A Guides Advice On All The River Fishing Gear You Need
There is a lot of river fishing gear that you can choose from and it can be overwhelming with all the choices available. As a river guide, my clients often ask me about the fishing gear that I use and recommend, so here it is, my list of all the fishing gear you will need for river fishing.
Using the right river fishing gear can improve your success on the rivers. The gear that I recommend is guide tested and used by thousands of anglers. When it comes to gear for river fishing you will need rods and reels, lines, waders, jackets, vests, nets, and all the river fishing tools.
If I recommend any river fishing gear you can be sure that I have used it or that I know other guides or anglers that have both tested it and proven that it’s a good product.
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Actual Testing Of River Fishing Gear: Done Yearly
What makes a product a good product is that it needs to do the job it was intended to do and it needs to do it well. It also needs to be durable, competitively priced, and come from a company that stands behind its products and has good customer service.
The last thing you want is to buy a pair of waders that leak on your third trip and then you need to deal with a company that doesn’t want to help you out.
Rods For River Fishing
Rods are a part of river fishing gear that all anglers should know about. When river fishing you can use fly rods, spinning rods, bait cast rods, or float rods.
The rod you use will depend on the type of fishing that you want to do.
Fly Fishing Rods
If you like fly fishing you are going to need a good fly rod. I discuss fly rod sizes and the best types of fly rods and I provide my recommendations of the fly rods to consider buying on my Fly Fishing Gear: Everything You Need To Fly Fish page.
For a general-purpose fly rod for trout, I recommend a 9 foot 5 weight fly rod like the 9 foot 5 weight Orvis Clearwater Fly Rod. I actually just picked 3 of these to test out this years version.
See more recommended fly rods.
Spinning Rods For River Fishing
Spinning rods are great trout rods for lure fishing, float fishing, and bottom bouncing.
For really small rivers less than 10 feet wide with smaller trout, I suggest a 5 or 6-foot ultralight spinning rod like the 5 foot ultralight St.Croix Premier trout rod.
For bigger rivers over 15 feet wide and with bigger trout, a rod in the 7 to 10-foot range is good for lure fishing, float fishing, and bottom bouncing. I prefer a longer rod like the 8.5″ St.Croix Premier Trout Rod for a good all-purpose trout rod.
For big rivers and big trout and steelhead, I like 10 to 13-foot rods like the 10-foot med-light G. Loomis E6X Steelhead Spinning Rod at FishUSA.com – HERE.
For float fishing for steelhead, a good 12 to 14-foot rod works great. Some angler Centerpin reels for float fishing for steelhead. If float fishing or Centerpin fishing is your thing, you can also check out my 5 Best Float Rods page.
Some anglers will also use baitcasting rods and reels on larger faster rivers when float fishing but I’m not a fan for that purpose and think a Centerpin is best.
Reels For River Fishing
Fishing reels are a big part of your essential fishing gear and there are four types of reels that I would recommend for river fishing.
The reel you choose will depend on your preference of the method that you want to use. You could have multiple reels if you want to use multiple methods.
You will need to match up your reel to the size of the rod, the size of the river, and the size of the fish you will be fishing for.
Some anglers like to fly fish and this means using fly reels which you can see my recommendation at that link.
If spin fishing is your thing you will need a good spinning reel. I use spinning reels for trout, steelhead, and salmon. For my recommendations on spinning reels check out my page 4 Best Spinning Reels For River Fishing.
Centerpin fishing for steelhead, salmon, and trout in medium to large rivers has become very popular with river anglers. I teach a lot of new Centerpin anglers every year. Centerpin fishing requires a special reel called a Centerpin reel. Check out my page on the 5 Best Centerpin Reels Of 2021.
Some anglers like to use baitcasting reels which are also known as casting reels for throwing lures and for using bait. I do like these reels for very big and heavy lures but I prefer and spinning reel for smaller lighter lures.
Waders For River Fishing
I practically live in waders for over 220 days a year.
I also provide waders for my clients and my students that need them so I know all about waders, and I consider them an important part of your fishing gear.
The best waders are called breathable stocking foot waders. They are lightweight and comfortable.
