The farther you walk the better the fishing is, here in #troutcountry we are fortunate to have access to some quality backcountry fly fishing opportunities. Hike in or backcountry fly fishing can be defined as fishing opportunities in wilderness areas like National Forest or BLM lands that don’t have a motorized road. These areas typically require hiking along trails, bushwacking, or even using horses or mountain bikes (if allowed) to access the goods. The water you may be fishing could be a small creek with no trails along with it, the headwaters of a larger river with no road access, or a beautiful high mountain lake.
One thing is for sure backcountry fly fishing is a great way to find solitude. At times it can definately be physically demanding but all in good taste. Finding “trout above treeline” can is a rewarding experience, it takes proper planning and gear, below you will find a basic guide to planning a backcountry or hiking fly fishing trip.
High elevation means cool clear water!
In the heat of the summer backcountry fly fishing trips can be a great alternative to fishing the local bigger river systems as these backcountry areas will typically have much cooler water temperatures, which means happy trout!
Planning Your Backcountry Fly Fishing Trip:
The most important aspect of backcountry fly fishing is to have some proper planning in place. More often than not backcountry fly fishing trips involve little to no cell phone reception and no access to emergency services, or other services like a place to eat, sleep, or get some help. So like any trip into the wilderness proper planning is essential. Here are a few points to help plan your trip.
When should you go?
Since most of the hike in and backcountry fly fishing opportunities areas are at higher elevations, there is a shorter window to fish. Typically the backcountry fly fishing season will go from Mid to Late June through September. Each year can be different with snowpack and runoff. The last thing you want to do is hike a full day to a frozen lake you can’t fish. If you are itching to go earlier in the season, you can use the Snotel interactive map to check snow depths. Or check-in at your local fly shop or land management agency about trail conditions.
How long should you go?
When planning your backcountry fly fishing adventure you need to decide on how long you want your trip to be. Do you want to spend a few nights in the wilderness, a couple of hours, or a full day? How much time do you have? Once you determine this you can narrow down some options.
How do you find out where to go?
Finding where to go backcountry fly fishing can be a little challenging as these backcountry fisheries are often hard to reach, not accessed often, and there is not much fishing information about them. Not to mention other anglers and fly shops can be hesitant to talk about these places as most people view these fisheries as somewhere to escape and find solitude. Some areas tend to have plentiful fishing and some don’t have any fish at all. It can be part of the fun when going backcountry fly fishing, often you don’t know how the fishing will be until you go.
Here are a few ways to find out where to go:
- Pull out the map (if you do have a paper one, use your phone or computer maps) and start looking for “blue lines” and bodies of water in wilderness areas and public access lands like BLM and Forest Service lands. From here head to the internet, local fly shop, or ranger station to ask about some of the lakes or creeks you are interested in.
- Word of mouth can be a great way to find some water. Ask your buddies, local fly shop, and local guides.
- Head to the internet, and look up hiking trails, when a backcountry hiking trail has a lake on it or a creek flowing by it usually you can find some good info about fishing by looking through comments and reviews.
Here locally, we have some great backcountry fly fishing opportunities available in the Holy Cross Wilderness, Flat Tops Wilderness, and Eagles Nest Wilderness.
Once you have found a trail and have a plan, be sure to let someone know where you are going and when you intend to be back. That way for some reason if you don’t return due to an emergency help will not be far away.
Guided Backcountry Fly Fishing Trips:
If you are not a DIY fly fishing angler or on vacation in the Vail Valley and are looking for a backcountry fly fishing adventure, the professional fly fishing guides at Vail Valley Anglers offer a guided trip call the Hike and Fish Trip. It entails a full-day excursion with one of our experienced backcountry guides, where you will get to experience the solitude of one of Colorado’s backcountry streams. The trip typically involves 3-6 miles of hiking, a catered lunch, and much more. For more information check out the link here.
Proper Gear for Backcountry Fly Fishing:
Having the proper gear can make or break your day in the backcountry. Below is a basic packing list, be sure to check out the Simms Fishing “Flyweight” line of products designed specifically for hiking and fly fishing.
- Fly rod and reel. (Tenkara or a 3-5 weight rod is best.)
- Recommended Rods: GLoomis NRX Light Presentation Rod.
- Box of flies. Have a varied selection of nymphs, dries, and streamers.
- Spool of tippet. Typically a spool of 5X will be sufficient.
