Packing for Backcountry Fly Fishing, Part I - Rod Selection
Updated: Dec 4, 2020
A friend of mine once said that ounces equal pounds, and now that maxim plays through my head whenever I am packing for the backcountry. Deciding on what clothing and gear to pack for the backcountry is tough but add in the appetite to fly fish and paring down items becomes more difficult. These series of posts will cover many aspects of packing for backcountry fly fishing, and this first article covers fly rod selection.
Versatility, that is what you should be thinking while choosing what fly fishing rods to pack. Three rods come to my mind that have helped me to enjoy my backcountry fishing experience: my 3wt, 5wt and euro-nymphing rods.
The 3wt Fly Rod
The 8'6" 3wt rod is perfect for small stream fishing during summer and fall. Small streams means that throwing long casts are not really necessary, and the fish are usually smaller and will not need a heavier rod to fight. These small streams can also flow through forests where casting amongst branches is difficult. A small rod makes it easier to be in the thickets and still manage to make an accurate cast. Also, small remote streams receive less fishing pressure and so the fish are typically more willing to rise to any dry fly, and casting a light weight fly rod all day is a delight.
The 5wt Fly Rod
If I am going to a mid to larger river, have never been to a particular river, or I might want to also throw streamers then I will take the 9' 5wt rod. If I really really need versatility this is the rod I pack since dry flies, nymphs, streamers, and wet flies can all be fished effectively. A lot of rod manufactures also make six piece 5wt rods that pack down nicely. For years I used a Redington Classic Trout 6 piece 5wt rod that was cheap, did not really cast all that well, but held up to abuse and was the perfect companion on long journeys to remote rivers and lakes.
The Euro-Nymphing Rod
This is another ideal rod for mid to larger rivers, and if I really want to have the best chance at catching trout then I will bring my 10'6" 3wt euro-nymphing rod. Euro-nymphing, or tight line nymphing, is a category of fly fishing all on its own, and it is very effective. One of my favorite memories was nymphing the Firehole River in the fall catching dozens of trout while other anglers were casting dry flies to reluctant trout. This rod also has versatility in that dry flies and small streamers can be used. If I expect some decent hatches then I will pack a floating 3wt line, though the rod is not the best at casting but it will do the job.
Bringing multiple rods is a tough call because it just adds more weight to a pack. However, there are times when two rods are great to have. That same experience on the Firehole had me wishing for my 5wt when there were fantastic evening rises and casting the floating line on the euro-nymphing rod was not as enjoyable. On a recent trip to some West Virginia wilderness, I decided to bring the 3wt and euro-nymphing rods because I was unsure of what the river was like. It was a mid-size stream but it was in the fall and the water levels were low. I knew trout would be in the pools but they could also still be rising to dry flies in the pocket water...and I love dry fly fishing the pocket water. Granted, I only hiked a few miles in and so the added weight and bulk was not that big of a deal.
In the end, determining which fly rod to bring depends on the river and the condition of the river you are going fish. The good news is that these backcountry areas see less fishing pressure so something will go after whatever fly you cast at them.
And be sure to check out Part II - Fishing Apparel for the backcountry.