Let me just say that waders leak. Maybe not this week or this year but if you wear them long enough they will eventually wear out and leak.
A pair of $400 to $600 waders will usually last me about 2 years, but I’m on the water more in 2 years than most anglers are in 10 years which is why I say a good pair of waders should last you about 10 years and that really depends on how much you use them.
A pair of cheap no-name brand wader that you might find on amazon and being recommended by other websites might only last you a year or two so I never recommend them.
There are a bunch of good brands so stick with reputable brands like SIMMS, Patagonia, Orvis, or for inexpensive waders the Frogg Toggs brand is good.
My Top 3 Wader Recommendations
- SIMMS G3 Guide Waders are worn by many pro guides and many hardcore rivers anglers because they are the best and they last. You can check the price or buy them at Trident Fly Fishing.com. Another great but less expensive wader is the SIMMS Men’s Freestone Stockingfoot Chest Waders.
- For other good mid-priced waders check out the Orvis Men’s Clearwater Stockingfoot Chest Waders at FishUSA.com
- For inexpensive waders that get good reviews check out the Redington Crosswater Waders – Check Price.
- Alternative Discount Waders – Frogg Toggs Men’s Hellbender II Stockingfoot Chest Waders at Bass Pro Shops – HERE or check the price at Amazon – HERE
Waders For Women
If you are a female or if you need waders for the wife or girlfriend, check out the Orvis Women’s Clearwater Stockingfoot Chest Waders at Trident Fishing – HERE or check out the Simm Freestone Womens Waders, or if you want the best waders for women, then check out the Simms G3 Womens Waders.
Best Youth Waders
It’s a great idea to get your kids out on the water fishing, but it’s not always easy finding waders for them. And, I have found that the kids don’t like the cheap clunk and heavy waders.
Try these waders instead:
My 3 Winter Wader Recommendations
- Best Overall – SIMMS G3 Bootfoot Wader – Check Price.
- Best Value – Frogg Toggs Steelheader Bootfoot Waders – Best Value Boot-Foot Waders – These get good reviews and are the best breathable winter waders under $200.00. Check the price at Amazon.com.
- Economy – Cabela’s Classic Series II Neoprene Boot-Foot Waders – I tested these waders for one season and they are the best choice for anglers on a budget- You can check the price at Bass Pro Shops.
You can see all recommendations for keeping yourself as warm as possible when fishing in cold weather and when wading in cold water, including my favorite base layer apparel for wicking moisture off your body and it’s all on my Fishing In The Winter – Stay Warm With These 10 Tips page.
Wading Boots For River Fishing
Part of the reason that I don’t wear boot foot waders is that I believe that stocking foot waders paired with a good wading boot is much better for ankle support and traction, and they are more comfortable.
Good wading boots are an important part of your fishing gear if you want the safest footwear.
For a guy like me that has to lead or help other anglers across fast-flowing rivers, I need all the traction and support I can get.
I have been a big fan of the Korkers brand wading boots for a long time simply because they allow me to quickly change the soles on the bottom to suit my needs. I also like the SIMMS and I am now wearing ORVIS wading boots.
Keep in mind the regulations for your area or areas that you might travel to since some areas are now banning the use of felt.
For slippery rocks in the river, I believe that felt provides the best grip but in snow, the snow can pack up on the bottom of your boots which can make walking dangerous.
The rubber tread boots are good in most conditions and if you add studs to both the felt and the rubber that can also really improve your grip on the rocks.
For icy banks and paths, large studded soles are a great option but they do not feel comfortable when walking on rocks.
The downside to metal studs on your boots is that they will make more noise on the rocks and that could spook very cautious trout. These are reasons why I like the Korkers boots and the option to change my soles for the many different rivers that I fish and guide on.
The wading boots that I’ve been wearing for the last three years are the Korkers Devils Canyon Wading Boots. I am on my second and I really Like these boots.
These have been solid and durable wading boots for me and they are lightweight. I bought these boats with the studded felt sole and the studded OmniTrax rubber. You can buy these and other soles separately at Trident Fly Shop.
