Customising an old chest pack

This little project was driven by sheer frustration. I always have a small zinger clipped on my fishing jackets and waistcoats so I have a pair of clippers or scissors at hand but lately I have developed a nasty habit of pinging them off at every opportunity. I don’t know if this is just yet another symptom of impending senility or just an extension of my inherent clumsiness but it was happening far too often for me to simply put up with it. I managed to destroy the zinger on my jacket the last day I was out. Something had to be done about it but what could the solution be?

All that remains of a zinger

At some point in the dim and distant past when visiting a game fair I bought a very cheap chest pack. I know they are all the rage now but back then (this must have been in the early nineties) it was a new concept. I liked the idea and I picked up this dark blue bag for a fiver or so. Duly kitted out and filled with gear I sallied forth to fish a river with it strapped to me. It was useless. It seemed to be in the way all the time and felt very restrictive. It never saw the riverbank again and was consigned to one of my many boxes of forgotten gear – until now.

My understanding is that chest packs are really designed for river angling where anglers can have all the flies and other items required immediately to hand. Modern chest packs are ergonomically designed, padded in the right places and tailored to accommodate an anglers every need. My old bag is just a square shaped receptacle festooned with straps which I had not bothered to adjust properly in the first place. Even still, I figured I could adapt this unloved bag for use on the boat with a little ingenuity.

When I am fishing on the lough the main tasks I face are changing flies, sorting out tangles or repairing/replacing leaders. Changing the flies currently means reaching into my big bag and pulling out a fly box. Sorting out tangles requires the use of nippers or a needle. Working on leaders means reaching into the pocket on my bag where the spools of line and cast wallets live. My idea was to have the basic tools to carry out all of these functions in the chest pack, saving the time and hassle of rummaging about in the main bag. This does not sound like a major upgrade but my bag can often be out of reach when others are in the boat with me. So I set to work, gathering together some bits which might, or might not, be of use. First there was the pack itself.

It would have been lovely if the pack was waterproof but of course it wasn’t. When driving a boat on Irish loughs you will get wet, sometimes extremely wet. The chest pack would be in the firing line all day, every day so there was no point in loading it with anything which could not handle being soaked. I had a think about it and decided it should contain the following items:

A fly box

Fly box. This old and battered Silmalloy would do just dandy

spools of leader materials

nippers and/or scissors


possibly a cast wallet



A lighter

There are loads of fly boxes kicking around in the fishing den and it was not hard to find one to fit in the pack. Any fly box must be able to hold the flies securely in my opinion and I have a dislike for some modern boxes with those foam strips. I have seen so many perfectly good flies blown out of boxes over the years! Good old fashioned metal clips or sturdy foam sheet are much better. My thinking is to fill this box with my ‘go-to’ patterns and leave space for others which I feel might work on the day. I will crack on and get some patterns tied over the coming week to fill the box up.

I use various spools of line and wanted to be able to access them easily. Then I recalled I had a spool holder which I had removed from my Fishpond bag ages ago. It took a bit of finding but it finally turned up. Lo and behold, it fitted perfectly on the straps of the pack and I was in business. This simple strap has clips on each end so it is the work of a few seconds add or remove spools to meet my requirements.

Cast wallets always live in my big bag so I just nabbed one of them and tucked it into the pack. It will be filled with some made up trout and salmon leaders to save some time in the event of major fankles. The pair of mesh front pockets can hold a little box with odds and ends and a bottle of floatant.

An old Cofton-cast-carrier

Nippers, amadou and folding scissors were attached to the zingers on the pack. These are at the sides, hopefully out of the way and won’t get caught on anything else. A pair of de-barbing pliers will be required (I lost my last pair) and they too will go on one of the zingers.

The lighter is in there because I always seem to be hunting for one when it comes to firing up the kettle at lunchtime. How often have I filled the kettle, gathered some twigs, placed a firelighter in the base and then had to return to the boat to hunt down a lighter? Buy putting one in the chest pack I would know where to lay my hands on it.

Not sure why I own a lighter with cats on it!

This system may or may not work. The pack is bigger than modern ones and may just be too intrusive, getting in the way when I am on the oars or providing something for the line to snag on when I am casting. We shall see.

If this does work I might be tempted to try the same thing for my coarse fishing. The ‘disappearing nippers’ problem afflicts me just as often when I am out with the float rod so I might think about a similar solution if my boat fishing one works out.

For those of you who are in regular contact I have changed my mobile number so just email me if you have not received a text from me and I will send on my new one.


I tried out the chest pack yesterday while on Lough Conn. Guess what – it worked a treat! I will happily concede that I will win no prizes for sartorial elegance with the blue bag strapped to my chest but it was not nearly as intrusive as I had feared it would be. The only time it gets in the way is when rowing flat out, something which rarely happens and if it does is only for very short bursts. Otherwise it just sits there.

My nippers were in use fair bit yesterday and they were perfectly placed for easy access without catching on everything and anything. I had to change a leader at one point and everything was instantly at hand. The line spools are a bit fiddly and I might make adjustment to that set up. They are almost too close to be easy to use so i might look at another option. An added bonus I had not thought about is I now have somewhere for my glasses to reside other than my shirt pocket, an altogether much more convenient and safer receptacle. I’d give the wee bag an 8/10 based on yesterday and so it looks like it is now a part of my regular kit.

I will still lug my blue Fishpond bag with me though, filled as it is with all the things I ‘might’ require.


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