Part 1: Why this adventure is right for you…
By now, you hopefully have the itch to try backpack fly fishing. And with all the gear essentials laid out, there are only a few more key pieces to the preparation puzzle. You may be asking, for example, about an eco friendly way to ‘do your business’ while in the wilderness. Or you may be wondering how exactly to obtain current trail conditions for your hike. From examining the fine art of packing your backpack to discussing how to nail down your final preparations, the following information will help answer any lingering pre-trip questions or concerns.
When the Scouts designated this as their motto, they definitely had backcountry travel and skills in mind. As an angler, we go to great lengths when preparing for our fishing excursions. More often than not, we check weather and fishing reports, packing our gear and sorting our flies accordingly. We coordinate with friends about meeting times and which destination is best for that particular day. So, it is understandable that the preparations for backpack fly fishing take a similar path.
First and foremost, invite a friend or two to join you. Not only is it safer to travel the wild in numbers but sharing your outdoor experiences is always a plus. And those aren’t the only benefits to having a comrade along. With a friend at your side, you can snap epic pics of each other landing trout after trout. On a more practical note, splitting up communal gear lightens everyone’s load. No need to be a hero and carry the entire tent and cooking system. Pass some of that weight on to your buddy. He or she can handle it.
Until you have a handful of trips under your belt, give the local ranger station a call before heading out. Regardless of what I think I know or how much I’ve been out recently, I always take this step. They are a wealth of up-to-date information and genuinely care about your safety. Among other things, rangers can provide you with trail statuses, snowpack levels, recent reports from other hikers and fire restrictions. And some will even have the skinny on current fishing conditions. Bonus.
And finally, check the weather. I’ve found NOAA to be a conservative and accurate resource. Beyond standard forecasts, NOAA lets you pinpoint your destination on a map. That way you can get focused weather predictions.
Time to Pack
Beyond the essential fishing and backpacking gear mentioned in Part 2, there are just a few more things to pack. Often forgotten but never duplicated, toilet paper is a must. Beyond its obvious function, you can use TP for cleaning dirty dishes or for jotting down some recently inspired poetry. Alongside your TP stash, bring a small bottle of sanitizer and a trowel. And just because you’re roughing it in the backcountry, you don’t need to forgo all creature comforts and hygienic essentials. Pack a toothbrush, toothpaste, sunscreen and a minimalist med kit.
With your localized forecast in mind, be sure to include the appropriate amount of layers for your journey. And always bring synthetic clothing, avoiding cotton as much as possible. Cotton dries very slowly, does not wick moisture and provides zero heat retention when wet. On every hike, precipitation is something to keep in mind. Perhaps your most important layer is your rain jacket or waterproof shell. It keeps your body heat in while thwarting the advances of water and wind. And for those chilly evenings and brisk mornings, pack a winter hat. You won’t regret it.
Everything ready? Time to fill your backpack. Essentially, you want your lightest accessories to be either low or towards the outside of your pack. In turn, you want your heaviest items close to the center of your back and higher up. This ensures the best stability while hiking. So, pack your tent, food, water and cook system on top of your sleeping bag, closest to your back. Then, fill the void towards the outside of your pack with clothing and lighter items. Making some casts along the way? Have your fishing essentials accessible and your rod case strapped on the outside. Finally, fill the lid with snacks and your shell.
On the Trail
As a rule of thumb, your pack should not exceed 20-25% of your total body weight. But maybe you’re that 160 lb guy that wants to lug 50 lbs up the mountain. No judgement here. At any rate, once you get on trail and begin the mile countdown to your remote fishing destination, it’s wise to keep in mind that you are hauling a hefty load on some potentially rough terrain. Taking an extra breather here and there is a good call. And on that note, getting some H20 into your system during those breaks isn’t a bad idea either. The high country is notoriously dry and you will be expending a significant amount of energy throughout your trek.
Most trails in Colorado, especially the popular and easily reachable ones, are well marked. But in the early season, trail crews haven’t had the chance to get to all of them and inspect their current conditions after a long winter. Downed trees, overgrown meadows and technical stream crossings are just a few of the potential obstacles you may encounter. Always know your route and general trajectory. Being able to accurately use a compass and map is a huge plus. Brought a GPS along? Mark your terminus before leaving and you will have no troubles finding your way.
Some great scholar once wrote, “it’s not the destination that matters, it’s the journey.” That guy probably wasn’t a fly fisherman but there is some truth in that maxim. If fishing along your route is not in the cards, you may find yourself fixated on the ‘finish line.’ On my hikes, I often catch myself daydreaming about the rising cutthroats I will soon be casting to. Instead of falling into that trance, enjoy the beautiful scenery and keep an eye out for wildlife.
After the miles have been conquered, you’ve finally made it to camp. At this point, I’d say some celebrating is in order. Maybe even give yourself a little reward and string up your rod right then and there. Casting before setting up shop is more than acceptable. But once a trout or 5 has been landed, it’s time to establish your new, temporary homestead.
Perhaps the greatest authority for being a responsible backcountry visitor is the Leave No Trace organization. Not only do they have all the information you’ll need to pick the most ideal campsite, but their website also provides tips on being a conscientious outdoorsman in a multitude of scenarios. Their seven principles to ‘leaving no trace’ are an indispensable resource. Be sure to click the link above. There you will find the most environmentally friendly way to set up camp, dispose of your waste, minimize your overall impact and everything in between. We all want to enjoy the gorgeous nature we are surrounded by. Help do you part so that future generations can do the same.
With your tent setup and the rest of your ‘chores’ completed, it’s time to head back to the water. The beauty of having your bed within minutes of a pristine fishery? You can fish right till dark (or even the middle of the night). Then start up again at first light.
No hike out or long drive home. You’ll have all the time in the world dedicated to tight lines and rippin’ some lips.
Coming Up Next
In the final post of this series, I’ll reveal one of the best backpack fly fishing hikes in our area. You’ll be provided with directions to the trailhead, an in-depth description of the hike, specifics about the fishing and more. And for a little spoiler, brookies (good sized ones too) will be the trout species of choice on this adventure.
Seth Kulas, Vail Valley Anglers Content Writer, @sticks2snow