We all have our favorite things. Favorite food, favorite activity, favorite way of avoiding work. But, when you combine two of your choicest entities…well, you just made some magic happen. For me it’s backpacking and fly fishing.
Let’s say you love chocolate. And you also love peanut butter. Fuse those two totally different flavors together and BOOM! Yup, I’m referring to you Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Have a keen interest in live music and a passion for the outdoors? Go see a show at Red Rocks Amphitheater and take that combination to the next level. Can’t decide whether to mountain bike or fly fish for the day? Why not do them together?! Sign up for one of Vail Valley Anglers’ E-Bike and Fish Trip offerings.
To further illustrate my point, let me layout some simple “math.” Hiking + Camping = Backpacking. Fly fishing + Backpacking = A multisport match made in Heaven. And here are 3 reasons why you should try it…
The Road Less Traveled
During prime trout fishing season, our local rivers can get pretty damn busy. On one hand, I am happy to see fly fishing being appreciated and practiced by so many anglers. On the other hand (and quite selfishly), it would be nice to, say once a week, have one of my cherished spots all to myself. Don’t get me wrong. I am all about sharing. And I am forever grateful to all the anglers who have graciously given me the ‘ok’ to fish up or down river from them. But there is something truly sublime about having the water to yourself.
The simple solution to this quandary. Get away from the masses. Steer clear of fishable areas that are easily accessible. Search out water that most others overlook. And how, you ask? Head into the wilderness. There you will find rivers, streams and lakes that have little to no fishing pressure. And with that simple advantage comes eager trout. The farther you get from the trailhead, the better. And here’s where backpacking comes into play.
A roundtrip dayhike of roughly 6 miles is 100% doable for most people. But throw fishing time into the mix and you’re looking at 8+ hours easily. This is what I would suggest. Search out a fishing destination (like an alpine lake) that is at least 4 miles from a trailhead or road. Then, stuff your backpack with the overnight essentials and
make it into a two day fishing trip. In doing this, you will get more time on the water. And with that distance, there are far less people willing to hike in, fish, then hike out all in one day. With fewer people comes more trout in your net. And more solitude for your soul.
Earn Your Casts
In backcountry skiing and snowboarding, there is a saying. ‘Earn your turns.’ Essentially, you work your ass off skinning or hiking up a powder-packed mountain. And as compensation for your labors, you are rewarded with blissfully untouched turns during your descent. Justifiably, this sort of mentality can be applied to backpacking and fly fishing. In the onset, you put the time, effort and sheer energy into hiking to some remote lake. And with that arduous endeavour, all of the casts you ultimately make will be well deserved. You have earned those casts.
For the most part, drive and park fishing outings are ideal. They are the bread and butter for the majority of anglers’ yearly excursions. And I would argue, rightfully so. They are convenient, highly approachable, and comfortable. But with time and repetition, those qualities can breed complacency and in some cases, entitlement. For example, let’s say a typical drive to your local water is 15-20 minutes. And moments after parking, you are already wetting your line. That proximity makes it easy to forget how fortunate you are. Living so close to the Eagle River, I fall victim to this lack of perspective often. Now, let’s say you hike 4 hours to a backcountry fishing location. I guarantee that with your additional effort, you will have a greater appreciation for where you are and what you are doing. It has been scientifically proven that gratitude is directly correlated to happiness.
Sweet Sweet Nature
Towering peaks wrapped in cumulus clouds. Vast stands of old growth Ponderosa Pines. Glacial lakes teeming with turquoise water. Rolling wilderness virtually untouched for centuries. Fat, healthy, wild trout inhabiting water so pure it’s practically invisible. Sounds nice, right? How about no emails. No texts or calls, no roads with noisy vehicles, no competing for a spot to make your casts, no one else around. This is just a mere sampling of what you’ll experience when you add backpacking into the fly fishing equation.
For all anglers, there is an inherent reverence for nature. We spend the bulk of our free time on the water, immersed in natural environments. But I’m telling you, there is no
better way to magnify your acquaintance with fly fishing than transplanting it into the wilderness. You will witness unparalleled sunsets and sunrises. You will share your spot in the backcountry with wildlife like moose, bald eagles and marmots. And you will do all of this while double-hauling dry flies to rising trout on pristine waters.
Now, I’ve given you many compelling reasons to go out and give backpack fly fishing a whirl. But, I would be remiss if I omitted the challenges you may run into with this type of adventuring. Here are a few…
I’m not gonna lie. Backpacking is hard work. And although the payoffs are well worth the undertaking, it might not be for everyone. Heavy packs and mountainous hiking can lead to sore legs, backs and shoulders. And inclement weather can quickly change any perfect outing into an unending death march. To remedy these issues, I recommend three things. Start with a small trip with minimal mileage and elevation change. Pay close attention to the weather forecasts. And be prepared. *More on these three points in Parts 2 & 3 of the backpack fly fishing series
It’s Worth It
A wise man once said, “all things excellent are as difficult as they are rare.” It may be a stretch, but I believe that wise man was alluding to the merit found in backpack fly fishing. He was referring to its beauty through infrequency. Its demands rewarded with accomplishment. Now, go give it a try. It may end up being your next favorite thing.
Keep ‘em wet, handle them sparingly and always appreciate where you are. Seth Kulas, Vail Valley Anglers Content Writer, @sticks2snow