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Fishpond San Juan Vertical Chest Pack

by Brandon
(Phoenix, AZ)

Fishpond San Juan Vertical Chest Pack

Fishpond San Juan Vertical Chest Pack

For the first two years that I fly fished, I wore a vest. I was a fly fisherman, and all fly fisherman use vests, right? At least that's what I thought was the proper thing to do. It wasn't until February of this year, when I took a guided trip to Lees Ferry, that I wore my vest fishing all day long. Before that all my trips were a few hours long, half a day at the most. At the end of our trip fishing the Colorado River, I was more sore from wearing my fishing vest than I was from casting, mending, and drifting a double nymph rig, with split shot and a strike indicator. I was ready to change how I carried my gear, and our guide was wearing the answer all day long.

He had on a Fishpond San Juan Vertical Chest Pack. This was a guy who spends eight hours on the river, six days a week, and he was carrying less gear that I was. Something was wrong with this picture. On our way back downriver to the boat launch, I asked him about his pack and he had nothing but praise for it. That was on Saturday, and on Monday afternoon, after work, I headed to the local Sportsman's Warehouse and found the Fishpond display. $49 seemed like a lot for such a small pack, but I went on the guide's recommendation and bought it. Nearly a year later I can tell you I am happy I did.

The pack has an outside zippered pocket that folds down to a fly bench, with a foam fly patch on the inside of it. I have never used the fly patch, and lately removed it (velcro backed) and keep my tenkara rod cap and a spare spool of tippet in that pocket. On the outside front is a small mesh pouch that I keep the spool of 6x tippet that I am using in. Inside there is a large main compartment, with a zippered pocket that easily holds my license, Tip Grip, and car keys. The main compartment I use for my fly box (Altoids tin), line spool, and cell phone. Outside of the pouch is a thick piece of webbing that I clamp my hemostats to, and there are a couple of climbing cord rings, one of which I use to hold a retractor with my nippers. One thing I love about the pack is the zippers. They work very smooth, and I don't have to hold the pack steady while I zip and unzip the compartments. That's something I always had to do with my vest, requiring two hands to get something out of it.

Unlike my vest, there isn't a convenient place to hang my net. But I have found with tenkara fishing that isn't a problem anymore. I use a small Measure Net, and it's so light that I just carry it in my left hand while I fish with my right. Without a reel and line to manage, carrying a net is no problem. My only complaint about the pack is the neck strap. There is no padding, and after a long day of fishing it can be uncomfortable. Just yesterday I mentioned this on Fishpond's Facebook page, asking about a padded strap, and within an hour I had a message from someone at the company with a phone number to call. I called, and was told that in keeping with the minimalist concept of the pack a padded neck strap was left off, but one was available for $6.50, shipped to my door. I went ahead and ordered one, and hopefully my one and only complaint about this pack is now gone.

It was only two months after I got this pack that I heard about tenkara and bought my first rod, a TenkaraUSA 12' Iwana. I had already started to carry less gear after I bought the Fishpond San Juan, and fishing tenkara meant I was able to carry even less. No shot, indicators, huge box of flies (I fish the sakasa kebari tied per the TenkaraBum instructions, only with various hackle, all the time now), floatant bottle, etc. The San Juan pack may not be very big if you want to carry a lot of gear, but it is very light and extremely well made. After nearly a year of use it is still in like new condition. It's perfect for someone who wants to carry only what is needed to catch fish. And to me that fits the idea of tenkara fishing perfectly.

Comments for Fishpond San Juan Vertical Chest Pack

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Oct 07, 2010
Looks like a nice pack
by: TenkaraBum

Thank you for the review. It looks like a nice pack. Hard to tell from just your photo and mine, but it looks like it is a bit bigger than the Fly/Tippet Pouch. Also, most of the inside of the Fly/Tippet Pouch is taken up by the leader wallet, so the Vertical Chest Pack may have more usable space.

The Vertical Chest Pack is available at

Oct 07, 2010
usable space
by: Brandon

I didn't take my own measurements, but Fishpond's website lists the dimensions as 5"x4"x8.5". The space available inside the main compartment is fairly large considering how small the pack is. There's plenty of room for a fly box, spare tippet, tenkara line spools, cell phone, keys, and lunch.

