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River Lights: Headlamps Suitable for Anglers

By: Dan Nelson - August 17, 2017

 Twilight fishing-2

During the heat of August, some of the best fishing occurs at twilight. Some caddis species typically hatch late in the day, and many mayfly ‘spinner falls’ occur at dusk — a bit of a reverse hatch, where the bugs return to the river from which they came. Spinners are the egg-laying stage of the mayfly’s short life span, and in the fading light of the day, those mayfly spinners drop to the river surface to release their eggs before they die. Trout slurp the downed spinners as the day turns dark. (Techniques for fishing spinner falls can be found here).

Anglers who take advantage of these ‘reverse hatches’ can land some remarkable fish, but they often times pay for that experience by enduring a rough hike back to their vehicle in the dark.

Savvy fly fishers avoid the literal pitfalls of a night hike out from the fishing holes by stashing a light in their pack or vest. A simple, traditional flashlight will work in a pinch, but there are much better options these days.


The new Petzl ACTIK headlamp offers a whopping 300 lumens of illumination at its peak setting, but it can be reduced down to a dim 5-lumens of white light or a mere 2-lumens of red — which is enough to see branches and brambles in your way without impacting your night vision at all, allowing you to continue fishing well after dark if you’d like.

The ACTIK operates on Petzl’s CORE rechargeable lithium-ion battery, or it can be fitted with 3-AAA batteries if you haven’t had an opportunity to recharge it.

The ACTIK’s headband is reflective, so it provides some extra safety if you find yourself hiking out on a road after dark, and it weighs just 3.25 ounces so you’ll never notice it in your gear bag until you need it. Price: $45 


Anglers who fish from rafts or drift boats can pair that ACTIK with Petzl’s new Noctilight case. This simple zippered pack features a diffused clear plastic cover and a solid base. Tuck the ACTIK (or just about any other headlamp) into it and the light is well protected from bumps, splashes and drops. Note that the Noctilight Case is not fully waterproof so it won’t protect against full emersion in the river, but it did keep our headlamp safe after a quick retrieval following an accidental drop on the boat ramp during a night take-out.

Turn on the light before zipping up the case, and the Noctilight becomes a small-area lantern. This proved useful in a boat to help tie on flies in twilight conditions, and while breaking down the boat and gear after take-out. Price: $20 

Petzl-eLite 2

For pure emergency needs, I always stash a Petzl e+Lite in my fishing kit, another in my day hiking pack, and one in my mountain bike kit, while one stays in my truck too. This tiny headlamp resides in a water-tight plastic case about the size of a standard pack of gum when not in use. If light is needed, however, the e+Lite throws 50 lumens of brightness (white or red light) out in a narrow beam. This isn’t a headlamp for serious night treks, but it will get you safely off the river when fishing is so good you lose track of the time. Price: $30 

About the Author

Dan Nelson

Dan Nelson

Dan Nelson is the fly fishing editor of Gear He is a veteran outdoor journalist based in the Pacific Northwest. Follow him at Google+.


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