I know I didn’t adopt the idea of using a backpack until I moved to Colorado. Growing up, it was almost always a chore just to get our gear to the water. First there was the big old tackle box, then the two poles. My dad would put the food we just got from the gas station, in the cooler. I would think “man I hope the radio fits in the cooler,” but that too was quickly given to me to carry. Oh yeah, we were night fishing, let’s not forget the lantern or the rod holders, for that matter. My dad would then grab his two rods, his tackle box, and our two chairs. And it damn near never failed. We would realize that the cooler, in itself, was going to be a second trip, as our hands where already loaded down.
I did see someone that changed my outlook on things back in the eighties. He was a younger guy, and as my dad and I sat there in our chairs, I started to think, “Is that guy walking to school?” All the guy had was a backpack and a fishing rod. He took a large tackle box out of his backpack, rigged up some kind of grub soft bait, and started to fish. My dad and I watched this guy fish for about thirty minutes. He ended up catching a few stocker trout, threw ‘em on a stringer he pulled out of a pouch on his backpack, and walked out with stringer in hand. As I watched him walk away, I asked my dad why we couldn’t just carry backpacks. He shot me a look like I was crazy, and said, “Boy, how the hell is a lantern gonna fit in a backpack, and what about the drinks?”
Fast forward twenty years, and you now find me trying out a new fishin’ spot at Pueblo Reservoir. Although I was a little bit older, I was still repeating the same mistakes that my father had taught me, as well as not realizing that times had changed in my favor. I looked down a steep grade of large rip rap and boulders, about forty yards down to the water. I thought about how difficult it was going to be to get down, but also how hard it was going to be to climb back up those boulders after fishing all night. So with my tackle box, two rods, fishing net, lantern, rod holders, and cooler I set off down the hill. About ten steps into it I slipped on some shale rock, bounced the cooler down the hill, and broke my lantern. I watched as ice, water, and ham sandwiches flew into the air. I picked up what I could actually find, and dragged the cooler back up the hill, to my car, and left. Driving home, I thought about how easy that guy had made his
fishin’ life, with just a backpack.
What has changed?
First off, let’s go over some of the items we all like to carry with us on a fishing trip, and how they have changed in the last few decades. Then, we will look at how to pack your gear safely and effectively, in the following section.
This is probably the coolest change in outdoor sportsman lighting to come along. Granted, it is not an entirely new idea, but its commercialization has been more than well received. You can pay as much as you want for a headlamp, but I have found some small (almost negligible) differences in features found on low end models compared to higher end ones. As a matter of fact my eighty something dollar headlamp (Petzel), doesn’t perform as well as my twenty dollar one (Energizer). All in all, I want to pack out a one ounce headlamp, more than a three pound lantern.
I personally don’t listen to music while fishing, as I want to hear my surroundings. If you, however, do this, many MP3 players now have built in AM/FM settings on them. Also, there are many small speaker devices that you can plug into your MP3, allowing you to avoid wearing ear buds. Again, I will take my one ounce MP3 player over the five pound radio (and its heavy batteries) any day.
If you are sitting by your tackle box or even a utility box, look at it. What most will find is some space used for tackle and a lot of left over space that is, well, left over and unused. Chances are that you have tried to get as much of it to fit as possible, but it just isn’t working for the more awkward sized items. Years ago, some genius came out with a tackle wallet. It’s not an entirely new idea, as tackle wallets have been made for soft baits for years. Those however, were usually very large. Today, many manufacturers are coming out with smaller and more useful versions. Some even have additional pouches in the cover flaps and the ability to add more pages. They are particularly amazing for live bait terminal tackle and there is very little unused space to contend with.
For those of you older guys that remember Jansport backpacks, they suck. The zipper always broke, the bags would rip with wear, and they couldn’t carry hardly anything. I am sure you remember the day your forty pounds of school books in your bag finally broke the strap. Backpacks today are made of sterner stuff. Although, I use a higher end bag for both day trips and camping, I see no big increase in durability compared to less expensive bags. From friends and acquaintances, I have seen some very nice quality bags from Browning, Swiss, and even Coleman.
This is quite possibly the most un-talked about item a serious shore fisherman should have. Rod wraps are simply two (or more) Velcro, cushioned straps. Have you ever walked in head high brush with two cat rods, a bait caster, and a surf caster? Have you awkwardly traversed a boulder with three rods, only to drop one, leaving you with no option but to have to climb back down to get it? If you have, than you might understand the importance of ‘em. Rod wraps allow you to “bundle” your rods in one neat and easy to hold package.
Where are you fishing?
The most important thing is to first figure out where you are fishing the most. My time through the years is split between fishing the Arkansas River and Pueblo. Both, more often than not, have some very demanding terrain that you have to walk on. Some bodies of water, such as Cherry Creek, have some very nice trail features, or areas close to the parking lot. The idea here however, is that you are trying to get as far from that parking lot as possible. You may have heard the term “un-pressured water” a few times, these simply are areas that people don’t normally fish. It could be due to shore accessibility, but more often than not it is due to fisherman, being lazy. So, if you plan to walk long distances and/or over rugged terrain, a back pack and some organization is a must.