Other great boots to consider are:
These Korkers Buckskin Wading Boots are the ones that I lend to my clients when they need boots for a guide trip. These have been good and durable boots for the last few years and are still going strong.
I just saw them on sale at Trident Fly Shop, but they usually sell for about $150.00.
If you want a boot that has serious ankle support, I tested out the Korkers Darkhorse boot, and I’ve never used a wading boot that was so solid and felt so firm.
These boots are a bit heavier than other models but not by much, and they offer serious ankle support and stability on the rocks.
Best Wading Jackets For River Fishing
Wading Jackets are an important part of your fishing gear because they will keep you warm and dry in wet weather and will have good storage for your fishing gear.
You want to look for a jacket that is waterproof, breathable, lightweight, and has lots of storage pockets.
A good wading jacket will also have functionality like hooks for your fishing net and other tools.
Most wading jackets will be short on the bottom so that you can wade deeper without your jacket being submerged. Your wading jacket should also blend in well with your background.
GUIDES CHOICE: I’m currently using the Simms G3 Jacket and have been in this jacket for about 4 years. It’s the best wading jacket I have ever owned. You can get this wading jacket at tackle and fly shops that sell river fishing.
If you are the type of angler that wants the best of the best then one step up from the Simm G3 is the Simms G4 PRO Wading Jacket.
BEST MID-RANGE JACKET: If the high-end Simms G3 Guide Jacket is out of your budget or beyond your needs the Simms Freestone Wading Jacket is an excellent choice.
A good alternative and one I have been testing out now is the Orvis Clearwater Wading Jacket.
Other great wading jackets are:
BEST UNDER $150.00 – If you are looking for an economy jacket under $150 dollars you should consider the Frogg Toggs jacket. I wore one for 2 years of hard guiding and I liked it.
The Frogg Toggs Pilot III Wading Jacket gets great reviews.
If you are on a tight budget and want a decent wading jacket under $100, check out the FROGG TOGGS MEN’S CASCADE SPORTSMAN’S WADING JACKET.
HONORABLE MENTION: The Orvis Pro Wading Jacket is one of the best wading jackets on the market. Many anglers in my area wear this wading jacket including friends and some local guides.
You can get this wading jacket at Orvis Clear Water Wading Jacket
GUIDE TIP: Wading jackets are not normally insulated so they can be worn in hot or cold weather. You will need to layer in the colder months and I discuss my layering system to keep me warm on my page Fishing In The Winter – Stay Warm With These 10 Tips
The Best Vests And Packs
As river anglers, we don’t carry around tackle boxes to store our gear.
Instead, river anglers and guides will pack all our small river gear in a waist, hip, or sling pack like the one you see in the picture or we use a vest.
There are three brands that I recommend for packs and vests.
Orvis, Simms, and Fishpond have been making some of the best packs and vests for a long time and it seems like 90% of the anglers around the area use these brands.
I personally wear a hip pack like the one in the picture because I carry enough gear in my pack for ten guys and that means that my pack can be really heavy at times.
Because of that, I find that if I put all that river gear into a chest pack or a sling pack or a vest, it weighs down on my shoulders and my lower back and they start to ache after a long day on the river.
The hip packs can be easily pulled to the front for easy access and then pushed to the side or around the back to get out of the way.
When I owned my tackle shop I tried out about 12 packs to see which ones I liked the most. I found that some chest packs got in my way when casting and some blocked my view of the path near my feet which is dangerous, and because the chest packs were so high up on my chest I found it awkward finding stuff in them.
I like to oversize my hip pack so I like the bigger ones. It’s easier to get your hands in them and easier to get your tools and boxes in and out of a bigger pack. I like packs that open up wider too, it just makes access to what you need easier.
A good pack will also be waterproof or water-resistant so it keeps all your gear inside dry when it’s pouring rain out.
Warning: Fishing packs may not be your best choice if you have a really big gut. Just being honest here, but, some chest packs sit on the lower chest and the upper belly and that may not work for you. Anglers with big guts report problems when using packs because access or fit can be a problem.
