Getting Ready: Backcountry Fishing Prep 101

Getting Ready: Backcountry Fishing Prep 101

Snow is giving way to mud and baseball is officially back. That can only mean one thing: spring is here. As the days get longer, fly anglers are slowly stirring from their winter dens and daydreaming of meadow fishing and midnight mousing.

Dreaming up a backpacking trip you’ll talk about for years to come? Penciling in summer trips? Fantasizing about Chubby Chernobyl eats in a remote location? The success of your summer outdoor calendar starts now. Here’s how to get ready for the backcountry fishing season.

Get You Gear Squared Away

Surely this isn’t you but someone out there likely has a closet filled with rods, reels, packs, fly boxes, boots, waders – in short, the works – that hasn’t seen the light of day since last October. If that’s the case, it’s time to set aside a Saturday afternoon to get things dialed.

Aside from basic organization, take some time to clean your gear properly. Empty your packs and fish out all those granola bar crumbs, bits of tippet, busted flies, and melted chapsticks. Wipe down rods, soak reels, and spend some time cleaning and dressing your line.

Inventory what you have and what you need. What’s the tippet situation? (Don’t lie, it’s definitely low). This is especially useful for flies. How’s that terrestrial box looking? Did those caddis rust over the winter after you accidentally dropped your fly box in the water? Building a list of what you need is the first step in squaring away a full kit for the start of the season.

Yes, this might be a boring activity but it’s better to knock it out during a rainy April afternoon than to be stuck inside prepping while an epic hatch happens later in the season. Get your gear dialed in now and it will pay dividends when you’re three days out from a trip and can pack your kit with confidence.

Packing Lists

We’ve all been there: you’re ready to head out on your first big trip of the year only to spend an extra 972 hours stumbling your way through the garage, pulling gear together and taking way many trips to the store. You’re late to get on the road, hit rush hour traffic, and don’t pull into camp until well past dark. At which point you realize you forgot all your toiletries. An easy way to avoid that mess? Lists.

I try to build out comprehensive lists for different types of trips. Car camping. Backcountry fishing. Day trip fishing. These bulleted lists live on my phone and are tweaked from time to time. They should contain every piece of gear you need for a specific trip. Solid lists will ensure you don’t forget anything critical and will also make it way easier to take off on a last second trip.

Get in Shape

There’s an old axiom that goes something like this: the easier the access, the harder the fishing. The harder the access, the easier the fishing. I find that this generally holds true. The catch: access can get quite difficult. Some of the most epic fishing spots requite extensive hiking across mountains, over blowdowns, through mud, and up canyons.

Now, can you get into some great fishing without going full-on Rocky mode this spring? Yes, of course. But – if you can comfortably hike 20+ miles in a day and string together a 3-5 day backpacking trip without your feet falling off, you’ll have opportunities to find fish that rarely, if ever, see a fly. Here at Colter Backcountry, we believe this style of fishing offers incredible experiences that can’t be matched. So, get off the couch and get after it. Your trip of a lifetime could depend on it.

A quick note on training: in my experience, there are few (if any) activities that get your body in shape to backpack other than, well, backpacking. If you’re serious about doing some overnight, backcountry fishing trips this summer, now is the time to be putting in miles with your pack. Long day hikes with a heavy load are more than enough to get your feet, knees, and legs ready to go for more serious trips. While rivers are blown out and muddy, getting some pack miles in can be a good alternative to fishing this time of year. By all means, keep up more traditional weight and cardio training. But mix in some backpacking as well if you want to be trail fit come summer.

Create a Wish List

How often are you on a trip and think man, I wish I had x? Or maybe you see an Instagram ad for a piece of gear that looks cool. Or you buddy shares a gadget that he swears by. The usual outcome? You completely forget about said piece of gear, only to remember it when you’re miles away from a store on your next trip and think man, I wish I had x. Repeat cycle.

A great way to fix this is to keep a running wish list. Like my packing lists, this list lives on my phone. When I hear or see something cool, I add it to the wish list. Later, if you’re looking for gift ideas for yourself or reviewing gear needs for a trip, you have a list to reference.

Dial in Your Fishing Kit

Different trips require different set ups. From a gear perspective, a trip swinging flies for steelhead in February is going to look a lot different than a trip chasing high-alpine cutthroat in July.

You can easily build fly boxes for different types of trips so you don’t have to cannibalize a box each time you head out on the water. A good organization method is to build a box for different water types: big rivers, small creeks, still water, etc. and group by fly type. If you find yourself regularly fishing waters that requite very specific flies (i.e. size 24 midges on certain tailwaters), you can even build out boxes made for specific rivers.

Different fly boxes can then be stored in different sized packs and are ready to grab ‘n go. If you want to get really Type A, you can then add a specific pack/box combos to your packing lists.


 At the end of the day, everyone has their own organization method. If nothing else, use the spring season to get your kit squared away, whatever that might look like. While a tad bit tedious, organizing gear and building lists is a great way to get your imagination pumping for summer. Before you know it, you’ll be 10 miles deep into the backcountry, scanning for rising trout. Until then, make due with dressing your fly line.

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