[Note: some links in this article are affiliate links. This does not add any cost to the buyer, but if you purchase a product through the link, I will make a small commission.]
Discovering new tools and gear hacks is one of the many enjoyable parts of fly fishing. It’s easy to get sucked into the wall of gadgets at most fly shops and think “I definitely need that” about everything you see. It’s also hard to resist the constant stream of new waders, rods, reels, and fly packs being released every year.
Unfortunately, these things can add up quickly and end up being pretty expensive. While getting a new rod each year would certainly be fun, sometimes it’s the little things that actually make the biggest difference on the water. The more comfortable, convenient, and fun your fishing is, the more likely you are to stay out on the water. And staying out longer usually means more fish.
Instead of breaking the bank on a new rod or fly pack, check out my favorite tools for under $30 that are well worth the money.
1. Glasses retainer – $6-10
I’ve seen one too many pairs of sunglasses fall to their death in a rushing river. And, even though I’ve never lost a pair this way, I’ve scratched my fair share of lenses by tipping them off my head into a pile of rocks. The solution? A glasses retainer.
This simple tool gives you both peace of mind and convenience while you fish. First and foremost, you don’t have to worry about accidentally dropping your glasses into the river, never to be seen again. If they slip off your face or head, they won’t make it farther than your chest.
Glasses retainers also provide the convenience of being able to quickly take off glasses without having to worry about where to put them. I’ve had fish splash water onto my lenses, and instead of having to wipe them down or find a spot for them, I can just pull them off and let them dangle from my neck until my hands are free.
Most importantly, they come in all sorts of colors and patterns, which is obviously the most important part of all fishing tools. There are several brands to choose from. Two of the main ones are Croakies and Chums.
2. Tippet rings – $6-12
If you haven’t yet discovered the magic of tippet rings, you should check them out. Although tippet rings have been around for a while, I don’t know many people who use them. If you’ve never heard of them, tippet rings are just tiny metal rings that allow you to use leaders and tippet more efficiently.
Instead of using blood or surgeon’s knots to connect progressively thicker lines together to rebuild a leader, you can use standard line-to-fly knots to connect tippet to leader via the tippet ring. Orvis has a helpful video showing how to use the rings. There are several advantages to using this method:
1. Fewer knots – The first clear benefit to this method is that you don’t need to tie lots of knots to rebuild a leader. Two improved clinch knots are all that’s required. This is obviously a time-saver, but can also be a fish saver. The fewer knots there are in your line, the fewer knots that can potentially give out while fighting a fish.
2. Save money – I’m sure we can all agree that tapered leaders seem unnecessarily expensive, especially if you buy them frequently. Tippet rings effectively solve this problem. They can make a leader last almost indefinitely. Instead of replacing the whole leader when it gets old or broken, just replace the tippet at the end. The butt section above the tippet ring should be thick enough to not break. New tippet essentially creates a new leader.
3. Your line can get down faster – If you’re trying to get nymphs down in the water column, tippet rings can come in handy. The thinner the line in the water, the less drag there is. Being able to go straight to thin tippet without the taper will reduce drag and get your nymphs down faster.
4. Quick-change tippet – Tippet rings also let you change tippet quickly. If your tippet gets a knot, a nick, or just needs to be switched for a different size, you can change it out quickly with a single knot. No more rebuilding to get the perfect taper.
Rio sells a set of Tippet Rings that come on a handy swivel, but there are other brands too if you want to shop around.
3. Magnetic net retractor – $10-30
One product I debated for a while was a net retractor. Once I got one, I never looked back. I went through several net-carrying methods before landing on a magnetic retractor. These included tucking it in my pack’s waist belt and using a carabiner to clip it to my waders or pack. Neither suited what I was looking for.
Now, I use a retractor to clip my net to my waders. It hangs on my back and stays out of the current and away from my line. I can grab it quickly and can return it to its home by reaching back and finding the magnet.
You can put the retractor wherever you want. I find the waders to be super convenient, but I also see people put them on their sling or chest packs frequently. This is one of those tools that gets used nearly every time I fish, and it’s well worth the money.
4. OnX Maps – $29.99/year
Possibly my favorite gadget on the list is OnX Maps. I can’t say enough good things about this tool for both fishermen and other outdoors enthusiasts.
Designed for hunters, their mobile app is useful for anyone who spends time on public lands. For $29.99, you can get access to any state you choose (you can also pay $99.99 to get all 50 states). The app shows detailed maps of public and private land boundaries, as well as trail info, road info, wildfires, and tons of other layers.
