Published Oct 6. 2010 - 13 years ago
Updated or edited Jul 3. 2016

How to look good

Appearance and behavior are two very important aspects of fly fishing. Act or look the wrong way, and fellow anglers will immediately judge you as an amateur. This first chapter of two will teach you what to wear and carry.

In the group
Meeting - When you meet people by the water, you want to make a good first impression. Gear is important--like wearing a suit and a tie to a business meeting.
Don't fall through
Martin Joergensen

Read this article and learn the secret code of the brotherhood of fly fishers and gain immediate respect and envy from people, who would never before even turn their head in your direction.
This is the first part of two, and it tells you what clothes and gear you need to own and wear in order not to be laughed off the water. The second part will teach you how to behave - from putting on your waders and gearing up to stepping into the water.
The article has no advise on fishing or any other such irrelevant matters. Everybody knows that your fishing has no influence on the respect you earn from your fellow fishermen.

Style is everything!


You want to look snazzy and modern - or at least contemporary - so the clothes, waders and gear you wear on the outside has to be in order. Let's start from the bottom with the boots:

Boots are loose and must look modern and high tech. Felt is out and any kind of material with the word stealth in its name is in. You father's leather wading boots or some cheap Chinese canvas-model will not do the job! And let me repeat: we are of course talking loose boots. Waders with permanently attached boots look cheap (and most are) and signal Wal-Mart or what's worse.

Sweater, neck warmer, cap - Knitted sweater, check. Fancy fleece neck warmer, check. Exotic designer cap, check. Approved!
Discrete but expensive. - Looks like nothing, costs a fortune. That's what we're looking for.
Dresscode is crucial
Martin Joergensen

Waders are breathable. There are no other options! Neoprene is for hillbillies, plastic is for kids. Real anglers wear breathable waders with many layers of expensive space age materials treated with laser, nanotech and voodoo. And waders are tan or dull olive. Not brown, not gray, certainly not blue and--God forbid--not camouflage!

Under your waders you have high tech synthetic clothing. You might use some kind of modern wool, which is as good if not better and clearly signals "thinking and discerning angler", but high end synthetics and brand name fleece will do. You do not wear cotton! And you do not, like in never, ever, ever, wear jeans! Jeans under waders equals standing on the bank yelling "I'm a dumb beginner!" up and down the stream.

On your upper body you wear fleece. Preferably some odd but respected (and outrageously expensive) mountaineering brand. Fishing brands can do in a pinch. No-name products may work as well, but only poor and unable people buy no-name fleece. If you want to wear a shirt, make sure it's a brand that all your fellow anglers will recognize from glossy catalogs with lots of pictures of palms, blue water and permit or tarpon. Any other shirt will reveal your blue collar background and worst of all are plat cotton lumberjack-shirts. Don't go there!

If you wear a vest, it's gotta be a short construction with lots of neat pockets, mesh, D-rings and straps that you have no idea what to use for. Do not get tempted to fill them all or hang something from all attachment options. On one hand you want to signal that you know what Fuller's earth, Amadou, CDC-oil and Mucelin is, but on the other hand you do not want to look like a Christmas tree.

Fly box - Fly boxes contain rows of identical flies, end of story!
Price tag - To the real hardcore angler there is no such thing as an intimidating price tag. This translates to 1200 US$ and shouldn't cause you to even lift an eyebrow.
Simple and expensive
Martin Joergensen

Have few and well tuned fly boxes. One thing that will impress any angler is a box with a ton of similar patterns. Opening a box with hundreds of almost identical dries or rows and rows of shrimp patterns made in the exact same mold, will strike awe with any passer-by who asks you what you are fishing.
You always keep the simple bead head nymphs and colorful streamers that you really fish with in a small ziplock bag or film canister in a hidden pocket.

If you have a fly pad on the vest, make sure to stick a few flies in there - mostly dries of course, even if you fish nymphs or streamers all the time. And small ones. Sizes 14-16-18.
If they look too dry and unused, simply use spit to make them look used. And stick a Chernobyl Ant, a large foam hopper or some other odd fly in there just for good measure and to strike conversation. If you don't fish streams, transform this to salmon flies (small black doubles and a single large gaudy tube fly), saltwater flies (a few small tan shrimps and a large colorful baitfish pattern). Any seasoned angler looking at that collection will immediately recognize a fellow angler, who knows what he's doing.

