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Product Review: Tongass 650 Waist Pack

Posted on January 12 2016

By AT Editor Kirk Deeter

The first of many “new generation” product reviews involves the Umpqua Tongass 650 Waterproof Waist Pack after a week of fishing the flats on Christmas Island…

Last month, I spent a week (an often rainy, always humid week) chasing bonefish, giant trevally, triggerfish, and other species, on the vast flats of Christmas Island (Kiritimati) in the central Pacific Ocean. It was my first trip there.

What I quickly learned about CXI (airport abbreviation) is that this place is all about variety. One minute, you might be casting at cruising bones with an 8-weight, and suddenly, a GT swims into view, and you’re reaching for a 12-weight… which leads me to the number one attribute of the Tongass 650…

It has a specially designed pocket with a strap, where you can tuck the reel of a spare rod and march along (and one walks for miles on CXI, as is often the case in other classic flats destinations). It’s pure genius, because the rod you carry rests horizontal to the water surface, so it won’t drag, and it won’t interfere with the casts you’re making with the rod you are using. See the fish. Make the switch. Boom, you’re in business. Seamless transition. (Before, when I wanted to bring a spare rod for barracudas, etc., I’d just stuff it down the back of my shirt, but that didn’t help with the backcast issue.)

The second thing I learned about CXI is that you often wade deep, sometimes chest deep. Sometimes you swim. So waterproof protection in a pack is a necessity. The Tongass 650 has a deep, waterproof compartment that seals like a dry bag, by rolling it down from the top. Some might like a waterproof zipper instead, but I didn’t mind the roll top, and appreciate that the fancy, patented waterproof zippers come with a licensing price that adds to the cost of packs. This system is fine, and I kept an iPhone, papers, money, etc., in it, and those things never got wet.

I must add, however, that the pack comes with an outer pocket that looks waterproof (because the exterior is the same material) but it isn’t. It isn’t billed as anything more than “weatherproof,” but some in our group made the mistake of sticking their phones in that pocket, and they soaked them. I don’t know if Umpqua should fine print “Not Dry” and “Dry” on the two compartments to spell that out, but it’s an easy mistake to make.

Because CXI offers such diversity, you want to carry multiple fly boxes. With 11 liters capacity, this pack was plenty large enough to carry flies, pliers, spare water, camera, and a rain jacket. Okay, I’ll nitpick a bit here and say that maybe it is about 20 percent over-sized for my typical flats fishing needs. Even rolled tight, it’s a bit saggy, though not cumbersome or clumsy. That’s a purely subjective issue, and some people will think it’s just right, while the minimalist might say it’s a tad large.

I appreciate the name “Tongass” and have also fished in that Alaskan rainforest where you do want to carry spare gear, extra clothing layers, and so forth. I wouldn’t touch a thing on this pack for that application, or as a pack for walk wading most rivers. It’s a great drift boat pack that you can leave in the boat, or strap on and walk with. If I had needed to stuff one more shirt, or jacket, or a lunch in this pack as I waded CXI, it would have been the perfect size.

But I’d love to see a slightly smaller version for the flats. Maybe Umpqua can drop the “ss” at the end of the name and reduce a reflective amount of the the overall capacity—keeping the rod carrier, and dry bag, and zipper exterior pocket (labeled in a way that everyone knows that part is not 100 percent waterproof)—and come up with a “Tonga” version for the flats.

I’d buy both, and fish them often.

Tongass 650 Waterproof Waist Pack

********* Nine out of 10 Stars for Trout/Steelhead/Salmon;
******** Eight out of 10 Stars for Flats Fishing

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