- Fishing Pack that will fit all the gear.
- Recommend Pack: Simms Flyweight Pack
- Fishing pants or Shorts
- Lightweight fishing shirt or hoody
- Hiking Boots or Wading Boots
- Recommended Boots: Simms Flyweight Boots
- Landing net if you feel like carrying it.
- GPS or Phone with a GPS App
- Rain Jacket
- Extra Clothing (pair of socks and a buff)
- Trekking Poles
- Water Filter
- First Aid Kit
- Space Blanket
- Knife or Leatherman
- Lighter or Matches
- Bug Spray
- Toilet Paper.
Important points to mention about gear:
A lighter-weight rod like a Tenkara rod or shorter 7 foot 3 weight rod can be perfect for fly fishing a smaller stream. For fishing, a high alpine lake a 9 foot 4 or 5 weight rod will be better suited. To transport your rod while hiking you can either hike with it rigged in your hand, stowed in just the rod sock, or in the rod tube. User preference on these options while it is recommended to have it stored in the tube to prevent a broken rod. But the tube can add extra weight and be tough to fish on the go.
Use a GPS or download a GPS app on your phone like OnX, Gaia, or AllTrails. These apps can keep you on track and allow you to navigate your route. A smartwatch also can work well. Most smartphones have Google Maps which you can download an offline map when you are in service to view when you are out of service.
Figuring out proper footwear can be challenging as you have a few different options. For a short adventure for the minimalist, a pair of Chacos or wet wading sandals will suit your needs. As well as your normal wading boots with neoprene wading socks. If you are planning a longer adventure the Simms Flyweight Boot is a great option made specifically for backcountry fly fishing. You can also bring your hiking boots to wear on the trail and a pair of sandals in your pack to pop on when you are fly fishing.
Fly Fishing Techniques for Backcountry Fly Fishing:
Creeks and Streams Fly Fishing Tips:
Fly fishing in the backcountry can mean fishing smaller, colder, and often times low-pressure systems. For the most part, dry fly fishing should take precedent. When fishing smaller creeks work upstream in a stealthy manner. Due to the low clear water, trout can be very spooky. Use smaller-sized tippets (5X or 6X) and longer leaders. Start by just throwing one dry fly like a general attractor pattern (see recommended patterns below). If the fish are not going crazy for it, try tying on a short bead headed dropper.
Work the water fast and look for the deep pockets where the fish may be holding, this is typically where they will be. If you don’t get a fish on the first couple of casts in a pool move on to the next. You don’t have to fish all the water, instead, look for good holding pools. These areas can typically have a good amount of fish. Utilize tight quarter casting styles like the bow and arrow cast or stream loaded roll cast.
High Alpine Lake Fly Fishing Tips:
If you are fishing a high alpine lake your tactics will change a little. Start by looking for the outlet and inlet of the lake. These areas of the lake can be the most productive as the current can create a buffet of food for the trout. Just like on the small stream, start out by tossing on a dry fly with a longer leader and 5X or 6X tippet. In lakes, the fish swim in circles looking for food, so it can be a little bit of a patience game, waiting for a fish to see your fly and swim up to eat it. If you are not having any luck, try tying on a streamer, casting it out, and slowly retrieving it.
If the lake’s water temperature is still really cold you may have to resort to nymphing with some bead-head chironomids or other attractors. Cast out your indicator rig into the deeper water and wait for it to sink. Having a 10-15 foot leader can be a good length for deeper lakes. Try tossing on 2-3 different nymph patterns.
Recommend Fly Patterns for Back Country Fly Fishing:
- Parachute Adams #14-20
- Royal Wulff #14-20
- Amys Ant #12-16
- Renegade #16-20
- Stimulator #14-18
- Elk Hair Caddis #14-18
- Rainbow Warriors #16-22
- Formerly Known As Prince Nymphs #16-18
- Frenchie #16-20
- Chrinomid #14-20
- Balanced Leeches
- Thin Mint Streamer
- Pine Squirrel Leeches
Backcountry fly fishing or hike in fly fishing is a rewarding adventure that every angler should try. It can test your body physically and provide the mental solitude we all can use at times. So do yourself a favor and plan a backcountry fly fishing trip next year if not this year. To learn more about backcountry fly fishing check out our fishing report here. As well as a previous blog series about planning a backpacking fly fishing adventure.
Patrick Perry, Former Guide, and Content Contributor, @patperry