Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, loves a few things. One of them is surfing. Another is fishing. You can see this in Patagonia’s product line – they make a lot of great outdoors gear; they also make wetsuits and waders. Patagonia’s waders are top rated. But, until recently, you had to go elsewhere if you wanted everything else you needed to catch fish.
In the Spring of last year, Patagonia introduced the Simple Fly Fishing Kit. It’s simple because it channels the days of youth, when fishing was nothing more than a stick, line, and hook. It’s simple because it eschews the cost of putting together an entire fly outfit and the peer pressure to get the better rod, the more expensive reel. There is no need to upgrade or reconfigure.
The Patagonia Simple Fly Fishing Kit arrives in two pieces – a box that contains the line, leader, flies, quick-start guide, and the gorgeously produced book, Simple Fly Fishing: Techniques for Tenkara and Rod & Reel. The rod comes in a separate sleeve with two spare tip sections.
Have we mentioned tenkara yet? To be honest, we avoided it intentionally for a couple of reasons. Having fished both western and tenkara styles, we think the Simple Fly Fishing Kit is more geared toward a complete novice who has never fly fished before or a western fly fisherman looking to simplify. A tenkara fisherman may not take to the Simple Fly Fishing Kit for reasons we’ll describe below.
The Soft Hackle rod is the soul of the Simple Fly Fishing Kit. Our kit came with the 10’6″ rod. It is also available with a 8’6″ or 11’6″ rod. The rod is made by Temple Fork Outfitters, a rod company out of Dallas, Texas, that also makes western fly rods and spinning rods. The Soft Hackle rods are manufactured in Korea.
Patagonia’s Soft Hackle rod consists of nine sections and extends from its collapsed length of 20″ out to an actual length of 10’7″. (Rods can vary in length, but we like when they’re close to the advertised length.) Rather than the traditional red lillian – the small line glued to the tip of the rod – Patagonia selected a neon green. It attaches directly to the rod tip without a micro-swivel and is neatly glued so that the tip section can be withdrawn through the eighth section for cleaning and drying. The handle section and first two sections are painted a faux bamboo with Patagonia’s trout logo and some lettering. The remaining sections leave the carbon fiber bare. We don’t like rods that have shiny paint jobs. They can reflect sunlight into the stream and spook the fish. It’s called rod flash. The matte finish on Patagonia’s rod makes rod flash less likely.
The 10’6″ rod we’ve been using for the last few months is a stiff rod. Tenkara rods have historically been rated on a ratio scale, with softer rods rated 5:5 and stiffer rods rated up to 8:2. We like Teton Tenkara’s scale, which involves measuring flex with a consistent weight on the end of the rod, better than the ratio scale. Patagonia’s rod is as stiff as they come, easily resting in the 8:2 category. If you’re still reading and not stuck giggling about how rods have stiffness ratings, we’ll move on…
How does this stiffness affect fishing with the rod? It allows it to handle big fish with ease. A stiffer rod provides more control over a running fish – we found that no fish in our local mountain streams challenged the rod’s backbone. It also requires a heavier line – the rod won’t load with light lines. This is where we diverge from traditional tenkara. Tenkara fisherman generally try to use the lightest lines they can for more delicate presentations and less line sag while the fly is in the water. Patagonia goes the opposite direction. Which brings us to a unique aspect of the Simple Fly Fishing Kit: Patagonia’s proprietary line.
Patagonia enlisted Cortland, a leading fishing line manufacturer, to develop a line specifically for this kit. Tenkara lines traditionally come in two flavors – furled and level. Furled lines are twisted from multiple, very thin filaments (or from horse hair). Level lines are usually flourocarbon lines and come in weights of 2.5-4.0, higher being heavier. Patagonia instead created a floating line with a monofilament core and PVC coating, more like a western fly line. We find that it weighs somewhere in the neighborhood or slightly north of a 4.0 level line. Patagonia’s line is a sort of seafoam green color. We found that this created some visibility problems in a lot of different light conditions. Tenkara-style fishing generally depends on using both sight and feel to observe strikes. If you can’t see the line, you can’t see a strike. But, the Soft Hackle rod casts the line beautifully and allows for fabulous presentations. The rod and line are matched well. Patagonia provides 40′ of line and expects you to cut one 20′ section for general fishing, a 12′ section for nymphing, and an 8′ section to extend either of the other sections. We were able to fish the 8′ extension on the 20′ line and cast the entire line easily. Casting 28′ of level line, on the other hand, can be tough.
The kit includes a 7.5′ 3x tapered mono leader. This inclusion leans more toward western style. Patagonia recommends using the line, leader, and your favorite tippet. We found the leader to be redundant. After giving it a try, we ditched it and tied tippet directly to the line. It didn’t change casting feel or productivity.
Patagonia also includes a dozen soft-hackle flies tied on #12 hooks. The box includes three each of the following patterns: Mormon Girl, Pheasant Tail, Peacock, and Hare’s Ear. We found them to be well tied, but couldn’t track down the origin of the flies. These are all popular patterns that western fly fishermen use all over. We had good luck with them in appropriate situations and lost them with just as much frequency as our store-bought and home-tied flies.
The quick-start guide provides both the novice and the transitioning western fisherman with important information like correct knots and setup instructions. It’s easy to read and follow.
The jewel of the entire kit is the included book. Written by Yvon Chouinard, Craig Matthews, and Mauro Mazzo, Simple Fly Fishing – Techniques for Tenkara and Rod & Reel is a beautiful primer for the novice or a gorgeous reminder for the more experienced fisherman. Accompanied by gorgeous photos and paintings by James Prosek, the book’s sections cover trout and what they eat, wetflies, nymphs, and dryflies, and fishing situations. Images include examples of the most popular flies in each of the mentioned categories, knots, casting techniques. Covering everything in the book is a post in and of itself, but we’ve included a few images to entice you. Even if you don’t buy the entire kit, you can get the book at bookstores or on Amazon.
Our overall impression? The Patagonia Simple Fly Fishing Kit is a great way for a new fisherman to get into fly fishing and for an experienced western fly fisherman to try something new. It’s always nice to get everything you need to get started in a new sport in one package at a reasonable price. The kit is not cheap at an MSRP of $299, but it is comprehensive and saves someone not familiar with tenkara-style fishing the hassle of putting together their own kit from scratch. Could you save some money buying a cheap rod and sourcing lines, flies, and other essentials online? Probably. But you wouldn’t end up with a kit as nice as Patagonia’s. You wouldn’t know where to start with flies (ask your local shop!). You wouldn’t know what line works best with the rod you selected. Patagonia takes all the guesswork out of it.
Once you’ve experienced tenkara-style fishing and decide to expand your quiver of rods, you may look outside of Patagonia’s offerings. We haven’t tried their shorter and longer rods, but we expect them to be similarly stiff. As variety is the spice of life, you may want to try a softer rod or a longer rod. But, the point is that you don’t have to. Patagonia provides everything you need to go fishing in multiple environments – from overgrown stream with the 8’6″ rod to wider, faster rivers with the 11’6″.
There are other kits out there that put a rod, line, and flies in your hand in a package deal. None were designed as an integrated system like the Simple Fly Fishing Kit. None come with the gorgeous book Patagonia includes. And, for the most part, they are cheaper, Chinese rods that won’t have the feel of the Soft Hackle rod.
Bottom line: Buy the Patagonia Simple Fly Fishing Kit if you’re a novice in the world of fishing or a western fly fisherman looking to try something new. You won’t be disappointed. If you enjoy fishing, at least buy the book. And, whatever you do, go fishing.