Anglers enjoy a thrill in catching any wild fish but the experience of hooking wild fish in wilderness waters often proves to be truly magical.
Hiking into a wilderness lake basin, or bushwhacking up a wild, remote river valley strains the endurance of anglers, but once we start casting a line into crystal clear mountain water, the fatigue of hiking drops away and the joy of fishing pristine waters lifts us.
But while the simple act of fishing itself is a huge mental and physical boost to hiking anglers, the experience can be greatly enhanced with a little preparation and the application of appropriate gear.
In identifying the gear needs of successful wilderness anglers, we’ve targeted two general categories: The things that make life easier on the trail, and those that improve your experience on the water.
On the Trail
Osprey Exos 48 Pack
The Exos series of packs from Osprey offers exceptional load control with great comfort. The Exos 48 proved exceptional for carrying the Kokopelli Rogue Packraft and the gear needed for a long wilderness excursion. The pack, weighing just 2.6 pounds, carries up to 35 pounds with ease, though we found a load of 20-25 pounds was as much as was needed for a fast-overnight trip to wilderness lakes, even with carrying the 7.5-pound Kokopelli raft. The Exos sports an efficient harness system, with a light alloy frame to support the pack load. An internal sleeve takes a hydration reservoir, and a number of pockets hold essential gear securely. We carried the Exos up to high alpine lakes in the Cascades of Washington, scouted up wild rivers in Olympic National Park, and trekked up to trout-filled lakes in Wyoming’s Wind River Range. The pack rode comfortably and securely in all terrains, without unbalancing the hiking angler regardless of terrain. $200
Salewa MS Ultra Train 2
In order to keep weight down, hiking anglers need one pair of footwear that can serve equally well on the trail and in the water. The new Salewa MS Ultra Train 2 shoe comes as close to that ideal as currently possible. The Ultra Train sports a sticky Michelin rubber outsole that provided solid traction on forest trails and alpine rock, but also gripped firmly when wading into slick rocky streams, and slime-rich alpine lakes. The breathable mesh upper sheds water efficiently so after wading, the Ultra Trains dries quickly so anglers won’t suffer soggy feet when hiking out. The MS Ultra Train 2 offers a comfortable fit, with a slim, supportive heel cup and a generous toe-box to help prevent jamming. $140
Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec DSS poles
The quick-folding Micro Vario poles ideally meet the needs of hiking anglers. They prove strong enough to provide solid support during long climbs to remote lakes. But they are also compact enough to stow securely out of the way when not needed, such as well prowling lake shores. The carbide-tipped poles bite firmly on trails as well as on slick river beds, aiding wading in fast waters. At just 15.5 when compacted, the Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tecs stash easily into small packs and even large pockets on fishing vests. $160
On the Water
Kokopelli Rogue Packraft
All too often, wilderness lakes are ringed by tight shrouds of trees and brush. Though this foliage adds an element of beauty to the nature of these lakes, it can also make casting a fly a bit difficult. In order to work a full, obstacle-free backcast, anglers really need to be on the water. With the Kokopelli Rogue Packraft, getting out to the fish is easy. The Rogue features durable coated-nylon raft tubes and a tough Kevlar reinforced nylon floor. The Rogue withstood damage even when pulled up onto rough granite-lined shores of alpine lakes. Using Kokopelli’s included inflation bag, the Rogue can be inflated and launched in less than 15 minutes. The raft weighs just 7.5 pounds and fits into an 8-inch by 20-inch stuff sack. $1,000
Redington Butter Stick 476-3
Wilderness waters tend to offer limited back casting clearances due to heavy foliage along the banks. Luckily most waters require casts of modest distances. With this in mind, a relatively short rod with good accuracy is key, and the newly redesigned Redington Butter Stick proved perfectly suited to the needs of backcountry anglers. The Butter Stick features a slick, smooth casting action and, thanks to its soft tip flex, a soft presentation on the water. The stout butt section offers the stability and support needed to cast heavier flies, like big foam stones and hoppers, without too much effort. But the flexible tip also offers exception ‘feel’ on soft takes on drifting nymph, making this a wonderful rod for fishing crystal clear waters where the fish are extra spooky. $250
Patagonia Middle Fork Waders
Patagonia’s Middle Fork waders are the lightest, most compact waders available, making them ideal for backpacking and wilderness fishing. In order to keep weight down, Patagonia eliminated most secondary features from the Middle Fork waders. The waders feature a single interior pocket. The Middle Fork Waders are designed for backpackers and adventure-travel anglers, though many of our testers also enjoyed using the Middle Forks as a warm-weather option when hitting ice-cold mountain streams in hot weather. $378 (See our full review)