Ultralight Backpack Fishing
I know there are many readers of this blog who are just as crazy about fishing as they are about collecting knives. I know I’m in good company as a knife nut and angler. Hopefully enough readers of this blog will eventually hit up Andy to make us a Fiddleback Forge filet knife. What do you say Andy? With so many of the Fiddleback Family interested in fishing, writing a blog post about fishing was inevitable. That said, I don’t want to write about your average fishing set of skills but rather one I hope more of you will pick up. If standing shoulder to shoulder with fist fights breaking out over crossed lines is your idea of fun, this isn’t going to be your favorite blog. If hooking a fish that has never seen an artificial lure and fights for its life like no other is more like it, please keep reading. What I’m about to offer up as one of the most incredible fishing experiences combines getting away from the rest of the populace with your backpack and fishing some mountain ponds and creeks rarely visited by others.
Gear and Tackle:
If you already have a backpack, you don’t need much more to get started. Try to keep your gear as light as possible and remember what your ultimate goal is once you make it to the backcountry. This may mean leaving some additional room in your pack if you plan on using waders or hip boots. Carry your usual loadout for hiking including all the safety essentials and don’t omit something for the sake of another tackle box, net, or other fishing accessory. Remember, you are still venturing into the backcountry and should always consider safety as a top priority. You should also remember the creeks and ponds you are visiting will likely not be stocked with fish that were raised on a diet of fish food pellets. Chances are, the fish you’ll be after will be smaller. Therefore, think about carrying ultralight gear and leave the large lures behind. You’ll be amazed at what you can catch with a few wooly buggers, some Mepps Spinners and a couple of Phoebes.
Before you set off to look for a remote mountain pond, do a little research and get your permits. Even if a body of water doesn’t appear on a map, look to see where the contour lines on a map indicate a ravine or low spot where water may run and collect. Maps are not always seasonal. For that matter, think about if water illustrated will still be present in a hot summer. It really isn’t fun hiking to what you believe to be a body of water only to find a dried pond instead. When you finalize a plan to hit a particular body of water, get an early start. If you’re a fisherman, you know the early bird..er um, I mean fish, gets the worm. If your hike takes a couple hours to reach a destination, you may have to leave before dark and hike with a headlamp to get to that creek before the sunrises. Also, fishing should be enjoyable. If you set out late and get there with only a couple hours until high noon, you may rush, all covered in sweat and exhausted, to catch a fish. Isn’t fishing supposed to be relaxing? After a good hike, it is worthwhile to sit down, cool off, pour yourself a cup of coffee from an insulated bottle and relax a little before you throw your line. In other words, start early.
I mentioned before how the fish you’ll catch have likely never seen a human before. They will fight like the devil to stay off your line and they will spook very easily if you aren’t careful. Whenever I approach a body of water, I always stay low and avoid silhouetting myself. I also don’t walk with a heavy foot as fish can pick up the vibrations. I tend to work from the downstream side of a creek up against the current walking the banks. Each time I approach a new pool, I may only have one cast to catch a fish. When one fish spooks, there is a pretty good chance the rest of the fish in the pool will spook too. It’s important to be sneaky and let the lure or bait you throw be the first thing the fish see.
The Little Guys:
Unless you are using an extremely ultralight rod and reel combination (which I highly suggest), you may not notice the little guys working your lure or bait. Strike indicators and floats are a God send! Little fish are often native fish and sometimes the little fish are more fun to catch than the large whoppers you find at the most popular and overfished locations. These little fish you’re going to catch are delicate and I’d suggest either going with hooks you’ve de-barbed or having a good set of hemostats to remove the hooks quickly and humanely. The little guys you’re likely to catch will have plenty of fight in them, great coloring and provide you a sense of accomplishment in your backpack fishing trip. It is up to you to decide if you want to pack a net or not. Most of the smaller fish should cause you no trouble landing without one.
Hook and Cook or Catch and Release?:
You’ve caught a fish and now the all-important and philosophical question remains. Do you throw it back or do you keep it? I’m not one to preach about one and ostracize the other as I’ll follow either philosophy depending on my situation. When fishing in Alaska last year with my good friend Mark Knapp, we ate everything we caught including grayling, lake trout and arctic char. When traveling through the backcountry of Idaho, I threw back all of the fish I caught as I wasn’t starving and dinner was better served at the local eateries. Whether you hook and cook or catch and release is up to you. The only thing I’ll recommend is to think about the next time you come back. As long as your decision leaves a sustainable amount of fish behind, you are making the right decision. Whatever decision you make, just make sure to have what you need to handle the fish once you land them whether that is a set of small pliers, a filet knife, camera or stringer.
Should you decide to pick up your pack and fishing rod and end up landing a beauty of a fish, tag me @estelawilded in your social media posts or send me an E-mail with a photo. I love hearing about people’s success stories. Perhaps in a future blog post I’ll get to show my preferred way to clean a fish with a Fiddleback Forge filet knife. Come on Andy, what do you say?