And a jacket. If you wear a jacket, make sure it's simple but expensive and made for fly fishing. Short with two large chest pockets, side pockets for you hands and not much more. Some expensive and exotic, but recognizable, brand isn't bad, but the top of the line fishing brands will do.
Practical jackets of any other kind are a big no-no: skiing jackets, hunter's jackets not to mention different types of marketing gifts with oil company logos stitched on them. Simply say no!
And jackets are dull olive! End of story. Tan can work in a tight spot, but blue, green, red, orange or any multi-color scheme is out of the question. And camouflage? Don't even ask...
And just for good measure: you wear the jacket on the outside of the waders. Never inside. Never!

Gloves...? Well, we just don't wear them. We freeze with dignity. Or stay home.

A scarf or something else to protect your neck is OK. Something trendy like a Lebanese Arafat scarf or your old scout scarf will do. But even better is a Buff or a similar contraption, which shows that you are on the beat. Everyone will assume that you have it because you usually use it when you are protecting your face from the blistering sun while chasing permit in the Ascension Bay. If you have no idea what a Buff is, tell no one and just buy one on the first possible occasion.

The problem with fashion - Once one person wears a sixpence, so does everybody else. And that orange jacket is a misunderstanding!
Martin Joergensen

A hat or a cap is a must. But don't wear a cowboy hat unless you are from Texas or Australia, in which case you are excused. The rest of us wear a basball-style cap in a dull color and maybe with a logo, a fish or some other marking. If it's really cold, you are allowed to don a beanie type of hood or maybe your buff rolled up to a head band. Chinese style worker's caps or trucker style caps have won some hearts lately, but don't be tempted. The classical 6-pane baseball cap is the safest bet. And if you want a stitched logo, make it one of rare origin. You own web site, some exclusive fishing club or just a nice fish. Big brand logos are for the ones who have to buy their fishing identity in shops, and nothing for the rest of us.
And please don't try too hard: sixpences, berets and other alternative head gear may look cool in the mirror in the shop, but fashion statements have no place on the stream!

Now that is of course the approved uniform, but if you want to signal the extra level of experience and knowledge, you can consider a special pair of sunglasses (like those for glacier use), or a particular knitted sweater (like a mountaineering one with wind stopper) a bowler hat or something else that really stands out.

One rod is no rod - Two is much better!
Two section rods... - ...are per definition split cane rods.
Rods for two - Just enough rods to keep two anglers going for a day.
Abel reel - Luckily companies like Abel make reels that stand out. Get the special paint jobs, and you will not have to mingle with the crowd.
Rod tube - Stuffed with expensive four section rods, of course.
Martin Joergensen


Your fishing gear is of course the best of the best. Brands is the keyword here. And if you don't buy the expensive well known brands it's only because you buy something even more expensive, rare, custom made, hand crafted and very unique.
A safe bet is of course just going for big brands like Sage, Loomis, Winston, Abel, Waterworks and manufacturers along that line. That will not make heads turn, but certainly earn you some discrete, acknowledging nods when you meet people who know their gear catalogs.
And needless to say that you have more than you need. Way more. One rod is no rod. Two rods are better but four rods means that you really have everything under control. And a reel and a line for each, please. No embarrassing changing of reels not to mention the highly inappropriate change of line on a reel waterside. Simply dig into your reel bag and get out the reel with the appropriate line.

And speaking of... reel bag. Of course you have a reel bag! Because you have so many reels that they need their own bag. In the bag department you will need:

  • a reel bag - as mentioned above.
  • a waders bag - a nice waterproof one made specifically for wet waders and boots.
  • a large gear bag for clothes and assorted gear.
  • photo bag, because you of course have as much photo gear as you have fishing gear.

Add to that a set of rod tubes or one large rod tube for your rods - which are all four-piece or more. The only rods, which break down into only two pieces are split cane rods of which you of course own a couple for chalk stream use.
Needless to say that all the bags are brand name bags. You might consider adding a daypack to carry with you on short hikes, but make sure to fill it with high tech gear like fancy drinking bottles, a futuristic thermos for your Kenyan mountain coffee, the best trail mix and power bars money can buy and a lunch pack that looks like it was made by a molecular gatronomer from a Michelin restaurant.
No name bags are of course forbidden and plastic bags are plain sacrilegious.

Thusly equipped you are ready to go fishing!

But don't take too lightly on the of handling these items.

The next article

in this series will tell you how to get into these clothes and gear up in a manner that will make you look like a world champion.

