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Catching your own fish while backpacking is a great experience. Not only will you appreciate the food more, you will also feel a sense of achievement.
Catching and eating your own fish is a completely different experience from what you would typically buy in the supermarket.
But how do you catch fish? What fishing rod should you bring? Where do you even find the fish? I’m sure you’re asking yourself these questions and more! That’s why we put together this article explaining everything there is to know about fishing while backpacking.
What Type Of Fishing Rod Should You Bring?
Before you can begin catching fish, you’re going to need a fishing rod. With so many different options available in 2020, it can be hard to choose, especially if you’re going to be backpacking. Here are some things you should look for when buying a fishing rod for backpacking.
There’s no point buying a heavy fishing rod when backpacking as you’ll need to carry it around with you. Look for something that is small and portable, but still does the job it’s designed to do.
The reel is the cylindrical part of a fishing rod used to reel in the line. When buying a fishing rod, you will be able to choose between spinning reels or flyfishing reels.
Having been used since the 1870s, spinning reels sit upside down under the rod, meaning they have low friction and are beginner-friendly. While they are great for beginners, the downside is they tend to be bulkier than flyfishing reels.
Flyfishing reels are more difficult to operate than spinning wheels as you will need to control the spool when casting, risking the chance of messing up and ruining your line. If, on the other hand, you have some previous experience fishing, they are a great option for backpackers as they are lighter and less bulky.
Rod power is how much your rod bends when catching a fish. It’s measured in the following categories.
- Ultralight – If you’re going to be using small lures, then this is a great rod power. It’s also very compact, making it great for backpacking.
- Lightweight – Lightweight rods are great for trout, walleye, and Panfish. They are good for lures in the 1/16 ounce range and allow for great hook sets.
- Medium – Medium rod power is the sweet spot as it is considered a universal rod. It’s perfect for lures in the ⅛ to ½ range and works in both fresh and saltwater.
- Heavy – If the fishing lure you’re going to be using is in the ⅛ to 1-ounce range, then this is the rod power you should go for. It has a stiffer rod and is ideal for deep structure fishing.
For backpacking, the rod power you choose should depend on the type of fish you’re going to be catching. If you’re going to be catching trout, then a lightweight rod power should be fine, however, if you want to catch blue catfish, then a heavyweight rod would be a more suitable option.
While it may not be an issue for some people, price is something to keep in mind when buying a fishing rod for backpacking.
It also depends on how often you go backpacking. For example, if you only go once a year, it’s not worth spending hundreds of dollars on a fishing rod. However, if you love backpacking as much as us and consider it a weekly necessity, a more expensive rod would be a better option.
If you’re looking for a more expensive option, then some great brands to consider are Shakespeare and Seaguar.
Where Do You Find Fish While Backpacking?
Where you catch fish depends on where you’re backpacking. Here are some of the most popular places to catch fish.
Small ponds can be found anywhere and are great for catching fish at a fast rate as they’re never too far away.
A great rule to follow is to fish where there is some type of shelter, such as weeds and brush, as this is where fish tend to spend most of their time.
When fishing from a small pond, it’s also recommended to fish either early in the morning or at night.
Don’t be put off by fishing in small ponds. If you follow the two rules above, you should be able to catch a variety of fish. Some of the fish you can expect to catch in small ponds are Redear Sunfish, Bluegill, Black Crappie, Channel Catfish, and Largemouth Bass.
Lakes are the most commonplace for fishing thanks to the variety of fish that can be caught. They also tend to have larger specimens such as Carp and Pike.
Although you will be able to catch different kinds of fish, it’s going to be harder in comparison to a small pond, due to the fish being spread further apart.
However, thanks to the deeper water, you will be able to use ledger methods when fishing in lakes.
Ledger fishing doesn’t require a float. Instead, it involves attaching a casting weight to your line. When a fish bites into the bait, there will be a strong indication coming from your rod. This type of fishing is great for fishing at distance, and in rough conditions.
The great thing about fishing in rivers is there is a variety of different fish to catch. Depending on what part of the river you will be fishing on, the species of fish can change.
For example, if you’re looking to catch some Carp, then the inside edge of a bend should be your go-to spot. On the flip side, if you’re looking to catch Barbel, then fast flowing water is your best friend.
