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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Norm Michaels March 28, 2012 at 12:41 am
A great write up on how to keep Fly fishing simple. Nice Job Russ.
Jim V March 28, 2012 at 4:33 pm
I guess this is more of a question than a comment… Did you need to obtain a fishing license for each of the states or commonwealths you fished? I am planning a tour that will cross several states, just wondering if it is worth the effort and the expense of obtaining a non-resident fishing license… for each state I visit.
Adam August 11, 2014 at 9:52 am
It’s totally worth it. I lived in Salt Lake City and travel to Montana Wyoming Idaho and it’s usually 10 to 15 bucks for a 10 day license for out-of-state fishing and they make it pretty easy. I’m sure prices are little different now but it’s easy is the point I guess I’m just trying to make. You’ll kick yourself and regret it forever if you don’t do it. some of the best times I’ve ever had has been on some stream in the middle of nowhere…
DaveC March 28, 2012 at 5:21 pm
Nice post, a subject near to my heart. You gotta try Tenkara. Only way to go for backcountry fishing.
Russ March 28, 2012 at 5:33 pm
Hey there Jim,
Depending on how long we’re in a state I’ll get a license. Some are fairly inexpensive. $20 for a non-res annual. If it’s a state fairly serious about fishing I’d get one. In New Zealand I bought an annual non-res for $120 but we were in country for 3 months and it was worth it. Even got checked at a river for the license.
Russ March 28, 2012 at 5:34 pm
I have a Tenkara rod too and really enjoy it! Great for small water and super fast to deploy.
Fishing Equipment Reviews 2009 April 18, 2012 at 3:42 pm
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Brian April 10, 2016 at 2:50 pm
I love fly fishing and I’m new to cycle touring. What are some good flycycletourfishing trip routs you’d recommend? I’m about to have a 4 month break and can go anywhere.
Russ April 17, 2016 at 8:35 pm
A big loop around Oregon, Idaho and Montana would provide lots of great cycling and fly-fishing adventures. On our short list would be to tour and fish along the Caraterra Austral in South America. Also, Iceland has lake and sea run salmon fishing. Hope that helps!
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Love these vids about fishing! I have a small handbuilt 5 piece 7wt rod built especially for me for bike/backpacking trips and I also have a great old Pfluger Medalist that is one of the ones that was still built in the USA! I concur on the waders. It’s hard to carry them on a bike trip,(esp. along the Cascade Lakes Hwy where the water is sooo cold) but a good pair of neoprene socks go a long way. I also got a pair of felt soles (used to resole fishing boots) and glued them to the bottom of some some light weight backpacking canvas and made booties to pull over my Keen sandals. Work great for wading without slipping and super light weight. My next DIY project is to take an old reflective safety vest and put some fly fishing tabs/pockets on it(dual duty)! Oh, ‘fishermen’ and fisherwomen love to bike and fish! Have you ever done backpacking on your bike? I have only a few times, but it’s hard to hide a bike and I worried about it the entire weekend, but it was still hiding when I got back off the trail! It would be so easy with a folding bike though. Sigh, wish I had one. Love these blogs! Thanks for writing!! Jo