I promised in an earlier post that I wouldn't preach about the need for a personal flotation device (PFD), saving it for another post another day.
This is that post.
Before you click away, I'm not looking to convert you. If you don't wear a PFD already, nothing I say will convince you to wear one. (Shame, for shame!).
Instead, I'm interested in talking to the beginners. I'm talking to the anglers just starting to fly fish from a kayak, the ones without the bad habits like fishing without a PFD. If your buddies are giving you grief about wearing a PFD and you need some ammunition at your disposal for wearing one, then this post is for you.
You won't even notice that you're wearing one
I agree that a bad PFD gets in the way of fly fishing, doesn't match your cool fishing outfit, and makes you look like a newb. I wouldn't wear those either.
With the recent explosion of paddling and kayak fishing, companies have started creating more and more options for anglers that out-perform and look good at the same time. The better your PFD fits, the less you'll even realize that you're wearing one.
My favorite PFD, when I'm not expecting to get wet in any way, is an inflatable PFD like the one from Mustang Survival in the photo at the top of the page. (prototype shown). When I'm expecting to get hit with surf or paddling near rapids and there's a chance I'll go for a swim, I opt for an Extrasport Striper PFD, because of the storage. Also because it's the one I've had for years.
There are plenty of newer options for you to choose from, but before you order online, go into a paddle shop and try one on. Actually, try on a few. If your local shop is having a demo day, try one you like on the water with a paddle in your hand to get a feel for a more accurate on the water test. Anglers tend to want a PFD with a high-back design that doesn't get in the way of the lawn chair style seats now typical of fishing kayak designs.
Everyone is doing it these days
When I was a kid, I didn't wear a helmet. Some of you reading this post are probably surprised by that fact. Sadly, I gave in to the pressure of looking cool, even while launching my BMX bike across dirt jumps and over wooden ramps. I'm alive, but some of those falls really hurt.
There's a tendency to feel the same way about a PFD when you're first starting to fish from a kayak. You see those cool fly fishing videos of anglers in the Keys wearing board shorts and a wicking long sleeve, but nothing else. You want to do the same. I'm going to tell you that you'll stand out as the oddball in the kayak fly fishing world, because here we all wear our PFDs. Mostly.
There are some anglers that will say otherwise, of course, but the vast majority of anglers that I've ever fished with, and I used to travel the country fishing with these anglers, always wear their PFD – every time they hit the water. It's become so ubiquitous that I almost didn't write this post, as it's so rare for me to see an angler not wearing a PFD.
Still, I wanted to let anyone wavering know that it's alright to wear your PFD. You're one of the cool kids if you wear it. We're all doing it now.
It's the most important piece of gear for catching fish in a kayak
For fly anglers starting to fish from a kayak, I find the PFD sell is much easier. After years of fishing with a heavy fly fishing vest loaded with 147 pockets and pouches for everything they've ever thought they might need, a slim and lightweight PFD is a no-brainer.
Gear anglers for some reason, likely used to fishing on motorboats like those guys in the Florida Keys without a PFD for years, they're a tougher sell. I've also spent time fishing with anglers on the bass pro circuit, and I see them constantly running back and forth from the bow of their boat back to the console to snip a knot, then run back to the bow to cast again. It blows my mind. It takes me all of a half-second to trim a tag end, because my line cutters are literally attached to my chest – not even a finger's length away.
Your PFD can also match your style of fishing. I typically carry more gear when I'm fishing freshwater, so I'll opt for a bulkier life vest with more storage pockets for extra leader, flies, and a few snacks. When I'm stalking the saltwater flats, it's all about minimalism, so I'll have a pair of hemostats and a pair of line cutters attached, but nothing else. When your PFD not only fits well, but is also aligned with the exact way that you fish, you start to move a little faster without needing to run back to your kayak for a simple piece of gear.
If you're still not convinced you need a PFD...
"But I fish in really hot climates!" "But it doesn't look cool!" "But I'm a really, really good swimmer!" "But I disagree with wearing a PFD on a philosophical because I believe everything happens for a reason and if I'm supposed to sink to the bottom of the ocean because of the evolutionary design of all human beings then so be it!"
Listen, I'm not going to yell at you for not wearing a PFD. No one is going to yell at you. Except maybe your mom. We will be worried about you though, because anything could happen on the water and this simple, effective solution could one day save your life.
Plus, when you put yourself in danger, the burden on keeping you save then falls to your buddies paddling beside you. If they have to save your sinking, lifeless body just because your PFD didn't match your shirt that day, they may not invite you out as much.
You may have the best excuse ever imagined for not wearing your PFD. Your mom still doesn't care. Wear your life jacket.
Wear your PFD every time you hit the water
If you've made it to the end of this post, it's time to take a breather. Watch a fishing video.
Once you've collected yourself, it's time to make a decision whether or not you'll decide to be safer on the water and wear your PFD each time you paddle out. If you've been fishing for a while and have already made up your mind, then do what you want.
If you've just started to fly fish from a kayak and don't have any of those bad habits, ignore anyone that says you don't need to wear a PFD. Nowadays everyone is wearing a PFD, it's an invaluable tool for kayak fly fishing, and most importantly, it will keep you safe so you can keep hitting the water year after after.
Learn more skills and tactics for catching fish from a kayak in my recent book, Kayak Fly Fishing: Everything You Need to Know to Start Catching Fish.