For big gut guys, some hip packs can also sit below your gut, and therefore your gut may obstruct your view making finding gear difficult so this type of pack may not be a good option for you. A good sling pack might be the better option, but your best bet is to consider getting a good vest if you have a big gut.
GUIDES CHOICE: This is a great pack that is water-resistant but not waterproof and has a mesh water bottle or thermos holder. This Simms Freestone Hip Pack is almost identical to the one that I wear now and I suspect I will be replacing my old pack with this one very soon. It’s a big pack with lots of room and has a double zipper for easier access than most packs.
GREAT CHOICE: The FISHPOND Thunderhead Submersible Pack is one of the best packs on the market.
I like this one because it is big and it is waterproof which is great for those times when you get stuck in the rain or get too deep in the water. Save all your flies and gear with waterproof packs.
BEST BY FISHPOND: The fishpond packs are very popular and this is FishPonds biggest pack. The Fishpond PRO Waterdance Guide Pack for you guys that need more storage and features, or the Fishpond Waterdance Guide pack which still holds a ton of gear and is worth the $100.00 price tag.
MORE ON PACKS:
I reviewed 21 fishing vests and break down the advantages and disadvantages of each style of fishing pack. Get Updates on new packs that have recently become available and get the lowdown on the best waterproof packs, best hip packs, best sling packs, and the best chest packs all on my page Best Fly Fishing Packs.
Fishing Vests For All Your River Fishing Gear
I started using a fishing vest over 35 years ago and to be honest, I like them better than a pack. I find that they organize and spread out your gear better than a pack.
The disadvantage and the only reason that I don’t use a fishing vest anymore is that with all the equipment that I carry as a guide, it was so heavy that it hurt my shoulders and my back at the end of the day.
The waist packs are much easier on your back and shoulders but I find packs sometimes harder to access and keep your gear organized.
BEST LIGHTWEIGHT AND COOLEST VEST – The Fishpond Men’s Sagebrush Pro Mesh Vest is a great vest for year-round fishing but it excels during the hot days of the summer because most of the rear of the pack is made of mesh.
You can check out all the features and prices at the link below.
If you are looking for a cheaper option, the Fishpond Flint Hills Fly Fishing Vest is very similar but it’s under $100.00
Best Economy Vest – If you want a basic vest under $40.00, the White River Fly Shop Aventur1 Mesh Fly Fishing Vest is a good choice and is backed by good reviews. You can check it out at Bass Pro Shops – HERE
Be sure to check out our pages on the 21 Best Fishing Vests for river anglers.
Hats For River Fishing
A real river hat will protect your neck, ears, and face from too much sun exposure but there is one more big advantage to wearing a hat on the river.
For me, the primary reason I wear a hat is that it keeps the sun out of my eyes and that allows me to read the water better and enables me to see things that my clients without hats can’t see well.
For me as a guide and for you as an angler, this is really important and is why I always wear a hat when fishing.
Baseball caps are good for keeping the sun out of your eyes but they are not so good for covering and protecting your ears and neck from the sun.
The best hats for river fishing are the Cowboy style hats or Tilly hats as seen in the picture above. These hats cut out more sun for seeing into the water and for sun protection.
For a good fishing hat, check out this Airflo Tilly hat for river anglers which you can get at Bass Pro Shops.
Also, check out the Simms Bug-Stopper mesh hat for keeping those mosquitos off you.
I get asked about my clip-on magnifiers all the time. They make tying small tippets and small flies much easier.
If you have problems tying very small flies onto very small tippets and you do not want to always reach into a pocket to grab glasses, this is a great option.
I use the Orvis Flip Focals which you can get at Amazon HERE. I think to avoid problems it’s important to get good magnifiers.
The issue with these types of magnifiers that anglers sometimes complain about is getting clear vision out of both lenses.
Some of the cheaper magnifiers are not durable and may not work as well as other better versions. The pair that I’m wearing in the picture above are over 10 years old and still work great.
If you find that one eye is blurry and the other is perfect, your magnifiers are not aligned properly on your hat. You may need to move them closer or further and from side to side until you get a clear view from both eyes.
I’m also not opposed to going with a very strong magnifier strength.
