I am really reviewing the Crooked Island Guide Pack, but since they don’t make it anymore I am going to just go with a generic review of their lumbar packs. Nah, I’m reviewing the Crooked Island Guide Pack, but most of the features are found in several of the Fishpond Lumbar packs so…. here we go!I have had this pack for almost 10 years? That can’t be right can it? I think it is and the whole time it has been fantastic. Has the pack been through the ringer? Yes. Is it time for a new one? Yes. But let me tell you why I love this pack and why my next fishing pack will also be a Fishpond Lumbar pack.
I originally purchased the pack when I was guiding and the reason I was really attracted to the Fishpond Lumbar Packs was the fold down fly bench. On the lumbar packs it is huge. Anyone who knows me knows that I am kind of a mess. My desk for work is a mess, my bookshelves are a mess, my fly-tying desk – holy cow, serious mess, and I am the same way with my fishing pack. I know several good fishermen and good friends who are incredibly anal and incredibly organized, for them everything has its place: each dry fly, nymph and streamer goes in a specific place. That is definitely not how I roll. Fly organization is not one of my strengths, which is one of the many reasons why I love the fold down fly bench. It keeps everything that I have used during a day of fishing in one spot, and throughout a day of fishing it becomes a glorious mess! Droppers, streamers, dries, some with a bit of tippet attached, some still connected with tippet. I can put them all on the fold down fly bench and not have to take the time to put them back where they belong.
The fold down fly bench is also amazing if you are prone to dropping things, and is another reason that I wanted the pack. Who doesn’t want a large flat surface that they can re-tie over that will catch all the flies that they drop? On those tough days guiding when I changed flies a million times, it was easy to see what I had tried and what I hadn’t tried. And on that 10,000th re-tie, it kept me from fumbling a fly right into the water.
The Lumbar Packs from Fishpond are made to wear around your waist, and some people like to get the waist belt nice and tight, wearing it like a fanny pack of old. I like to keep the shoulder strap attached and use the pack as a type of sling pack. I keep the waist belt on, but looser and keep most of the weight on the shoulder strap, this lets me swing the pack around quickly when I need it and and then swing it back out of the way with a minimum of hassle. Once the pack is behind me, it is amazing, there is the buckle and nothing else. Your front is completely clear, there are no bulky pockets, or velcro, or other obstructions on which you could catch your fly line while fishing. All of your stuff is nicely out of the way, but still quickly and easily accessible.
The pack comes with three pockets. The large pocket I use to hold fly boxes and it would hold 5-6 small boxes or three of the magnum UPG boxes, the pocket is big with a single mesh divider/sleeve along the back of the pack. The middle pocket has several organizational aides, there is a key fob, a small zippered pocket and two large nylon dividers to help you keep things organized. I typically use the pocket for everything – floatant, both shake and gel, bobbers, tippet, hook sharpener, weights, license (in the zippered pocket), Rio Wonder Cloth, extra forceps, pretty much anything you can think of besides flies. The last pocket is the one that opens to let down the fly bench, this pocket has two mesh dividers/sleeves along the pack side of the pocket, I generally just use these for trash, tippet, leader, mono found on the side of the river, even a fly-line or two when I found them on the water.
After about 10 years it is no surprise that I have had a few issues. The main issue has been with the zippers, one side of each of the three zippers blew up on each of the pockets. Not sure how or why, but if you zip from the right side with the pack in front of you bad things happen. If you zip from the left, no problem. I would say that I didn’t start having problems with the zippers for about 5 years (that is 5 years of at least 80-100 days on the water, say a minimum of 400 days of heavy use). Pretty darn good if you ask me.
The only other issue that I had with the pack is with the water bottle holder. The Crooked Island Guide Pack comes with a water bottle holder beneath the pack, there is an elastic retainer to keep the water bottle in place. This is a feature that at first was very nice, but was also one of the first things to stop working properly on the pack. After a year or two the elastic was too stretched out to keep the water bottle that came with the pack snug, and presto- no more water bottle. Easily solved, I got a longer water bottle. That worked for another year or so, but at that point the elastic became so stretched out that I couldn’t get a water bottle to stay in there at all. I still use the holder occasionally for a thermos. It turns out that my thermos is thick enough to stay in there of its own accord, no elastic needed.
I love this pack and it shows, the thing is beat down. I am in the market for a new one and whether you want it or not I’ll let you know what I have my eye on – two packs, both from Fishpond. The first I would get to replace my current pack, that would be the Waterdance Guide Pack. This one was around when I bought mine and is what Chris fishes with. Basically the same as the Crooked Island except a few cubic inches smaller, and instead of having the water bottle holder underneath it has two mesh/elastic water bottle pockets on the sides of the pack. Sweet. The second pack I would get is the Westwater Guide Lumbar Pack, I would get this puppy for those days steelheading or chinook fishing in the pissing rain when I am wading deep and need the waterproofing. The other features that I like about this pack are the integrated net slot and the cinch straps mounted on the bottom of the pack to hold an extra rod or extra layer.
If you are in the market for a new pack or vest check out Fishpond, I definitely recommend their products!