For some, the fishing season is more limited by time off from work than either seasons or even storms. Active Junky’s putting some top, early-season picks on the line as we weigh in on the best gear. After rod, reel, line and lure, they’ll make the difference when you hit the water.
Williamson 8” Straight Fillet Knife: To the point – and beyond
Across locations and species, fish caught for eating nearly always benefit from skilled filleting. Williamson allows even neophyte anglers to get more from every fish, quickly and with improved safety. Out-of-the-box sharpness saves time – as does an easy-cleaning European stainless blade. With no flex and at 8”, this one wins as an all-around knife for everything but the largest fish; Move up to the 10” Curved Fillet Knife (also no flex) on fish much over 10lbs. A progressive tapered blade rewards agile cutting by allowing easy maneuvering after starting.
Tester Comments: Grippy while still being nimble. Perseverant without bogging down, even deep into the cut. Balanced but with enough weight to remain stable. What’s not to love in a Finnish-made blade from the angling-obsessed masterminds at Williamson?
Best For: Fresh- and saltwater species up to moderate size, field and home use with fish market catches
Zeal Cascade Primer Black Sunglasses: All release, no catches
Active Junky included Cascade as a true representative of a life untethered. And, at the same time, a product directly connected to what matters. The classic frame on this model takes shape from plant-based, petroleum-free Z-resin to put sustainability top-of-mind – and front-of-face. The Primer Black variation, edged with cool white, shields eyes and upper cheeks while wrapping enough to cut side glare. Zeal’s reliable hinge mechanism puts the Ellume dark lenses at close reach to slash the intensity of bright sunlight and perilous glare. In addition, the yellow-base lens alters color to maximize UV protection while finding fish through premium polarization. Born and based in Boulder, Zeal wades into a pool of sunglass options as a competent competitor with solid value behind every cast.
Tester Comments: There’s so much going on here but you’d never notice at first glance (or second look, for that matter). An anti-slip nose piece is part of the package that never screams “look at me” despite the subtle styling less-adept brands will envy. Other frame and lens options turn Cascade into a sun-fighter that’s totally in harmony with individual preferences.
Best For: Multi-sport deployment including fresh and saltwater angling exploits with tropical outings well within range
Royal Robbins Expedition Stretch Long Sleeve: Bring it
While this isn’t the Matrix – unless you endlessly tangle your line in riverbank brush – this is THE ONE. Even if the fish don’t cooperate, you’ll slay it with style while mustering UPF 50+ protection. Drying is nearly instantaneous as the two-way stretch construction frees shoulders to cast with abandon. Back ventilation suits open-water, sun-scorched angling that normally threatens to bring down clouds of perspiration. Roll-up sleeve tabs are a nice addition as is the wind-fighting, hidden button-down collar. Pewter is our color choice to avoid looking touristy in a piece well-suited for air travel to distance shores.
Tester Comments: With the dual, Velcro-closed chest pockets, quick changes of leader or fly are possible without fumbling through tackle boxes; Love it. When the hatch is on, it’s nice to use the second, tighter cuff button to discourage insect incursion. With Expedition, don’t be surprised if you’re mistaken for a Guide who knows apparel performance but is totally in the game above and below the surface.
Best For: Warmer conditions, travel to double up as a nice casual shirt for après angling
Timberland Bass River Shirt Jacket: The reel deal
Fish it. Hike it. Take to the quirky brewpub. Once again, Timberland’s fabric blend scores, this time with 60% wool, 30% poly and 10% other on the outside. Metal buttons carry a heritage compass-needle design as one of many details cast into Bass. Metal tab above the left breast pocket adds understated branding as does the sewn-on inner placket label. Fit is medium-volume with generous sleeve length and a 31” center back to avoid lumberjack look-alike styling. Buttoned or not, the collar is trim, stitched with care uncommon in an under-$100 piece.
Tester Comments: Is it okay to say I simply like it? Softer than other shirt jackets, Bass River gets worn for barbecues, day hikes and weekends with friends. Pockets are more than ornamental and sleeves roll up when temperatures climb. That’s about it – should be enough with a cotton flannel lining for more comfort against my neck and arms.
Best For: Everyday wear, travel to handle multiple active and casual scenarios