You get judged by the shirt - So make sure it's the right shirt.
Must haves - Your bags should be stuffed with accessories like this.
Must haves
Martin Joergensen


This is hilarious......

This is hilarious...

Martin Joergensen's picture

Dear anonymous, D...

Dear anonymous,

Dumbest comment I have ever come across. You obviously didn't get the point of the article, which is exactly the opposite of what it says: it doesn't matter a bit how you look!

Irony, you know? Joking by saying the opposite of what you really mean. And I even stamped the article with a "This is a joke" stamp so that even you up here in the Northwest could get the idea.

Well, I didn't succeed, did I?

Happy New Year


PS: I have been to the Northwest (in several countries actually, even though I guess that you refer to the only real Northwest, namely the one in the US), and it's not true that 99% don't give a rats @#$ about looks. A lot of you people fishing in the Northwest do look like sh*t, but my estimate is that the number is more like 47.8 percent. A lot of your fellow local fly fishers actually look quite decent, and do care a bit about looks.

PPS: Next time you criticize something, be a man and stand behind it with your name. That's also good style.

Dumbest article I've...

Dumbest article I've ever come across. 99% of us up here in the Northwest could give a rats @#$ about looks, we are out to catch big fish

Jajaja. Great articl...

Jajaja. Great article and great view of the whole thing Martin!!!
Is very funny. One thing; I will never ever ever wear a "plastic" shirt as first layer in contact with my skin, it sucks! ...the antibacterial and bla bla bla...doesn't work, the production of stinkness is terrible, nothing better than a good long sleeves cotton shirt as first layer and then yes...wear 95 layers of whatever you want.....onion style :)

Martin, Good Gawd...


Good Gawd man! Have you gone completely nuts? Where is the minimalist Martin? You know THE one who had a website before Globalflyfisher and it was in beautiful black & white web site? ...quite elegant, minimalist and SO NON-Conformist.

Sad to say I have left my "Acquisition" stage of fly fishing and am now scaling back to the few bare esentials in the highest quality I can find. You know, hand made stuff that you have to wait for. The young bucks probably never heard of my rod, frown upon my use of silk fly line and leaders, and Fye my chest fly box. They most likely feel sorry for that stodgy older guy on the river but HEY!

If they think they can out-gear me, bring it gents!! I got as closet full of stuff I collected over the past 40 years...yeah, you guys will recoginize the names (Sage, Winston, Abel, Hardy, Kusse (uh, who?), Ross, 444 Peach (uh, that old line??), Filson, Patagonia, Korkers, you get the picture).

I think what Martin is ACTUALLY trying to do with this article is make anyone who follows the article's advice look like "That Guy" on the stream. I ain't that guy.

Fun article for sure Martin!

You forget one piece...

You forget one piece of very essential equipment: The Beard. A not some nicely trimmed, beard, mind you... Oh no, it has to be a long, untamed, train-hoppng-hobo-scraggly-Grizzly-Adams-and-Unibomber--love-child beard. Something that says, "I guide in Alaska." Goatees? Never. Might as well throw on the camo waders in that scenario.

Martin Joergensen's picture

Sam, Thanks for y...


Thanks for your comment... and once again I'm surprised that any one can be in doubt... this is for fun!

It must be my mediocre writing skills that leave people in doubt. I may have to make some kind of stamp or declaration in the beginning of these articles to emphasize that this is pure irony... quite a lot of readers seem to be in doubt.

Luckily some did get it the first time around, so I must have done something almost right.


This sound to me lik...

This sound to me like a sour grapes article intended for those Walmart loyalty card holders who either a) cannot afford the best (of very good) gear, intended to make themselves feel better, or b) "grunge is cool" or "jeans with holes" crowd pleaser... either way, if it's a joke then "ha ha ha..." if on the other hand it's a dig then @$%@# ya'll.

bottom line.... if I can afford the best, then I'ma get it and who cares what you think!

Great article... bu...

Great article... but you forgot one thing - AGE.
Please don't step into my river unless you are a least 60 - I have earned the right to be here - young punk.
I may stand here all day and cast a size 28 midge and catch nothing, but don't come here and catch MY fish using that fancy schmancy new technique called nymphing - that's not flyfishing. It's borderline snagging...


Very nice article wi...

Very nice article with humour !

I'm glad to read thi...

