One of the most rewarding ways to peruse our finned quarry is to backpack into remote trout lakes, where not only can we get into some great fishing, but we can also be surrounded by incredible scenery and often in complete solitude.
Although this is winter and the only backcountry activity being done is by cross country skiers, now is the time to begin preparations if you desire to fish remote lakes and streams next summer.
If you haven't backpacked before, you should begin by acquiring the proper equipment.
Most backpacking trips require that you camp out and that makes your sleeping equipment very important. If you don't get a good nights sleep your energy level will be low the next day and your enjoyment won't be as high. Sleeping bags are usually rated as to the lowest temperature range that they can keep you comfortable and warm. For example, a bag rated to +20° F. will keep you comfortable from mid-spring through mid-fall. It is otherwise known as a three season bag. These bags are great for summer temperatures in the high country that often get down below freezing at night. A four season bag is rated from -5° F. to +20° F. and is a good choice if you will be doing some fall and early spring or early winter camping. Expedition bags are extremely warm bags and are good from -40° F. to -5° F. Bags this warm are of little use to the fisherman unless you prefer to sleep extra warm (hot) or are a crazed winter camper such as myself.
Insulation materials vary considerably. The best materials are Quallofill, 600-700 fill down and Hollofill. Down becomes useless when wet, so get a waterproof yet breathable cover made from GORE-TEX.
The price range of a good sleeping bag is from $35 to $500. Make sure the bag is sewn mummy style. This will make it light in weight and extra warm. The bag should not weigh more than seven pounds.
Tents vary from plastic tarps to freestanding domes that are a designers dream. Mobile shelter can vary from $20 to $600 in price. Three season tents are the least expensive and are fine for summer use. Four season tents are made to withstand gale force winds and heavy snow loads. Three pole geodesic dome tents are very popular among backpackers. They weigh from 5 to 8 pounds for a 2 or 3 person tent. If mosquitoes are expected, as in most high country areas in the summer, make sure the tent has a full zippered bug screen.
Packs are important to your comfort while hiking. A poorly designed pack makes for sore shoulders, neck and hips. Well-designed packs are contoured to your back and have adjustments for individual comfort. Their price range is from $50 to $200.
Internal frame packs are best if you will be climbing up rocks or over deadfalls. They move with you. External frame packs are better for loads of 40 pounds or more.
Contrary to popular belief, boots needn't weigh five pounds each and be built like a tank. Modern hiking boots have the advantage of running shoe technology combined with a durable design. They also weigh one half or less than traditional hiking boots. Good hiking shoes run $35 to $120.
These are the four basic pieces of equipment needed for backpacking. Other equipment includes a campstove and fuel, sleeping pad, mess kit, utensils, knife, personal kit (toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper, etc.), first aid kit, maps, fishing license, compass, matches, canteen or water bottle, food, ground cloth, sun glasses, nylon cord, water purifier, insect repellant, and a flashlight with extra batteries and bulb.
Clothing should be minimal but efficient. Bring a T-shirt, long sleeve shirt or turtle neck, hat, pants, rain jacket, long johns, coat, socks, gloves and swimsuit for bathing.
Everyones equipment list will be a little different. The important thing is to make sure you brought everything you planned to bring. Nothing is worse than being caught without toilet paper or other necessities.
Last but not least, on your equipment list should be such frivolities as fishing gear and a camera. Your rod should be a multiple piece outfit no longer than your pack frame. Spinning reels should be small, compact, and have enough capacity for 100 yards of four-pound line. Fly outfits balanced for a five or six weight line are ideal. Rod length should be eight to nine feet. An extra reel and an emergency repair rod tip are also recommended. Broken down tackle can really ruin your enjoyment on a lake or stream. A small pocket-sized tackle box should contain flies, lures, split shot, swivels, bubbles, fly floatant and needle-nose pliers. A camera will allow you to bring home memories of the places, people, fish and scenery that you encountered.
Trout in high country lakes and streams are usually wild and easily startled but if you present your fly or lure right, they will gladly take it. Trout tend to concentrate near inlets or outlets to lakes. In lakes that have little flowing water the trout will usually cruise the shorelines in search of food. It has been said that if you stand in one place long enough you can cast to every fish in the lake. That may not be exactly true, but there are certain places where the trout seem to be concentrated in close to shore.
Small dry flies such as Humpies, Adams, Renegades, Ants, or Royal Wulfs work well when fish are rising. Good nymphs or wet flies include the Gold Ribbed Hares Ear, Soft Hackle Emerger, Muskrat Nymph and Midge Larvae. Streamers that imitate minnows or leeches are occasionally effective on larger trout. Patterns here include the Woolly Bugger, Dark Spruce Fly and Muddler Minnow.
Lures like the Super Duper, Daredevil, Panther Martin and Rapala, in smaller sizes, work well most of the time.
The old saying "if you don't like the weather, wait around for five minutes" is certainly true in the high country where backpacking is common. I've seen it go from a cloudless sky and 80 F temperatures to snow, wind and freezing temperatures in a half an hour. Most weather changes aren't that dramatic but the lesson to learn is to be prepared for the worst but hope for the best. Always take warm clothes and rain gear even when just taking day hikes from base camp.
Backpacking for trout can be extremely rewarding. Beautiful scenery, great fishing and good times with good friends will keep you coming back time and time again.