The speed at which the water is flowing varies depending on each part of the river. If the body of the river begins to narrow, then the water will be flowing at a faster rate, whereas, if the body begins to widen, the current will begin to slow.
A river is constantly flowing, meaning there are always going to be new shoals coming by even if you scare some of them away. This is not the case with small ponds and lakes.
When fishing in canals, you can find species such as the Big Flathead Catfish, Channel, Panfish, and Huge Carp.
We recommend pole fishing as canals are typically narrow, allowing you to drop the bait anywhere you desire.
With so much debris on the bottom of canals, you may sometimes lose a hook, which is why we recommend packing a minimum of 3. You may also benefit from bringing different hook lengths as you can reach greater depths without ruining your set up.
A good rule of thumb is to fish the far bank on the opposite side to where there are runners and cyclists. Runners and cyclists scare the fish to the other side, meaning you will have a higher chance of catching something.
How Do You Kill Trout?
Congratulations, you’ve caught some trout! But how do you kill it in the most humane way?
As soon as the fish leaves the water it will not be able to breathe. You want to minimize the time it spends suffocating by putting it out of its misery as soon as possible.
To do this, have some kind of blunt object close by, a thick stick, or a rock work really well.
Lay the fish on its side and hit it once in the back of the head, a few inches away from the eyes. This will kill it instantly, preventing it from suffering any longer. Be careful not to hit the fish too hard otherwise it could cause a mess.
Even though the fish is dead, you’re not done yet. You still need to gut it so it’s ready to be cooked.
To do this, put the fish on its back and cut along the body up until the chin with a knife. You will now be able to remove the insides.
Once everything has been removed, you need to wash the fish under water. If you’re backpacking, you can use a lake or river to do this.
Congratulations, your fish is now ready to be cooked.
Some people like to fillet the fish, however, this is not necessary if you’re going to be using any of the cooking methods outlined below in this article.
If you do want to fillet your fish before cooking, check out this video that explains how to do it.
How Do You Cook Fish Over An Open Fire?
Before you even begin cooking your fish, you’re going to need a fire, and to make a fire, you’re going to need some basic tools. These include a sharp knife, tinder, and some grass for kindling.
Now you have the essentials, it’s time to get started…
To begin, start with a tinder base and add tiny sticks around the outside forming a pyramid shape similar to the image below.
Now is also a good time to find some rocks and place them around the fire. This helps protect the fire from the wind and can hold heat.
Next, you will need to find two fork-shaped sticks and place them in the ground on either side of the fire, similar to the image below.
Once the two sticks are in place either side of the fire, you will need to find a stick long enough to fit between the fork shaped sticks. Once you have found a stick, you can then sharpen it to a point.
Once sharpened, it’s time to cook your fish. Put the sharp end of the stick through the fish’s mouth and all the way through the body until it comes out the other side, similar to when you’re roasting a marshmallow.
You can now rest the sharpened stick on the two ‘fork shaped sticks’. Once your fire has started, it should then begin cooking.
Don’t forget to keep turning it ensuring it cooks on both sides.
Before you light your fire, you will need to ensure the base contains dry grass. This is known as ‘Kindling’, and will prevent your fire from going out once it has been lit.
Once this is done, light your fire using a match or lighter and you’re good to go.
How Do You Cook Fish While Backpacking?
The method outlined above is very primitive and not the most effective way to cook a fish. If you’re looking for a more natural way to do it, you can use the ‘tin foil’ method.
Once you’ve gutted the fish, you can cook it using nothing but tin foil and a fire.
First, start by seasoning your fish. We recommend rubbing a stick of butter on the fishes scales and covering it in breadcrumbs – This will add to the flavour.
Next, wrap your fish in tin foil and secure each end so no air can escape.
After wrapping them up, place each fish on hot coal for about 20 minutes to ensure they are fully cooked.
After 20 minutes, you can remove them from the fire and begin eating.
One thing to keep in mind when cooking using this method is that fire burns food. That’s why you want to ensure the fish is not placed directly over the fire but instead, on hot coals.
If you’re still struggling to cook your fish, check out this video that goes into greater detail.
What Is The Best Backpacking Fishing Gear?
When backpacking, it can be difficult to know what gear you should bring with you. Let’s take a look at some of the best backpacking fishing gear below.