Polarized Glasses Are Essential River Fishing Gear
Polarized glasses cut the glare on the water and help you see the fish, the structure, the snags, holes or pockets, the river bottom, as well as things you could trip on when crossing the river, and they will also help you see your floats or flies better.
I couldn’t guide or fish as well without my fishing glasses which I why I would consider them to be an essential part of your fly fishing gear.
Not only that but they protect your eyes from the sun and from stray hooks.
I prefer glasses like the ones on my hat which are tight wrap-around style glasses that block out more light. Blocking out more light allows me to see deeper into the water to see all those fish holding spots and more. A combination of the glasses and a good hat is a must-have on the river.
I wear darker grey lenses during high bright sun and prefer the brown or amber lenses during low light times.
Higher-end glasses like the Oakley Fuel Cell Polarized Sunglasses will work better than cheaper glasses.
I highly recommend polarized glasses. I buy most of my fishing glasses from Bass Pro Shops.
Hooded Sun Shirts
A good sun shirt should have a hood, be lightweight, and be SPF50 or more. It should be thin enough that a light breeze will go through it to keep you cool and it should blend into the background.
The AFTCO Hooded Performance Long-Sleeve Shirt was designed by a pro angler for anglers. You can check out this fishing sun shirt and some others at Bass Pro Shop – HERE.
The Columbia Terminal Deflector Zero Long-Sleeve Hoodie is designed for summer fishing and has the added thumbholes to keep the tops of your hands covered. This shirt doesn’t come in green color but the blue blend into the sky and the tan color is not bad either. You can also get it at Cabelas.
BUG SHIRT – Something else to consider and also similar to the sun shirt is the Simms Men’s BugStopper Hoody that I like when the bugs are out in full force in the springtime.
Gaiters And Buffs
Face and neck protection has become popular with river anglers. Call them buffs, face guards, or gaiters they are all basically the same.
This Fish Monkey Flare Performance Face Guard from Bass Pro Shops is a ventilated mouth gaiter. The vented mouth prevents your breath from fogging up sunglasses and just makes it more comfortable to breathe. Not an essential part of river fishing equipment but still nice to have.
Sun Gloves and Winter Gloves
I prefer sun gloves over sunblock because sunblock can make my hands slippery when holding and casting my fishing rod.
I also believe the smell of sunblock on your hands can get onto your flies or bait and that can prevent fish from biting.
If you want to try sun gloves consider these Buff Aqua+ Glove Fishing Gloves from Bass Pro Shops
Winter gloves are an essential part of your fishing gear in cold weather. Some winter gloves suck for fishing because they make fishing very difficult. You want to get good gloves that are designed for winter fishing.
If you want to know which gloves I use and recommend for winter fishing check out my page called Fishing In The Winter – Stay Warm With These 10 Tips.
Be sure to check out all my recommend winter and summer fishing gloves in the article, The 19 Best Fishing Gloves That Guides Use.
A good wading staff is something you should consider if you are not very stable on your feet or if crossing faster rivers are hard for you. It’s amazing how much extra support and balance and good fold-up wading staff can provide.
The best wading staffs are over $100.00 but they are lightweight, packable, and won’t break on you halfway across the river.
For a less expensive wading staff under $50.00 consider the Hareline Wading Staff.
Simms Wading Staff Retractor
The Simms Wading Staff Retractor is a great way to keep your wading staff secure and ready. This retractor connects to both your wading staff strap and the sheath with three feet of extremely strong retractable braided Spectra cable. It extends up to 3 feet.
Or check out this alternative – Fits most staffs: Gear Keeper RT4 Wading Staff Tether
Simms Wading Staff Rubber Tip
The one thing I hate about most wading staff is the noise they make on the rocks and the potential to spook the fish.
The Simms Wading Staff Rubber Tip grips between rocks and crevasse and is quieter in the water than the standard aluminum tip. I recommend rubber tips to all my clients.
I am a big fan of wading nets and I think every river angler should have one. They are an essential part of your river fishing equipment.
A good wading net will be lightweight, small enough to carry on you but big enough to land big fish.
