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  • Writer's pictureMarc Fryt

Packing for Backcountry Fly Fishing, Part II - Fishing Apparel

Updated: Dec 4, 2020

This is a continuation of a series on Packing for Backcountry Fly Fishing, Part I is available here.

For the most part, my backcountry fly fishing travels bring me into the mountains where weather can be all over the place. Brining essentials like a rain jacket, base layers, gloves, etc are dictated by the weather I expect, however there are some tougher calls to make when it comes to fishing apparel. The weight and bulk of these items can quickly upsize your pack from a 35L to a 50L, so careful consideration is needed.

Backcountry fly fishing clothing

Waders and Wading Boots

When it comes down to deciding on packing waders and wading boots, I try my best to line everything up so I can get away with leaving them behind. Ounces equal pounds, so it should be unquestionable that they will get the hell used out of them in the backcountry.

During the summer, I will usually pick streams that are more remote with much longer hikes. These more remote streams, or stretches of river, are isolated and I want to have as light a pack as possible while getting there. Deciding on going to some of these places in spring, when the water levels are higher and temps cooler, would necessitate bringing waders and so I like to reserve going to these areas when I do not mind being wet.

In spring and fall, I like to find larger rivers that have some remote sections to them but hikes that take maybe an hour or two. This allows me to pack my waders and boots and not have to worry about lugging all that weight for miles on end. I can then drop my pack, make camp, and then set out on foot in my waders to fish further out. Also, the nice thing about spring and fall is that I only need to hike a couple miles to find seclusion as most other anglers only venture out to the backcountry in the summer.

Wet Wading Boots

If I am heading miles into the backcountry without waders then I will have to decide if wet wading boots are necessary. There are some wet wading boots that can double as hiking boots but I have yet to find a pair that I could rely on. I have pretty flat feet so need additional custom footbeds and specific wide toe-box hiking shoes. If I am going to get miles into the backcountry without terrible foot pain then I need my hiking shoes.

Selecting a remote stream that meanders through open forests or grassland could greatly minimize the need to bring wet wading boots. Walking the banks and negotiating obstacles without having to get into the water could allow me to keep my feet dry while still effectively fish the river. Yet, if the stream is hemmed in by thickets and dense forest, or is constricted in a canyon, then getting my feet wet is unavoidable. In that case I will bring the wet wading boots along.

A recent backcountry trip I did in West Virginia was to a mid-sized river that gave me the option to travel anywhere from one to eleven miles depending on how remote I wanted to be. The tough call was to decide if I wanted my waders and boots. The river was extremely low and the weather was sunny with temps in the mid-sixties, but the water was cold. I chose to pack the waders and boots because the river constricted and flowed through some narrow parts of the valley so I knew I would be wading through knee to waist deep water. The trade off was also deciding to hike only a few miles in rather than the ten miles I wanted in order to be very remote. In the end, the waders were worth the weight that kept me comfortable but the fishing was down right crap, but that is another story.

Backcountry fly fishing

Packing Waders and Wading Boots

After several backcountry trips, I tried an assortment of ways to pack my waders and boots. I come from an alpine climbing background with the edict that all gear and clothing should go into the pack. Climbing in the mountains and having bags, water bottles, jackets, etc. strapped to the outside of the pack thrashing in the wind is a good way to lose gear. It is also annoying. But this technique is not always doable when packing for some backcountry fly fishing because you would end up with a much larger pack in order to fit it all inside.

For the waders, I settled on rolling them up as tight as possible and strapping them to one side of the pack. I do not mind if it rains and they get wet. On the other side of the pack, I will strap my fly rod(s), tent poles, and net if I am bringing it.

Wading boots I will stuff full of things like socks, reels, a fuel canister, whatever and then place them in the bottom of the pack. This allows me to still use the real-estate within the boots to pack items into so it does not go to waste. Wet wading boots I will actually pack on the outside. Since I will not have waders, I can strap the wet wading boots to one side of the pack. This helps me to scale down the size of my pack (say from a 50 to 35L) since they are not going in it.

A Piece of Clothing that I Always Bring

Beyond the waders and boots, something that I will always take with me is a sun hoody. Regardless of whether it is going to be cold and cloudy or sunny and hot I will be wearing the sun hoody. It is a great "next to skin" layer that can pulls moisture away from your body, it dries quickly, has UV protection, and will generally not smell too bad after days of non-stop wear. It is clutch clothing.

For Part III (Other Fishing Gear to bring) click here.

Backcountry fly fishing


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