On many warm summer weekends you can find me out one of my favorite lakes, casting flies for trout.  I particularly enjoy the long casts and relaxed pace of cast and retrieve angling with either floating or intermediate lines, searching likely parts of the lake with a damsel or Callibaetis nymph.

In my experience there are really only two things that can ruin the calm that I find in this type of fishing.  The first is a grab from a nice trout, but you will never hear me complain about that!  The second is a tangled mess of fly line clogging up my stripping guide during a cast.

Fortunately, I’ve found a simple, inexpensive piece of gear that solves this annoying problem while offering some additional benefits.  What is this piece of gear?

The Five Gallon Bucket.

Yes, that kind of five gallon bucket.  The kind that drywall mud, or paint, or an completely excessive volume of mayonnaise might come in.  The kind that you can find for $2 or $3 at your local hardware store or for $0.25 at a neighbor’s garage sale.

Here is how it works.  Get yourself a five gallon bucket and bring it with you in the boat next time you go out on the lake.  When you get situated and anchored up and ready to fish, scoop up some lake water in the bucket – enough to cover the whole bottom to a depth of ¾ of an inch or so.  Make your cast, and instead of retrieving the line onto the boat deck like you normally do, retrieve it into the bucket.  When you make your next cast, you’ll notice a couple of things:

  1. The fly line shoots without tangling thanks to the magical properties of water and surface tension, and because the wind or motion of the boat was not able to move the loose coils of fly line around and create interwoven loops of line.
  2. The fly line shoots like a dream because it is lubricated by the water in the bucket and because no dirt, sand, and grit from the boat deck stuck to the line between casts.
  3. As the day becomes warmer with the climbing sun, you may also notice that, compared to when you used to strip your line onto the hot boat deck, your fly line stays cooler (and therefore stiffer) which also reduces tangles and improves shooting.
  4. As the season progresses, you may notice that your fly line is showing less wear than you might expect given the number of days you’ve been out here. The bucket is the reason!  Using it keeps the grit off the line and contains it while keeping you from accidentally stepping on it in the boat.

Are you convinced yet?  Saltwater guys have been using variation of stripping baskets and buckets for years.  I don’t know why it took me so long to do this on the lakes.  Give it a try!  You may already have a five gallon bucket in your garage.  If not, you can go and buy two of them for less than the price of a spool of your favorite fluorocarbon tippet!  Definitely get two, because your boat partner is going to want one when they see you using it.

I got mine at Lowes because I liked the blue color.  I think other places have orange ones, red ones, and white ones.  Nice.  Then, I put a few cool decals on mine to cover up the hardware store logo and make it look like a really fancy and expensive piece of fly fishing kit instead of… a five gallon bucket.  Sweet.

A couple more added bonuses that I’ve found:

  1. If I’m moving a short distance between spots, I just strip my line into the bucket and then put the rod butt into the bucket as well to keep everything tidy while I move the boat. As long as I’m not going full throttle everything stays together.
  2. If you happen to be a parent who likes to have their little one out on the lake with you, get an extra bucket for your boat. My toddler always seems to want to play in the water when we get out on the lake, and his mom and I have found that filling up the bucket with lake water turns it into an awesome toy!

Until next time.

Take Care and Fish On,

Matt