Fall in the backcountry can provide a clean break from the “bumper car” experience on frontcountry rivers. But those un-pressured cutties and eager brookies must be earned. And you must be prepared to work. By the time boots hit the dirt, most experienced backcountry anglers have figured out their fishing gear. For creeks, the typical kit includes 3- to 4-weight rods and assorted topwater bugs. For lakes, heavier rods, intermediate or sinking lines, and a few trusted streamers might make the trip.
The less obvious part of outfitting comes into play when we step away from the water. Whether you’re planning a high-mileage day-trip or considering a multi-night push into the hills, these off-grid essentials bring comfort and convenience to the equation.
Your pack is a key player. Several fishing manufactures have crafted backpacks capable of stowing a day’s worth of supplies. The Patagonia Sweet Fly Fishing Pack Vest or the Simms Dry Creek Backpack are good options. For multi-purpose use, check out a technical daypack such as the Osprey Kestrel; it’s surprisingly easy to make a few adjustments and rig the pack for fishing. Overnight missions require a true backpacker’s pack. Look for one with a detachable daypack (handy once you’ve set up camp and are ready to go fishing). The Osprey Aether series has a top “lid” that separates from the main pack and forms a functional daypack for stream-trekking.
Water makes the world go ’round, both from a fishing perspective and from a “let’s keep your body functioning on the trail” perspective. This author likes to use an Osprey hydration bladder in her pack for hikes. (It’s surprisingly handy on the river, too, when I just don’t want to put down the rod.) For multi-day trips and in-camp use, the Grayl Ultralight Purifier is lightweight, easy to use, and filters water quickly. Another word on liquids. Include a few sticks of powdered, instant coffee in your pack. Even if you’re not out overnight, you can mix with hot or cold water for a little boost. Or as a guide once showed me in Alaska, just shoot the powder straight. Alpine Start is my go-to.
A good first-aid kit is critical to any outdoor undertaking. Whether you’re traveling around the globe or simply hiking a few miles from the trailhead, make sure to cover the basics: band-aids, gauze, sterile gloves, antiseptic, duct tape, and antihistamines. I’ve created my own kit over the years and am constantly finessing it, but for an off-the-shelf option Adventure Medical has created a solid line. Even if it’s just a few things in a ziplock, bring the basics.
Not planning on being out after dark? Doesn’t matter… bring a headlamp. It’s too easy to get caught up in a killer hatch that inevitably extends your fishing session into the sunset hours. I recommend the Petzl Tikka; it’s lightweight, packable, durable, and affordable. It also has that all-too-important red-light option for nighttime fishing.
Planning a night or two in the boondocks? Invest in a solid tent, warm bag, and comfy pad. Fall is not the time to skimp. Evening thunderstorms and high-country fishing trips go hand-in-hand, and getting cold and wet at altitude is no bueno. My go-to tent is the Big Agnes Rattlesnake SL1; it’s got enough headroom to rig lines sitting up, extra lateral room so my camera gear can spend the night inside. It also has the structural integrity to withstand blustery summer storms. Bring along a sleeping bag/pad team that packs small yet offers big warmth. I like the Therm-a-Rest Questar down sleeping bag and NeoAir XLite MAX SV pad. Bundle up, sleep well, and be ready to rise with the sun and fish.
Finally, it’s hard to fish well on an empty stomach. A small backpacking stove (look at MSR’s PocketRocket 2 Mini Stove Kit) takes up minimal space in a pack but quickly heats water for coffee, freeze-dried dinners or evening tea. Creature comforts can make or break a backcountry trip, so be sure to bring a few snacks along… I always reach for peanut-butter packets, dried dates and good ol’ Clif Bars. One fishing friend always brings along a large bag of M&Ms, which have the double bonus of being a tasty snack and a perfect bartering material for firelight poker games.