Baskets, trays, buckets
Sometimes you want to make sure that your line doesn't tangle and sometimes you want to make longer casts. A line or stripping basket, bucket or tray may be the solution.
A line basket is - as the word says - a basket for your line, in this case your fly line. The idea is having your loose line under control while stripping and removing the friction of the water while casting.
You simply lay the line into the basket while stripping it in before a new cast, and when you cast, the line will be lifted back out of the basket when the line shoots.
This gives you two main advantages:
1) The loose line is under control. No tangling with grass, rocks, sea weed or stuff in the bottom of your boat (like your feet!) and no sinking into the water or getting drawn by current into a large downstream loop.
2) When you cast, the friction in the line is highly reduced because the line isn't in or on water or in grass, but just coiled up in the basket.
As you can see from the above points the basket can be a great benefit when wade-fishing with a sinking or intermediate line that would otherwise sink into the water and be hard pull up again in the cast.
When fishing in surf the line basket can also be a blessing, keeping the line from rolling in the breaking waves and getting all tangled up in weed and stones, not to mention your feet.
On a boat, which is not built for fly fishing, the basket will keep the line from snagging all the stuff that you find on boats. You'd be surprised how many little things a line will find in the bottom of a boat. The line will be kept away from all these line eating thingamajigs that boat makers and boat owners seem to just love mounting everywhere. Only few boats are built for fly fishing. And even if you have a boat built for the purpose, rest assured that the line will find your sandals, laces or even bare toes!
Some lines are difficult to control without some kind of place to keep them. That goes for many really thin shooting lines such as monofilament as well as some full sinking or intermediate lines, which can be impossible to shoot if they are immersed in the water due to friction. A shooting basket can save the day here.
Fishing from the bank on a stream often means bushes, grass and all kinds of line-eating botany. The basket can keep the line off the ground and save many tangles and keep it out of the dust and dirt aiding its ability to float and prolonging its life.
The use of a line basket can be an advantage in many situations.
The line basket and I
My personal relation to line baskets is somewhat ambivalent. On one side I can see the advantages, but on the other hand I feel that all the systems I have tried, impose so many limitations on me that I simply find it annoying to use any of them.
My main problem is that of stripping patterns. I like to be able to take in the fly as I please - long or short strips, fast and slow mixed - but the basket means that I'm quite limited. Since every coil has to go into the basket, I have to limit the strips to the size of the basket, or I have to take long strips and then arrange the loose line in the basket. It also bothers me that the basket is quite high, and that I have to hold the rod higher in order to be able to get the loose line in there. The only system I have tried that doesn't impose these limitations is the stripper type - like the Flexi Stripper. It rides low on the hip and allows for almost any stripping pattern.
I sometimes buckle and bring a line basket, but I tend to leave it on the bank or in the car. On most of my fishing trips I don't bring it at all.
Being a critical user does not disqualify me from judging line baskets. On the contrary, maybe. A line basket has to be very good before I want to use it. I have close fishing friends who use line baskets all the time, and I will take into account their opinions about the different types that I cover here.
I won't make this a review of specific products, but try to objectively discuss the different types that I have been able to get my hands on.
Basket, bucket, tray, stripper
There are a number of different types of line baskets or trays on the market and an even larger number of home made systems. I will divide them into five basic types:
These are soft, made from fabric, which in most cases allow water to pass freely. Most are collapsible.
Trays are much like a plastic dish washing bowl, and many home made trays are indeed such bowls. They are made from plastic and may or may not have spikes or dents in the bottom to control the loose line. Some are rigid baskets that allow water to pass, others are closed and not drain. A few have draining holes in the bottom.
These are essentially things you drape your line over. They are worn like trays or baskets, but not hollow, but flat with spikes or other structures that grip the line and allow it to hang.
Buckets are often used on boats, and are deep and free-standing cylinders that are heavy in the bottom and often rubber padded so that they stand steady in the sea. These buckets can be up to 3-4' deep in order to facilitate stripping into them while standing on the deck of the boat.
Hooks can be everything from simply that: a single hook that you drape the line over, to something a little more advanced like a coil or spring that grabs the line. My favorite hook is definitely Soren Essebo's bathroom towel hook glued directly to the jacket or vest, but more "authorized" hooks and hook like gizmos can be bought in stores.
Watertight or not
One fairly big issue if you use your stripping basket when you wade is whether to choose a watertight one or not. On one hand the closed ones will fill up, and require you to empty them when you take a wave, but on the other hand they will keep out water until then. The open ones will let water run out right away, but the odd wave that fills it from below will often mess and tangle the line, which might mean bird's nests when you cast.