Oct 07, 2010
San Juan Pack
by: tnitz

I also own the Fishpond San Juan and have used it nearly daily this summer. It will hold a standard Wheatley's style box in the main compartment. I confirm it is well made.

1) It comes with two straps and is meant as a neck pouch. I found it uncomfortable to wear that way. Unfortunately, one of the two straps is too short to use for over-the-shoulder and around the waist use. It does have a belt loop on the back, however, and you can slide it onto your wading belt. The location of the belt loop is such that you will probably also want to still use a shoulder strap to keep it vertical.

2) It is padded, which is probably why the zippers work so very well. However, it's also a little bulky if you plan on putting the whole pouch inside a backpack pocket.

3) There are two "button-holes" on the pouch in front. These can be used to hold hemos or you can work a split ring into them if you are careful, but they are actually intended for the Fishpond coil tool holders. And that's one danger - Fishpond makes some great accessories, but they are not cheap and you can quickly raise the price of the whole setup if you are not careful.

4) Fishpond makes a wading belt that I found online for a decent price. It's a nice belt, but really engineered for righties. It was easier to use the pack on the SIMMS belt, though, as I could slide it around front and back more easily. Someone looking for a different solution might consider the belt itself. It has six d-rings and two thicknesses of belt to use and appears to be full of unexplored potential.

5) I snagged the front mesh pocket with my hemos (I was storing them in there until needed) and I once put my Iwana in one of the two elastic straps I assume are meant for holding floatant bottles and it is now stretched out like a pair of old undies. But the fabric itself does wear very well as mentioned. The other elastic strap holds nippers very well, whether the Fishpond one or a regular one.

There's also an internal mesh pocket not mentioned. I suspect it wasn't mentioned because it's not very useful, at least that I've discovered. It's at the bottom of the main compartment. The zippered pocket is excellent for holding your fishing license, spare lines, etc.

Personally, it's more bag than I need and probably a little more complex than I need. I recently purchased an Eddie Bauer belt pouch for $20 and am using it (gotta wear a belt with waders anyway) but I found I really missed the easy working zippers of the San Juan so I may end up going back to it. If it sounds like I am a little on the fence about this bag, I am. I think it would be a perfect fit for someone just moving away from a vest, as you can organize it quite well and become familiar with where everything is. Someone already accustomed to less might find it overly complex.

Oct 07, 2010
great comments
by: Brandon

Those are some great comments. I didn't mention the internal mesh pocket because like you said, I don't use it. It is kind of pointless, considering the internal zippered pocket.

Going from a vest, I find the San Juan to be exactly what I was hoping for. But now that I fish tenkara, I use so much less gear that I find I only use about one quarter of the available space in this pack. I'll probably go to something even smaller in the future, but for now this works out great, especially with the padded neck strap.

Oct 07, 2010
by: tnitz

I'd like to see the neckstrap - can you add a photo?

While it has no real function for tenkara fishing, I have used the built-in fly holder for streamers when I was using conventional fly gear, it saved carrying another fly box. Otherwise I don't use it either.

Oct 08, 2010
Neck strap photo added
by: TenkaraBum

I don't think it's possible for the author to add a photo after the initial submission, but I can. Brandon sent me the photo, which I have added above.

He adds:
"Here's the new strap with the padding. It also has a climbing cord loop on the back of the padding, I assume to hang a net off of. Not a bad deal for $6.50 shipped to my door."

Oct 09, 2010
Neck Strap
by: tnitz

Thanks, I like it.

Jan 24, 2011
Where did you buy the neck strap?
by: TenkaraBum

Brandon, I have been asked where the neck strap can be purchased. None of the stores I checked list a separate padded neck strap for sale.

Jul 29, 2011
San Juan Chest Pack
by: texfly

Does anyone know where to get the padded neck strap for the San Juan chest pack? I agree this is a great pack but the padding would be nice.

Mar 24, 2012
Look at the Tumbleweed
by: Tenkara SC

Take a look at the Fishpond Tumbleweed pack. It is almost as streamlined as the San Juan and comes with the padded strap. It's also got a couple of nice pockets on the front for floatant. A really nice pack

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