Whither the Vest?

Two_vests.jpgNot long ago, while attending a bachelor party on the White River in Arkansas, I saw something I haven’t seen in quite a while: a fishing vest. Now I know the fishing vest is far from dead; it remains a stalwart of tackle companies’ sales. But the vest has definitely reduced its presence from the heady days of the 1990s, when a fisherman’s vest defined him as a fisherman.
Remember when you could tell just by looking whether a guy was a gear hound (ex: Orvis Battenkill Pro Guide–enough capacity for a traveling circus), a minimalist (ex: Patagonia Mesh Master Vest–see through/sweat through) or a techie (Simms Guide Vest–a place for every bangle, made of sacrificed Apollo astronaut suits*).
Nowadays, especially with the under-40 crowd, you just don’t see that many vests. Hip packs, backpacks, chestpack/backpack combos – these have replaced the vest entirely on some water and are increasingly becoming the norm. I myself have two quality vests hanging in a closet that I never use.
What are the reasons for this transition? Have anglers all become minimalists to some degree? Or is it just that the last aftershocks of The Movie (which defined a fly fisherman’s ensemble as nothing else ever has or will) have finally worked themselves out?
* Ok, I can’t back that up.
Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section: we’ll conduct an informal poll and see how many of us are still vest wearers-and why those who wear them still cling to tradition. In a later post I’ll use your feedback to evaluate the best vests on the market.

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  • Robert Morselli

    You could view it as one or the other – or both. I think that vests are nearly irreplaceable. Over the years, they’ve been modified & developed to the point that they’re close to being fishing essentials – unless you’re working a familiar stretch of water where you know there won’t be any need for 8 flyboxes, 6 tippet spools, hemo, etc… a place where you can comfortably get away with far less stuff – stuffed in a tiny chest-pack.

  • Jeffrey Petersen

    I’m in that “under 40” crowd and ditched the vest for a Fishpond Blue River pack worn sling style a few seasons back.
    I was certainly attracted to the simplicity it forced, especially when hiking off the beaten path a ways. But the real selling point was the freedom of movement and casting motion it afforded. I noticed myself developing some bad habits (like my casting elbow getting further and further from my body) to accomodate the protruding boxes.
    The one thing I really miss is a place for a rain jacket (but not enough to go back to a vest).

  • bp

    My “holds everything” Filson Guide Vest is still hanging where I can quickly reach it, but these days it is more of a “stores anything” that I raid to fill my little Filson waist pack. It seems I mostly fish with waist high waders these days, so a fanny pack, worn backwards, makes the most sense and keeps my arms free. On a big trip, the vest will go, but if it’s less than an hour from home I just take the waist pack. It’s lighter and easier. No fashion statement intended.

  • Michael Wisniewski

    I have actually give up up my vest and pack. I wear a lanyard and stuff my flybox in a pocket or have attached it to the inside of my waders. I like the freedom thst this affords. Also I have a bad back and am trying to lessen the load. It has become a bit of a game — how little can I carry and still catch fish.

  • don beideman

    Apparently, at the ripe old age of 47 I have been a trend/fashion-setter for the past 10 years or so. Since then, it’s been lightweight waist-highs and a compact Orvis chestpack. The only downside is that my Flask is stored in my back pants pocket and not always (and often) within easy reach!
    I use my old chest-high waders for club stream improvement projects and float-stocking and have donated my old vest to a kid in the neighborhood.
    As for my fishing buddies, they carry so much gear in and on their vests that they sound like an approaching chuck-wagon.

  • Jim Jenkins

    Depending on circumstances I use a vest, waist pack, chest pack or nothing at all.
    For warm weather fishing in Ohio’s warm water streams and lakes a waist pack is the way to go. Nothing covering my chest or back to maximize cooling and zero impediment to casting motion.
    Cold weather steelhead fishing I like my canvas vest. It holds a lot of the stuff I may need during an excursion where being outfitted with materails for a wide range of tactics and methods is important. Also, the canvas vest acts as a first windproof layer over my core and is loose enough to be layered over insulating and waterproof layers without squeezing out insulating airspaces.
    For Florida I love my Patagonia Double Haul pack with the fly compartment wearable as either a waist or chest pack and a big water bladder in the back part.
    And finally, for drive by fishing when I roll out of the truck streamside for a quarter hour fishing I’ll put a small fly box, tippet spool and nippers in shirt pockets and go at it.