There are two types of backpacks that you can utilize; hiking bags and day bags. For the river, I use a simple day bag, small, with not much in the way of organization. The other, my hiking bag, is able to carry what I figure is an eighty pound load. It has plenty of options in regards to organization and the main storage area is huge. So, why do I have two? During the “warm” months, my attention is focused on catfishing, as well as some multi-species. Also, my “outings” tend to be long, with trips going past twenty hours at times. I need a bag that will hold layers of cloths, at least a gallon of water, food for various meals, and all the tackle that comes with a longer trip (terminal, cranks, bait, etc.). I still have space left over, for filming equipment, a large net, all of my tools, and cookin’ supplies should I be fishing where I can make a fire.
When it gets cold however, my attention turns to fishin’ the river. The Arkansas River isn’t terribly bad, terrain wise, but to get to some good trout takes a walk. The only gear I happen to carry with me is my ultra-light tackle, a spinning rod, and some water (one liter). I don’t want to have a lot of weight to deal with, and since I move a lot, I want a bag light enough that I can keep it on my back (and not take it off every three minutes). And let’s be honest, I am not going to be fishing long with lower temps, hands that are constantly getting wet, and wind gusts. I never need to pack much in, as I will only fish for about four to six hours.
By using a modular setup, you can get all of your gear in one small bag, or leave non-essential tackle at home.
The general rule with any hiking bag, especially one with an internal or external frame, is adjusting it right. My bag happened to come with a very useful “backpacking for dummies” manual. The same information can be found online. When you look at a hiking bag you will notice a lot of different adjustment straps. These are load bearing straps, which essentially utilize the bag (or you), to support more weight. Learn them! Load your bag with the amount of weight you plan on carrying and adjust them according to the manual. This allows an eighty pound backpack, to feel like a thirty pound one on your back. Also, learn the frame of the bag, as some allow you to make subtle changes that conform better to your back and posture. Also, when loading a bag up, always start with your heaviest items in the bottom, and work your way up to lightest. This provides a more stable base and your center of balance is improved greatly when walking less than ideal terrain.
Water, you will find out, is going to be your heaviest load. And being that I am a jerk for having you throw out that cooler, it’s gonna be nasty warm water. But, does it have to be that way? Nope, stick the gallon of water overnight in your freezer. This will double as not only a water source (ice cold) that will slowly melt throughout the day, but also aacts as a cooling source for your drinks and food. So with that, throw all those Mountain Dews and cookies down there too.
Now that you have food and water out of the way for your long trip, let’s move on to tackle. I have become very “modular” in my tackle organization. I have a crank bait box, soft bait/jig wallet, and a smaller box for spinners and chuggers. I have a tackle box strictly for cat fishing terminal, a wallet used for multi-species terminal. I have a medium sized ultra-light box that holds all of my spoons, in-lines, flies, and micro-jigs. Let’s say for example, on one trip I will only pack my catfish and ultra-light gear. On another it might be crank baits, soft baits, and flies. In reality, I have been able to fit all of my modules into the bag, albeit a tight fit.
At the top, place your lightest stuff, such as a hoodie, jacket, and snacks. My bag, also, features two large side storage pockets, one on each side. I use one of these for my filming equipment, and the other for dry food and bait storage. Do you have some leeches, but do not want to use the crappy container they came in, fearing that the container might break? Use a small Tupperware container. I, myself, use a Gulp storage container for leeches and tape the worm containers shut. Oh yeah, what to do with those rod holders? I have used for many years, very effectively, a simple “coil” style holder. I have encountered many issues with other types, not only in use but also in ease of packing. The two I always bring, fit nice and snug behind the aforementioned items.
A neat feature on my pack is another smaller zippered section on the front. In this section I keep my measuring tape, scale, temperature gauge, first aid kit, rain gear, wallet, keys, smokes, and license. I also have my stringer, bug spray, and headlamp in this section. Should you catch a fish, and have a long drive home, try this. Keep the cooler, in the car! It’s that simple, so throw that walleye on the stringer and into the cooler when you get to your vehicle. On the way home, you are nine times out of ten going to hit a gas station where you can grab a bag of ice and know that your catch is good for the long drive home.
So, you just got to your destination, and you realize that you don’t have a chair to sit in, or a net for that huge carp you are going to catch. I, myself, keep my net on the side of my bag, utilizing the built in feature for long items. On the bottom of my bag, are loops. You can purchase straps at most any place with outdoor gear. I did, and use the bottom of my backpack, for a stool, or a tent. I rarely use a chair however, preferring to just sit on the ground.
And last, do not forget carabineers. You should have an ample amount of loops and attachments you can use on your bag. I use carabineers for assorted tools that I will have out and use through my trip, as well as getting more gear on my bag. And let’s not forget, that your backpack should be able to pack out a good assortment of trash. Carry a couple trash bags to pack out more than you packed in.
A magnetic net release, very nice on the river.
You now have a fully loaded backpack and some wrapped up rods. The best feature about this whole system is you still have a hand left! You can use it to hold your hyper kiddos hand while walking. or your dog’s leash. It’s time to load up and go catch some fish.