Alan Dixon illustrates the technique of the backpacking fly fisherman: carrying your full overnight gear while fishing en route from camp to camp. This style of fishing allows you to cover a tremendous amount of fishable water, especially in areas like the Beartooths or Uintas (shown here), where there seems to be a lake, pond, or stream at every turn of the trail.
"Backcountry fly fishing" conjures up vastly different meanings to different people. For some, it means riding a four-wheeler up logging roads to a remote pond. Others may strap a float tube on their back and hike in five miles to an alpine cirque for a day. In Montana and Wyoming, it's not unpopular to join a horse packing trip to a remote wilderness for several days of supreme lake and stream fishing, with all the amenities of wilderness luxury: dutch ovens, cabin tents, and bottles of wine.
This type of backcountry fly fishing places few demands on the amount of fishing gear one might take: The ATV'er or horse packer is not so concerned about weight, and it's not so bad to haul a float tube, waders, fishing boots, and a loaded vest to a high alpine lake if for only a day or an overnighter.
But what to do if your backcountry fly fishing trek demands a full load of long distance hiking and camping gear, and you want to maintain an ultralight ethic - and pack?
Backpack Fishing vs. Camping Fishing
The backpacking fisherman fishes while on the trail - following a stream, or dropping a cast into every lakelet he may encounter. He usually carries his rod while hiking, and the majority of his fishing - including casting, catching, and releasing fish, is performed while wearing his full backpack. The camping fisherman stows his fishing gear in his pack, and only pulls it out occasionally on the trail, or once he arrives in camp, and seldom fishes while wearing his backpack. This article is tailored primarily to the backpacking fisherman.
Waders, Wading Boots, and Watercraft
If you are considering any of these items on your trek, this article is not entirely for you. Even the very lightest waders, wading boots, and trail boat or float tube is going to set you back a minimum of 4 pounds and if using mainstream (not ultralight) gear, can easily exceed 15 pounds. It's tough to go "ultralight" when you're adding that much weight. The subject of waders, boots, and watercraft is more appropriately addressed in Larry Tullis' article, Backcountry Fly Fishing: Lightweight Gear and Style .
For the ultralighter, wading means getting your feet wet, which places demands on the type of footwear you select. Fortunately, water warm enough to wade often equates to hiking in footwear that need not provide any insulation. Lightweight trail running shoes wit...