. The seams should be stitched with a seam self locking stitch. This kind of stitch will not unravel if one loop becomes broken or loose. Or the seaming should be the same kind of fold under construction that the rest of the vest uses.

Whatever price range you can afford, take some time to examine your potential vest to get the most bang for your buck.