Too big; too small; too deep; too shallow; too square; too round; too oval; too rectangular. Too punk rock…Not punk rock enough. Hint: It doesn’t exist.

“The most useful type of basket is a supermarket shopping basket, held around the waist with a rubber bungie such as which can be acquired at most hardware stores.”

So reads an excerpt from a musty, well-thumbed copy the resource that is the African Fly-fishing handbook – a guide to freshwater and saltwater fly-fishing in South Africa by one Bill Hansford-Steele.

“Every saltwater and estuarine fly-fisherman must have a line basket,” Mr Hansford-Steele goes on to say.

Now, much may have transpired in the development and evolution of fly-fishing since Bill first published his bible in 1997. With regards to a few things though, I think Bon Jovi was on point:

“The more things change the more they stay the same…”

Wikus van der Walt testing (and rejecting) a way minimalist version on the Garden Route

For the past six odd months I’ve shelved the tried-and-trusted shopping basket model and been toying with various shop-bought, home-modified line holders. I even imported one from China! Only to come full circle, sort of.

the also-rans

Application dictates need, of course and, more-often-than-not across various styles, environments and target species you won’t be using a basket, but for wading our estuaries, well if you aren’t a basket case, then that is your own issue (thanks Bill).

Some context:
I’m a short shit, which means getting to where I need to in our tidal rives I’m usually ball deep. In the surf, worse. The real ball ache of this is line-management – in a shopping basket it usually becomes a floating mess. Nay uncaste-able. But, it does drain the water, which in the surf is a safety concern.

Conrad Botes talks about (and successfully addresses) the problem, here. The floating line, not the ball ache.

Also, because of my stubby little arms, my long strip is a lot shorter than, say, a Justin Kemp retrieve, but I have found that on a high speed one-handed strip retrieve for Garrick and other pelagics I need proper depth in the basket to get the (long, fast) retrieve right.

Thoughts the three main contenders after the also-rans were shelved:

FOLDABLE, FRESHWATER ‘SOFTY’

Too, err, flaccid

Pros: Packs small (small enough to live under my bakkie’s back seat as part of the you-never-know, smugglers rig); lightweight, comfortable.
Cons: Too shallow for fast, long strip-retrieves, line tends to spill out if it hangs too low, floods easily if you wade too deep. No line dividers – can obviously be solved with some vertical cable ties or any such similar hack.
Notes: Best for freshwater dams and float tubes and perhaps works on the bigger freshwater rivers, if you must. Deeper ones than the model I was given by a tackle shop owner in my home town are available from the likes of kingfisher.co.za, but personally I don’t think they have much salt relevance. (Not punk rock enough?)

FROM CHINA WITH LOVE

Almost.

This moulded plastic model sits snug on the waist and has built-in internal cones to keep your line from tangling. Various similar models are available locally, but this one comes directly from the source.
Pros: Super ergonomic and comfortable, light enough, line spreads well and doesn’t tangle (too) easily, solid base means deeper wading. Easily accessible buckle on the adjustable belt so you can ditch it for photos etc.
Cons: Too shallow.
Notes:  With some slight modifications (a few tiny holes to drain any water that does come in and being deeper), it will be the ideal. Stay tuned…

SHOPPING BASKET-STYLE

Silicone nozzles in Ant Hulsen’s model

Pros: Big, light(ish), dispensable, inexpensive
Cons: Can be uncomfortable and ungainly, floods if wading too deep.
Notes: The trusted favourite, and, by cutting off the very top section with a grinder (makes it smaller and lighter) and adding some ‘spikes’ to the bottom to assist line management it is the default go-to. For this I use thick cable ties, rounded at the top. I’ve also used astro turf (artificial grass) in the bottom, with limited success, but have seen any number of methods, some guys recommend silicon nozzles (see pic) and the like. As well as one decidedly lethal-looking model belonging to Caleb Bergfield, who had glued what can only be described as sharp, plastic anti-bird spikes down the centre of his. If it works for you bro…..

I guess there-in lies the moral of this little quest: If it works for you, rock it. Let ‘em haters, hate.

*As an aside – if you use a Gorilla Pod tripod for your fish-selfies, it mounts very neatly to the side of the shopping basket model – perhaps more on that in another post.