I'm glad to read this!! Everytime I'm at the river and see all the "d- bags" in thier outdoor outfitters gear it makes me laugh.... Vests, boots, baskets the most expensive rod and reel they could find etc. Looking like you stepped out of a bass pro shop ad is just plain sad. I was at the river this summer in AZ it was about 110 out. I was fishing in surf shorts and flops waste deep with a small box of flys in my shorts pocket. The "real" trout fisherman were ready for the runway,... looking at me like "what is this guy doing here!". I have a Garcia flymax that I got from a swapmeet for 10 bucks and a Pflueger Medalist reel that I paid 5 bucks for at a thrift store. I pulled fish out all day, while they caught 1 or 2 here or there. If you need to stay warm hell yes get some warm gear... But don't be that guy with the look of fishing... Because it doesnt help you get fish.... Or even make you "cool". I'm not going to lie though, at least you'll fit in at most rivers.

Very clever and very...

Very clever and very funny. Thank you for the laughter.

anselmo's picture

Martin There's one...

There's one other thing to add to the list:
a strong back to carry all these things

Minnie Pearl got the...

Minnie Pearl got the idea for leaving the price tag on her hat when she accompanied a particularly stylish group of fly fishers on a tailwater fly fishing expedition in Arkansas.

Oh what a naughty ar...

Oh what a naughty article but!
If I wear my ex Uk military sweater, a German green felt hat with wide brim, sunnies and rubber thigh waders I don't get arrested for creeping along river banks in a suspicious manner because of my snow white hair and shuffling gait, fly rod and antique landing net, capacious shoulder bag of food, drink and assorted tackle but I am assured of a free ride home from our friendly police force especially after dark. Who wants to be the best dressed idiot? Not I.

I'm so glad this art...

I'm so glad this article is tongue-in-cheek (it is isn't it?) because no one who I know who has fished the local streams and lakes here in Northern Ont for the past decades. would be caught dead with these metrosexual angler trappings. Local fishing culture holds that gear and tackle whores are generally pampered newbies who release a good catch because they have a poached salmon dinner (provided by some real fisherman) waiting at some 5 star lodge dining room. Live to fish, fish to live - look like you mean it or be laughed off the stream by the locals..

I am so happy that c...

I am so happy that crowded beaches at the baltic are emptying immediately when I arrive because I still wear neoprene in winter and....good god, drink beer of the can they sell it in at the filling station.
Like fishing 20 years ago, but without wearing the rubber Oceans' anymore. Just perfect!

Today no doubt the n...

Today no doubt the new equipment allows us to fish in comfort, something that did not exist a few years ago. But I think there is a wild market that influences our choices and tastes, sometimes unnecessarily, causing a loss of personality styles in regional or local. In response to this there are some particular styles of each place in the world fly fishing struggling to maintain this regional personality. See the article I wrote on a blog from Brazil (In Portuguese, ed.).

Regards, Eduardo

As once said in the ...

As once said in the TV show Top Gear about people harassing them (look it up on YuoTube - xtremely funny/scary) after writing "I'm Gay" and "Nascar sucks" onto their cars driving through the Southern USA : "Those people seems to have a irony deficiency.."
This seems to be the case with some flyfishermen as well ;)

Martin Joergensen's picture

Rick, I wear Simm...


I wear Simms, Patagonia and other brand name products on occasion and feel no worse for doing so. Of course the big manufacturers generally make some excellent products, and you are definitely not a bad angler just because you wear them. But one of my messages is: wearing the best and owning the best does not make you the best.

Again: this is meant as a joke, and I sincerely hope it's received as such.


Does it make a a bad...

Does it make a a bad person or a bad fisherman if I do wear the stuff mentioned in the article? I've been doing this fly fishing stuff for 25-30 years. Started out with crap gear. As my salary increased, my gear got better and pricier. You get what you pay for--mostly. Just because one might like the fleece and the name brand gear doesn't, necessarily, make one a snob or elitist. It just makes one discerning. Nothing wrong with that.

Kalby64's picture

Good one Martin, lau...

Good one Martin, laughed til my sides hurt, I guess I will have to leave my cardboard box full of my fishing stuff at home in April. Wouldn't want to embarrass myself or anyone else in the group.

Great article Martin...

Great article Martin,

I had a good laugh :) That said, I find it a good idea to have another setup of rod/reel/line available if an accident would happen.

Looking forward to the next chapter and wearing neoprene waders until it gets warmer ;)

Martin Joergensen's picture

Folks, Just for t...