Opinion about this matter is split in two. Some detest emptying the closed baskets while others hate when the line can potentially tangle. Personally I'm equally bothered by the two incidents, and try to avoid them both by not wading too deep, which makes the issue less important. Most of my friends who use a basket while wade fishing, seem to prefer the watertight one.
Some products out there
The market for trays and baskets is huge, and there is no way I can cover all the brands and types, which can be bought in the shops - not to say made by yourself. But I have chosen a few, which I have found in the local shops, in my own stash or which I have tried or are used by my friends home and abroad.
I will use them to cover some aspects of the concept.
Orvis' line tray is a true classic. It's changed a bit over the years, but the basic design and principle has remained the same. It's a rectangular plastic tray with cones in the bottom. It's a well proven design, very durable, quite heavy, but most people who use it seem to be happy with it. More recent versions have cutouts for the rod to rest in.
Personally I find it a bit clumsy, but it certainly works.
Linekurv literally means line basket, and is much like the Orvis - rigid, cones in the bottom and with cutouts - but it's lighter, has a softer shape and generally seems a bit better made than the Orvis and appears more elegant. The size is about the same, except for the rounded corners. And it's less expensive than the Orvis. The basket is made by Danish fly angler Lars Matthiesen whose ins and outs can be read in the blog Larsmatthiessen's Weblog, where you can also see lots of pictures of the product and read stories about its use and Lars' adventures home and abroad.
This is a radically different approach the the line basket concept percieved by Danish rod builder Bjarne Fries. In stead of a basket, we're dealing with a flat piece of half moon shaped plastic, which has soft spikes mounted on the top. You simply drape a coil of line over the spikes now and then, and this keeps the loose line off the water or ground. It's different than the baskets, but for someone like me who don't like the limitations of the closed baskets, it's much easier and more convenient to use, and I certainly appreciate the compact and ingenious construction of this gizmo.
This is an old collapsible basket that I bought many years ago. It is fairly flat and wide, and allows for a bit more movement while stripping. It's fully open, and allows water to come in from the bottom when wading deep, but of course also lets it out right away.
The basket is made from a nylon mesh and can collapse completely.
In order to keep it open, you mount a strip of stiff plastic along the rim. This strip can be removed for easier storage and transportation of the basket.
I like the compact shape and the fairly large opening in the basket as well as its ability to pack away.
I haven't seen this particular model for years, but baskets like this are widely available, like Charlie's Total Control Fly Fishing Stripping Basket (whadda name!), which I tried to get a hold of for this article, but in vain. William Joseph has an almost similar basket, found on their accessories page as does Loon Outdoors, LL Bean and many other fly fishing gear suppliers.
The bucket, which I have tried, is from Sea Level FlyFishing and is a very simple cylinder with a nice finish. It's heavy in the bottom and rubber footed so that it stands steady and doesn't slip. It's not cheap with a tag of 170 USD for the largest model. You can get several sizes.
An alternative is Pleskunas Design's LMD (Line Management Device). This bucket seems to be very equal to the above both with regards to design and price.
A hybrid between a bucket and a basket is Stan Peskunas' Hip Shooter Stripping Basket, which is a plastic bucket that can collapse and is worn at the hip as the name implies.
If you want to go cheap on the bucket style stripping basket, you might consider visiting your local garden center. Online shops also have them: collapsible gardening baskets meant to collect leaves and newly cut grass. Equip one with a heavy bottom, maybe some rubber to keep it from slipping and you have a stripping bucket in the 20 USD range.
There are other ways of controlling the line.
One of my personal favorites is renown Swedish pike angler Sören Essebo's towel hook glued to the jacket. Yes, a simple plastic hook and some glue and you have a place to drape your line while stripping. Similar contraptions have been seen in the commercial trade, but this is simply brilliant - and inexpensive. I once owned a small clip, which was supposed to go on a wading belt or a jacket, and had a spring mounted under slight tension. As you stripped, you stuck the line into the partly open coils in the spring. The idea was good, but it didn't really work. In the end I lost it. It simply slipped off and disappeared into the water...
Flytubez is another alternative angle on the loose line problem. These are simply loose spikes, which can be screwed into an existing basket or mounted on a mat. Drop the mat in the bottom of a boat, and you just let the line fall on the spikes to keep it from tangling. The company has a product called Stripmat, which is a flexible, non-skidding mat with spikes mounted.
The natural alternative for the ones not easily persuaded to use too much gear, is to keep the loose coils of line in the mouth.