I have an entire page on the best nets for river fishing. Check out 5 Best Trout Nets And A Guides Advice On How To Attach Them
GUIDED CHOICE – The trout net I use the most when trout fishing is the Frabill 13″ x 19″ trout net which will handle trout up to 28 inches.
When I’m fishing and guiding for steelhead I use the Frabill 17″ x 25″ Steelhead / Salmon net. You can both of these nets at Bass Pro Shops for less than $40.00.
You may not think of forceps as an essential piece of gear until you get your first 7-inch trout with a hook really deep and your big pliers won’t fit in its mouth.
Forceps are cheap and easy to use so get some, you will need them. I prefer forceps with scissors built-in like the Orvis Scissor Forceps because I can and will use them to cut tippets, leaders, and even to trim off excess material from my flies.
Nippers simply cut your line. Some nippers are crap while others are sharper and better. Check out this $15 dollar Montana Fly Company River Steel Wide Body Tungsten Carbide Nippers or the Simms Pro Knippers.
Retractors and Zingers
Retractors or zingers as some anglers call them are either spring-type cords like the SIMMS Retractor in the picture or they can be a retractable wire that goes in and out of small housing. The purpose of then is to secure your small tools like nippers and forceps onto the outside of your jacket, vest, or pack.
They are a good tool to add to your river fishing equipment.
I prefer the spring version because they seem to hold up better than the wire ones.
If you are fishing for summer trout and the water gets over 68F the trout will often stop biting.
Many guys would just keep fishing and would likely catch nothing, but if they checked the water temps and then moved to colder water they would likely catch more fish.
A stream thermometer should be a part of your fishing gear.
The stream thermometer in the picture is mine and is very accurate. You can get it at Bass Pro Shop HERE.
If you want a higher-end stream thermometer, check out the Orvis Stream Thermometer.
As the name implies, the tippet holder simply holds and organizes your tippets better than just putting them all in your pocket. The tippet holder goes on the outside of your vest o pack which makes grabbing your next piece of tippet easy. This is a nice little tool to add to your gear.
The Rio Headgate Tippet Holder is a good choice.
Baits, Lures, Hooks, Weights, Swivels, Floats
You need terminal tackle and baits. The terminal tackle is the small stuff that goes on your line like the weights, swivels, snaps, hooks, floats, and indicators.
Weights – with all bait fishing methods, and with some fly fishing you are going to need some weights on the line to get your bait or your fly down to the fish. I use and recommend a weight called a split shot for most methods, but not all weights are good for river fishing and I discuss the best weights and why at best weights for river fishing.
HOOKS FOR RIVER FISHING – The right hook can make or break your day of fishing. Many anglers use the wrong hooks and then wonder why they can’t catch and fish. For my favorite hooks, when I use them, and which hooks work best with different baits click the link.
FLOATS FOR RIVER FISHING – Bobbers are also known as floats, but they are not necessarily the same. In river fishing the correct term is actually a float or float fishing, not bobber and bobber fishing. Even the companies that make river bobbers call them floats.
There are bobbers made for lakes and then there are floats made for river fishing. Lake bobbers generally do not work well in river fishing and if you use them, they will make it tougher to catch river fish.
River floats, can and will help you catch more trout if you use them properly. If you want to learn how to catch more trout with floats, and which floats are the best, click the link.
Swivels For River Fishing
I like the Raven Micro Swivels for trout and steelhead fishing. You can get them at FishUSA.com -HERE
I discuss how to set up your leaders for float fishing on my page Leaders For Steelhead and Trout.
River Fishing Gear For Fly Fishing
If you are a fly fishing angler and you want to know all the gear I recommend for fly fishing I have a page just for you. I discuss the best rods, reels, lines, the best leaders and tippets, and all the essential tools and fly boxes. Click the link to check it out.
Keeping Up To Date On Gear
Every year I will be testing and reviewing the latest and greatest fishing ger so check back and see what is new. You can also follow us on Social media, see the links for that below.
Got A Question About River Fishing Gear
If I missed something or you have a question or even some advice about some river fishing gear that you use and like, let me and other readers know in the comment section below.