Fly Fishers' Republic

William Joseph Equinox sling-pack

March 18, 2009

by Theo Pike

William Joseph Equinox sling-pack

I’m a fisherman, and I have a thing about fishing bags. There, I’ve said it.

Across the fishing world, having a thing about bags isn’t new. In the interests of full disclosure I should reveal that it’s a regular topic of conversation on many forums and discussion boards – and it’s a particular affliction for those of us who are never quite satisfied with what’s for sale in the shops and catalogues.

Which makes me an inveterate tinkerer, as well as having a thing about fishing bags.

None of this is irrelevant, as you’ll see.

In the beginning was a Barbour fishing waistcoat (or vest, to those of you reading this on the Yankee Side of the Pond). Very nice and traditionally practical it was too… except I didn’t think much of having to stop it spilling its contents all over the back seat of the car by rolling it up and stuffing it into a wader bag at the end of the day, a procedure that irrationally affronted my sense of design and order. And although the “poacher’s pocket” might have been created for fish, a thermos was round, uncomfortable, and, well, a different matter entirely.

Enter the age of redesign and tinkering…

In a bag shop in Hammersmith I bought a dark green backpack, sliced down each side, sewed in two zips and an internal divider, and then spliced the sawn-off waistcoat into the section closest to my back. Result: a waistcoat that folded neatly away into the rucksack for travel, and zipped out for action on the river. (To anyone who wants to put that design into production and pay me royalties… please feel free. You’ll find all my contact details at the end of this article).

For good measure, I added a travel-rod tube to the side, making the whole thing perfect as cabin baggage, and preventing all those long, worrying flights when I had no idea if my kit was heading to the same fishing waters as I was, or on an independent global transfer to Timbuktu.

But 9/11 had already happened, and as the airlines’ rules and regulations became ever more fearful of what we fishers might poke with a high-modulus carbon tube, or strangle with a density-compensated power taper, I started calling this cavernous carry-on the Bin Laden bag, and retired its back compartment to Wandle cleanup duty: just another unsung casualty of the War on Terror.

In the years that followed, I flirted extensively with an over-the-shoulder Orvis sling-pack, which always let the water in when it rained, but was still a lot better than I gave it credit for, and left me semi-permanently sold on the concept of asymmetric fishing kit. When you’re casting a fly all day, any design that leaves one shoulder free and unfatigued for the full range of strokes starts well ahead on points.

And that’s what caught my attention when I saw the Equinox from William Joseph.

Let’s understand one thing first. This is a seriously beautiful bag.

To an ex-retail buyer and tinkering product developer – which I am – the Equinox simply shrieks with shelf appeal. From the organic clam-shaped semi-rigid curvature of the front module, to the water-resistant zips with textured grips for a sure hold in the worst conditions, and the loop on the shoulder lovingly covered with plastic tubing to hold a landing-net retractor in just the right spot when a big fish is on, there’s nothing on this bag that hasn’t been carefully considered and put there for a reason.

The fabric and stitching are tight and downpour-proof, the contours are smooth and snag-free, the accessories pouches are perfectly placed, and even the stainless steel zingers extend intuitively from exactly the right positions.

In a world where a lot more designs reach production for reasons of ease or profit margin than for beauty or functionality, this bag – and the company that makes it – amount to a revelation.

So I bought the Equinox, and I wanted to love it with a passion. But much to my surprise, I couldn’t. At least, not completely.

Invest in a piece of kit as highly designed as this, I discovered, and if you’re already a certain type of angler, you may actually need to re-create your own style around it – rather than it fitting you as naturally as it could.

For instance, if your favourite brand of tippet material comes on small spools that slip neatly onto the “Tippet Control System” in the front pocket of the clamshell front pack, you’ll be laughing. But if you’re like me, and big spools of Stroft or Maxima are what you fancy, that sweetly-ergonomic front pocket suddenly becomes irritatingly redundant, a design feature that’s more a source of reproach than Morrisian form-and-function satisfaction.

(You may even end up having to jury-rig your own tippet dispenser, as I did. That was the tinkerer coming out again).

Or if you’re a salmon or sea-trout angler, with a relatively limited arsenal of immediate-action flies that line up neatly on the cunningly Velcro’d clam-shaped “fly port” – this bag is made for you. Whereas if you’re a trout fisherman like I am, dependant on rather smaller flies, and rather more of them, the port feels slightly too limited for the job at hand. If your flies are barbless, you may also lose a few of them, and only the very slimmest old-style Fox or Devlin fly boxes will slide into the two larger compartments of that lovely but rigid clamshell.

Finally, if you’re never far from food, warmth and a helicopter base camp on the Kola Peninsula, or you spend your summers dancing up desert canyons with dry flies and a 2-weight in Californian heat, the hydration-bladder-friendly backpack section makes perfect sense.

But for a long day’s hike on rain-threatened Scottish or Somerset moors, it simply wasn’t big or even three-dimensional enough to be useful as a rucksack, and the only other kind of bag I could carry had to be slung precariously over my opposite shoulder. Even the smallest expandable gusset would have given the Equinox a little more give – but the designers decided not to. (Yes, we’re back to that thermos question again).

In the end, I’m still awestruck by the beauty of the William Joseph Equinox. As a piece of design, it’s destined to live long in my memory, and probably in a place of honour on a top shelf in my study too.

But as a piece of practical, everyday kit, it’s almost completely dependant on your own personal style – and dare I say it, thing – about fishing bags.

Believe me, I’d love it to fit yours better than mine.


Price: £79.99 (UK)

Capacity: Rear pack 635 cubic inches, front clamshell 470 cubic inches

Weight: 1lb 9oz

Colours: Evergreen (as pictured) and Sage