Gear: Russ’ Fly Fishing / Bike Touring Kit
Combining interests with bicycle touring is a great way to keep bicycle touring fresh and attracting others who may not identify themselves purely as hardcore touring cyclists. One of the activities I’ve most enjoyed while touring (this is no big surprise to long-time readers) is fly fishing. I actually learned how to fly fish WHILE on tour. On our first 15 month ramble around the United States we were constantly camping by idyllic streams, rivers and lakes. I would look longingly at people fishing and thought that would be a great way to relax after a day of riding. It would also provide a different way to interact with the environment, rather than just pedaling through and pushing on. I ended up taking a class in Fortworth, TX about 6 months into our first big tour and have been fishing ever since!
A Good Starter Kit
Fly fishing, like bicycle touring, can be a slippery slope of expensive purchases in search for the “perfect gear.” Fortunately for us, fish can’t read and a $100 rod is just as likely to catch some fish as an $800 one. The fish don’t care about brands, but how you present and get the fly to them. To this end, it’s worth it to get less expensive tackle but take a beginners fly-fishing/casting class to speed up learning.
My recommendation for a good starter kit for fly fishing that is optimized for bike touring is a 9ft 5wt 6pc rod like this Reddington kit. This kit has almost everything you’ll need, except for tippet (3x tippet is a good all-rounder tippet unless the fish are super spooky) and some flies.
What I Use - Reddington 5wt 9ft 6pc
Not the flashiest of fly rods out there, but a lot of value for the money. You can’t really find much fault in a travel rod at this price point. It is lightweight, packs down small, has alignment dots on the segments for quick setup and a decent cork grip. If you’re rough with it, you’re not out a $1000 dollars and Redington has a lifetime warrantee. If there’s any criticism it’s that it probably has a little stiffer and faster action than a rod with less segments, but the stiffness can come in handy when chucking heavier flies (or using sinking lines). In all my touring and fishing, the 5wt seems to be the best choice. It’s just the right weight to cast a variety of flies (from delicate dries to heavier streamers and nymphs) with enough spine to bring in big fish but thin enough to even make small fish fun on the line.
The reel I use is a Lampson Konic 2 which I found used at a little fly shop in North Carolina. About 90% of the time, the reel is just there to hold line. Most fish I’ve caught I can just bring in by stripping the line in with my hand. The Lampson really showed off its stuff when I got into some big trout in New Zealand and I had to adjust the drag to play the fish without breaking them off. Another good but inexpensive reel is the venerable Pfluger Medalist. Get it with the “RC” designation which stands for rim control. Like the name suggests, the drag is adjusted by the friction you apply with the palm of your hand.
It’s difficult to anticipate every conceivable hatch you’ll encounter while on tour. What I do is carry some reliable patterns I’m comfortable with and pick up patterns specific to the region along the way. If there’s a fly shop in the area, I’ll talk to the people behind the counter to see what’s working. Generally, I’ll carry some Elk Hair Caddis and some Parachute Adams in a range of sizes and that’s it for my dries. For nymphs, I like Prince Nymphs and Hare and Coppers in various sizes with weights and without. For streamers, Woolly Buggers in a few colors with weights and without weight. That’s it. I’m not an expert, but I think fish are fish and as long as what you throw at them looks reasonably buggy and is presented nicely, they’ll bite.
Since I’m touring, I try to bring as few tools as possible. I use Plain Jane nail clippers to cut the tippet and leader, a Fast Tyer for nail knots and some Stream Works hemostats to ease in removing a hook from a fish. A good wide-brim hat is another indispensable thing to have while fishing. It acts two fold: to keep you from getting sunburned and to keep you from hooking your ear on a bad cast.
Carrying chest waders is just not feasible on a long tour. The bulk and the weight don’t justify hauling it all across the country. I typically try to fish from the bank when possible. If I do have to wade in, I’ll wet wade with just my Keen sandals and some shorts (be sure to empty your pockets of all electronic devices). Because Keens don’t have fishing specific soles, I never wander off into very technical or deep water. If the water is really cold, I’ll wear some neoprene socks with them and that lets me wade in some colder water.
How to Carry it All
There’s a variety of ways to carry all your tackle. If you’re a traditionalist, you can use a vest. Chest packs and waist packs seem to be all the rage these days. I like to use a BW Fly Pouch which tends to be hard to find, but it’s essentially an accordion style wallet that hangs from your neck on a lanyard. It’s pretty minimal with a few pockets and some clips to hang a nail clipper or hemostat. You could probably even do without that and just use a little fly box and a ziplock bag for everything else, but if you fish enough, getting convenient access to tools and flies becomes a more important priority.
Fly fishing is a great pairing with bicycle touring because all the gear is relatively lightweight. While I wouldn’t count on fishing as a means to feed yourself on tour (I never seem to catch fish when its purposefully for a meal), but it is a fun and relaxing activity off the bike. Not only do you experience the environment you’re riding through in a completely different way, but it gives you a chance to meet some locals. If there’s one thing that fisherman like to do more than fishing, it’s talk about fishing. On that note, I’m going to end this post : )
PathLessPedaled Amazon Store: Russ’ Fishing Gear
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