Peninsula Fly Fishers

Equipping the High Sierra Backpack Fly Fisher

by Mike McGuire

May 2005

Having combined backpacking and fly fishing in the Sierra Nevada for quite a few years now I have come to some definite ideas on what sort of equipment setup is the best compromise between keeping the load light and fishing effectively. The first big piece of advice is Divest yourself of your vest!  If you are like any of the rest of us you'll have way too much stuff in it, and ounces count. Chest waders and wading boots are also pretty incompatible with lightweight backpacking. But to get off the negative, below is a picture of me as equiped for a day on the stream in the back country

view of backpack fly fisher

Starting from my feet, I wear Teva-style sandals upsized to fit over neoprene socks over nylon stocking foot hippers. The alternate choice would be to wade wet. This  works if you are not going to spend too much time in snow melt fed water. However the banks of most streams are pretty brushy, and good casting positions demand wading. Doing this for several hours brought me to the choice I have made, although I might wade wet fishing for half an hour at a lunch stop.

Since I already use a hiking stick, it might as well be a wading staff in the water. There's not any ankle support with those Tevas so it's a useful help. I usually carry a small rucksack with a water bottle, poncho etc. A cord to keep it at hand goes from the handle of wading staff to a loop behind my neck on the rucksack. It would be better if that staff were a subdued color rather than yellow.

One flybox with a judicious selection of flies is plenty for the backcountry. Here I have looped it with a cord to a buttonhole.  Losing it would put an end to fishing for the trip.

I much favor supplex nylon clothing. It's light, dries quickly if I fall in and its fairly tough and seems to be styled with nice big pockets.

In place of a vest to keep needed stuff at hand I have gone to the necklace approach. Pricing some beads in the local bead shop that pays $6 per square foot for rent, I quickly came up with an alternative at the hardware store. I made the spacing beads out of 1/4" drip irrigation tubing and used a long piece of it to ease where it bears on  my neck. The other things needed are 4 or 5 fairly large size snap swivels from the tackle store. On it I hang my nippers, a couple of tippet spools, fly floatum, and my fishing license. The etc. item is a 35 mm film can with holes punched in it to keep used flies in while they dry.

The hat--perhaps the less said about it the better, but it's a Filson and comes with explicit instructions not to wash it, thereby preventing spouse from washing your luck away.

Rods--I favor 4 and 5 piece rods that pack up not longer than the height of my backpack. Two piece rods are a lot of trouble tied onto a pack going through brushy areas. However in a good stout rod case that can work as a hiking stick and hand carried  they may not be so bad. Rod weight--a 3 weight would work on most anything you would hook into in a Sierra stream. However the high lakes can be pretty windy at times. A 6 weight has the backbone to punch through, so that's what I ususally take. On my last year's trip, one of the guys had a telescoping rod. This could stay rigged up with line through the guides and fly on the end of the line in the telescoped (18" long) condition.  The great thing about this is that to stop and fish some attractive water, one does not have to rig up, fish for awhile and then take down the rod. It's ready to go and ready to stop in an instant.  It's not a wonderful casting instrument, but as Dr. Johnson said about the talking dog, it's not a matter of how well it casts.

Where to get some of this stuff? The hardest thing to find are the stocking foot hippers. Locally (S.F. Bay Area) Tri-Cities Sporting Goods in Fremont has had them from time to time. but they are not consistent. Simms offers some GoreTex ones but they are a bit spendy. Cabelas has the neoprene socks and did have stocking foot hippers, but not this year. Maybe Ebay? The telescoping rod is available from Compact Fishing Gear in Westport, Connecticut.

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