As you may have guessed, a fly rod is designed for fly fishing. They are typically lightweight and thin compared to most other fishing rods. A good fly rod will allow the fly line to be casted with power and accuracy.
Retractable Fishing Rods
A retractable fishing rod is one of our top choices. It fits nicely in your backpack. You can run live bait or lures on it. And if you need a shorter pole for fishing in a brushy creek, you can run it only half-way extended.
Choosing A Line
If you want to enjoy your time fishing, you need to make sure the line you’re using matches the weight of your fishing rod.
Most casting lines for spinning or casting reels range from between 4-8 pounds, making them great if you’re backpacking.
Lures are artificial fishing bait designed to attract fish using movement, color, and vibration. They typically have hooks attached, allowing you to catch the fish once it tries to bite into the lure.
If you’re going to be using a fly or tenkara rod during the summer months, we advise using the following lures:
- Adams Flies – Adams flies have been used for 85 years by fishaman all over the world, and are great at attracting Trout.
- Wooly Buggers – The Wooly Bugger is considered a wet fly meaning it is used under the water. It is typically used in both fresh and saltwater, making it perfect for backpackers.
- Caddis Flies – Caddis Flies are dry and typically found in freshwater. They are great for catching Trout as they are known to be nocturnal.
The whole idea of backpacking is to travel as light as possible. That’s why we don’t recommend bringing a landing net with you.
However, they are a great optional extra if you don’t mind the extra weight.
There are two main types of landing nets you should know about. These are short handle and long handle nets.
Short Handle Nets
Short handle nets are great if you’re going to be backpacking through thick brush deep in the mountains due to their lightweight and portable design. They are perfect for catching native brook trout, wild rainbow trout, and wild brown trout.
Keep in mind that short handles typically mean small nets. This will limit what size fish you will be able to catch. Small nets are good for catching trout, bass, and white fish.
Long Handle Nets
If you’re going to be fishing in larger bodies of water, or be fishing from a boat, then a long handle net may be more suitable. Large handles allow you to net fish at a faster rate compared to smaller ones, and they can also be used to catch bigger fish as, in most cases, they have bigger nets.
Some of the fish you can expect to catch with a long handle net are muskie, steelhead, and salmon.Table could not be displayed.
The downside is they tend to be bigger and less compact, making them difficult to carry while backpacking. We wouldn’t recommend getting a long handle net unless you’re going to be fishing from a boat or in very large bodies of water.
Is It Better To Fish With Bait Or Lures?
Bait tends to be live insects, whereas lures are artificial insects that attract fish through color and vibration. Both have their strengths and weaknesses making them better suited to different environments.
If you’re looking to catch something as fast as possible, bait is your best option. It’s great for fooling fish and is usually quite cheap.
Knowing when to strike is less important when using bait as the fish will typically hook itself, making it perfect for less experienced anglers.
While bait allows you to catch fish at a faster rate, it may not be the best choice if you’re backpacking. This is because, unless you can get a continuous supply of bait, you will need to freeze what you already have to preserve it. And chances are, you haven’t brought a freezer backpacking.
Read this post to see how you can pack a small fishing kit and use a willow stick when hiking or backpacking.
While lures are more expensive than bait, they come with a range of benefits.
One benefit is that you will be able to catch larger fish. Bait, on the other hand, targets all fish so you never know what you’re going to catch.
If you’re going to be catching and releasing the fish back into the water, then lures are your best friend. When using bait, the fish often ends up swallowing the whole hook meaning their chance of survival is low, even if they get released.
A downside to using lures is they can sometimes get caught on small rocks or trees if you’re not careful. Fish are also a lot less responsive to lures as they are artificial and real insects will always be the better choice of food.
When Is The Best Time To Go Fishing?
The best time to go fishing is when the fish are most active. This is typically at sunrise or sunset as this is when the fish feed the most. Another great time to go fishing is one hour before or after high tides, or low tides.
Fishing when backpacking differs from normal fishing as you need to ensure everything you bring is as lightweight as possible.
After reading this article, you should have a solid understanding of how to choose a fishing rod, start a fire, gut a fish, and the best practices when it comes to fishing.
Catching and eating your own fish is an amazing experience that can only be described as ‘fulfilling’ and we recommend everyone give it a try atleast once in their life.