  • Roy Dorman Jr

    I personally don’t think that the packs are smaller. I like them because they are more easily accessed. You don’t have to reach up or down or around for something. With the packs everything you need is right in front of you. Also the ones with the back pack generally have a hydration bladder which is very convient on all day fishing trips. I fall in the under 40 category.

  • Kevin

    Haven’t used a vest for years. Fanny pack is all I need and lately I’ve even been ditching my fly rod for a tenkara rod. Ultra light is the deal, man. Makes me part of nature. not just a gear fumbling visitor.

  • Evan!

    I’ve never used a vest. I carried a bag when I was a spin fisherman and have continued to do so as a fly fisherman. I also wear a lanyard and on days where I leave the car in the morning and don’t come back till dark I wear a backpack with a water bladder.

  • Mike

    I’m under 40 and i love the vest!

  • cole shirvell

    How many fisherman die by drowning? I have lost two friends this way. My vest inflates. I cross and recross many strong streams, sometimes in deep water, often in remote loactions, by myself. Sure, I get tired of the weight when I am packing into a distant location. So far I have always made it to the other side, and I still have necessary fly fishing stuff in the pockets when I get there.

  • AspenTroutman

    I’m under 30, and I still wear my vest most of the time. If I’m going out for an hour or two slingin’ dries, I’ll just take a small box and a spool or two… However, conditions change. Maybe I want my streamer box with me too, floatant, weights and have a place to attach my net. I understand the trend to the hip and chest packs, it makes sense. The biggest concern for me is; most of the guys I see with hip/chest packs don’t have their nets with them anymore…which I feel can impact the fish more than necessary. I almost never touch a fish on release.

  • Steve Root

    Two reasons I don’t very often use a vest. One, I’m a warm water guy and fish out of a boat. A simple vest isn’t very compatible with a life jacket. A combination vest with an inflatable bladder would be very handy! Secondly, summers are short up here. A vest just doesn’t protect you from the wind and rain like a good wading jacket.

  • Brian

    Oh, the vest’s popularity may be waning but it will be back, for sure.
    Fishing trends go in cycles. Right now I’m seeing a small resurgence in that which predated the vest – the shoulder bag.
    In a few years all those young studs who skipped right past the vest stage of life and moved straight into technical fanny packs and chest packs will spot an old fart like me, standing mid-river with a vest on and having a glorious time just being on the water, and they’ll say to themselves, “Hey, that looks like a really good idea. Why haven’t I tried that (a vest, that is)?”
    The vest is too good an idea, and too closely tied up with our fishing obsession, to go away.
    Besides, if it was good enough for Lee Wulff it’s good enough for me!

  • jim hunter

    I’m way over 40, and haven’t used a vest in years. Today’s fishing shirts and wading jackets have enough pockets, zinger loops etc. to obsolete the vest. I carry what my garments can’t in a small Simms waist pack, and on a lanyard. I still own several vests which hang, forlorn, next to the fishing bench. I have no intention of using them again. Sorry.

  • Gary la Grange

    I am a South African fly-fisher. I fish mostly rivers for indigenous species. I love my vest , a Colombia Mesh Vest. It is a sensible design , suited to my purposes. But I recently got a Simms waist-pack , and boy , do I love it. I use it on the boat , and when stalking the banks.
    But the vest still comes out when I do deep wading.
    But I am also trying to cut down on what I carry on the river these days. I ahte casting with elbows smashing into over-stuffed pockets.
    And I am in the just/barely over 40 category..:)

  • Ed – England

    Hi, can’t comment for everyone on this side of the pond but fair to say that where I fish on the South coast, there has been a definite reduction in vests over the last 5 years and a move towards bags/ more technical back or chest packs.

  • Mike Ormsby

    Well I’m in the over 40 crowd….and still use a vest….have used the fanny packs and even tried a shoulder bag….they definitely have their place and even advantages over vest…..maybe it’s the sense of a security blanket or just what you’re used to….but I keep coming back to my Patagonis vest

  • Ron Higgins

    I have been fly fishing for over 45 years, and have always worn a vest (in fact, my first vest was homemade by my mother). I now have two vests, one loaded for trout and one for warmwater fish. I tried a chest pack and didn’t like it because it was in the way when I was casting and more so when I was stripping in line. I do have a fanny pack for saltwater wading, but for stream fishing and walking the banks of a lake I always have a vest on. I guess because I am so used to wearing it, it never feels uncomfortable. Also, I always have my nippers, forceps, and tippet spools very handy. And when I want to go to a nearby lake for warmwater fishing, all I have to grab are my vest, my rod/reel case, and my hat.