Maps and GPS can be used offline, so you don’t need cell phone service to view information or see your current location. You can view topo, satellite, and hybrid maps, and also save waypoints in the field or at home.
While there are a ton of uses for OnX, by far my favorite is the ability to see the boundaries between public and private land. I hate having to worry about whether I’m accidentally trespassing while fishing, and this app takes all the guesswork out of the equation.
5. Foam pad – $4-20
There are a ton of different options for foam pads out there. The majority are not any better or worse than any others in terms of quality, just personal preference. Having a small one on the outside of your pack can be extremely convenient, especially on days that require a lot of fly changes.
The inside of my pack often looks like a war zone, with the remains of discarded rigs scattered through all compartments. Hooks in fabric, bird nests of tippet, and loose split shots are all frequently found where they shouldn’t be.
Getting a clip-on foam pad on the outside of the pack can be a lifesaver. Not only does it give you a place to quickly put flies after changing out, but many also have ridges or slots to help you keep full rigs intact and organized. I find this especially useful for storing nymph rigs that may have 2-3 flies and split shot, which I don’t want to have to retie if I choose to switch back later.
There are a ton of options for these out there, and the one you choose will probably be based more on personal preference than quality. At the end of the day, it’s a piece of foam, so just find one that’s set up how you like. Umpqua makes a Fly Badge with a magnetic area if you like that style, but there are plenty of simpler designs as well.
6. Sunset Amnesia line – $6-8
Many fly lines and leaders these days come with loops already build in to the ends. However, I still often come across those that don’t, and they can be a hassle. If you have a loopless line on your hands and aren’t a fan of frequent nail knots (who is?) for attaching leader to fly line, consider getting yourself some Amnesia line.
This visible monofilament is great for rigging your loopless lines into looped lines. Although not exactly a “permanent” fix to having a loopless line (it can easily be removed), I’ve never had an Amnesia segment give out or need to be replaced. All of mine have lasted as long as the fly line they were attached to.
To add a loop to a fly line, just attach a few inches of Amnesia line to the end with a nail knot and tie a perfection loop in the other end of it. For looped leaders, you can just do a loop-to-loop connection with the Amnesia perfection loop. For non-looped leaders, just tie them to the loop with a clinch knot.
The bright colors also make it easy to see where your fly line connects to your leader, which can be hard to see with certain fly lines. My 5wt sink-tip line has a dark brown tip, which makes it extremely hard to differentiate from the leader sometimes. A little piece of bright Amnesia fixes the problem.
7. Burton Beeracuda – $25
The Burton Beeracuda is a staple in the quiver of any fly fisherman, skier, or hiker who enjoys having cold beverages available throughout the day. Made of a soft-shell cooler material, it keeps drinks cool for hours and holds up to five beers inside. You wear it like a sling on your back, and this positions a koozie on your chest to hold a sixth beer.
I always like taking a drink out with me on the water to enjoy (I like to celebrate my first fish of the day by cracking it open). The problem is, I often end up stuffing it in the front of my waders, where I immediately forget about it. Then I bend over, and it promptly spills into my waders and down my legs. The Beeracuda solves that, and provides enough space for both me and whoever I’m with.
If you’re not a beer drinker but still want to know if you can use it, it can be used to hold water bottles and (the big hack) is also the perfect size and shape for storing a sub. If I don’t have anyone else to carry for, I can throw 2-3 beers and a footlong sub in it, and have a perfectly chilled lunch on hand.
8. Zippo Hand Warmer – $14
The Zippo Hand Warmer is a recent discovery, that I’ve actually only used for hunting so far. But it was a game-changer, and I can’t wait to take it on the water.
I used to use the standard hand warmers that come in little mesh baggies, and while they work just fine, they take quite a while to heat up and leave you with two useless baggies afterward. They also seem to lose their effectiveness over time, and I’ve had older ones just not heat up at all.
The Zippo Hand Warmer is a refillable warmer that burns slowly over the course of several hours using fuel, so you aren’t left with the corpses of hand warmers past in your pocket. Based on my own experience, I also think this one is warmer than the disposable ones (it comes with a little sack to insulate it if it gets too hot for your taste).
This hand warmer is perfect for lined wader pockets on cold days. It heats up quickly, so you can even wait until you feel yourself getting cold to light it. That way you don’t waste its burn while you’re still warm. Like I said, I have only used it for hunting so far, but I can’t wait to use it on the water. It seems like the perfect cold-day fishing companion.
Have any favorite affordable tools that belong on this list? Let me know!