Just for the sake of not being judged as a complete dork! This is tongue-in-cheek, OK? And very much so! In reality I'm a no-brand man myself, and actually own very few brand name products, act like an average numbnut when I prepare for fishing and altogether don't adhere to (or endorse) any of the behavior that I mention in the article above--except for a few small tips, which *can* make your fishing life easier.

If that isn't clear from the above, it's only because of my poor writing skills, and it will only get worse when I publish the next chapter...


Agree With Mike,clot...

Agree With Mike,clothes,fahion, & the price of equipment don't make the fly-person,seen a lot of people with the high end gear & not caught or impressed any thing,but cheap gear is'nt good either,the problem with low ball gear is A:Does'nt last B:does'nt allow the new person to realy find the love of sport C:Puts a lot of the mom & pop fly shops out of buisness,if your going into ths sport go right or go home.

Hi Martin, I have h...

Hi Martin,
I have heard stories that there is a tendency amongst some New Zealand locals to fish with less than trendy gear. They take great pride in catching trout with the oldest, tackiest and crappiest gear they can find and do very well too I am told. They focus on the fishing rather than the peripherals like rods, reels and brands. A fly fishing counter culture for the disenchanted. Call it "Punk Fly Fishing" if you will. Now, where are my safety pins?
Regards Jason.

Martin Joergensen's picture

Jason, Reality is...


Reality is harsh, isn't it?

I have met many anglers in my time who looked like *beep* and outfished me severely!

I recall one guy that I met on the coast a few years back: neoprenes, a red jacket, a rod consisting of sections from two different rods (true!) and a trucker cap in severe need for an oil change...

I thought little of him--actually felt a little sorry for him--until later when I met him on the beach carrying two nice, bright sea trout, which he had kept out of the eight that he had hooked. Needless to say that I hadn't had a single tug--in spite of being dressed and equipped like a combination of a men's fashion magazine and a brand name catalog!

So it goes...


Nice one Martin. I k...

Nice one Martin. I know a few fashion tragics who do tend to out fish the rest of us... but look so bad doing it.

:-D Very cool ar...


Very cool article!

Grab your drab, and ...

Grab your drab, and your impossibly expensive gear... there's a trout to catch! :)

Glenn Parkin's picture

good one Martin, are...

good one Martin, are we getting a little stir crazy :). Personally myself I always went to the river to fish not a fashion show. :) Hope spring gets here

Style is everything!...

Style is everything! Style is everything! Style is everything! :-)))

Martin Joergensen's picture

Mike, I can only ...


I can only agree that patina is essential. I have met anglers who will add dirt to jackets, waders and even cork handles on new rods before using them for the first time! This only supports my thesis: style is everything!


Having lots of gear ...

Having lots of gear and/or wearing cool clothes, in my book doesn't quality anyone to be a fly fisher. Check the recent Sports Illustrated swimsuit model casting flies in BC. Can't cast, can't hold a rod but looks damn good. Flyfisher? Not even close.

"Patina" is the term to strive for. Well, worn, broken in and aged. Dido for that fly box. One that is too organized is one that is not fished with. Boots should be muddy, grip on the rod-dirty, dings in the reel, cap that looks run over, now you are getting close.

The "LL Orvis" ( a combo of LL Bean and Orvis) doesn't impress me much, just means you know which end of the magnetic strip to use on the Amex gold card. All those pretty boxes with paint are way too nice for the river.

Sort of like the kid in school with new jeans or new shoes. They generally got a boatload of crap about that.

Thank you Martin. It takes a...

Thank you Martin. It takes a lot to make me laugh these days, but you managed it.


Thoroughly enjoyable article and—as a beginner flyfisher of three, loooong/pricey years—I can say that you are perceptively accurate in the fickle philosophies that drive all things consumerist in American, flyfishing gear and apparel in particular. But ain’t life grand? Anyone can play. Wear your father’s hand-me-down gear! You’ll stick out from those less endowed but probably fish better if only for the genetic urges and fate that put a rod in his hand, originally, too. If you can afford to dress head-to-toe Simm’s, you won’t likely fish as well but you’ll be the cool kid that you might not have been in youth. It’s just a great sport, regardless, and I wish that I’d read this article before flailing around with various retail staffs’ notion of “necessity@. Martin’s second article in this series is even better.


Details are critical. A discreetly displayed $120.00 line clipper is a compulsory accessory, discreetly displayed but brightly enameled so it does not escape notice altogether.


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