5 Reasons You Should Try Backcountry Fly Fishing

Only around 2% of people in the US fly fish each year. Many of those people only do it once or twice, leaving an even smaller number as “regulars.” Among those regulars, only a fraction put in the effort to backpack into remote, rugged areas looking for fish.

While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with fishing near town, many anglers never leave the bubble of their home waters. Though it can be intimidating to first-timers, the backcountry provides a ton of benefits that usually aren’t found close to home.

If you fly fish but haven’t yet figured out if putting miles on the boots for fish is up your alley, allow me to try and convince you.

1. Fewer crowds

This is easily one of the biggest reasons to try backcountry fly fishing. My most common complaint about fishing near home is that I’m usually battling with other anglers the entire time. I’d much rather have lousy fishing and have the water to myself than catch fish and be shoulder-to-shoulder the whole time.

It’s amazing how quickly the crowds die down after only a mile or two of walking. Put in four or five miles, and there’s a good chance you won’t be fishing with anyone.

If you do happen to run into someone that far out, there’s also a good chance that you’ll get along with them and make a buddy for the day. I find that it’s rare I meet someone that far in who isn’t at least mildly interesting to chat with.

2. The scenery

There are obviously plenty of pretty places in the frontcountry, but they rarely compare to the sights in the backcountry. Whether it’s mountains, woods, prairie, or swamp, there’s always something interesting to see far from civilization.

An evening campfire in front of aspen trees

Even backcountry areas that don’t seem to offer much in terms of dramatic landscapes tend to be beautiful for the simple reason that they aren’t tainted by people. Even if you’re in a scenic park near town, odds are that you’ll probably run into trash, pipes, and other evidence of human life.

Once again, putting only a few miles on the boots will eliminate the majority of unsightly views, and is a compelling reason to give it a try.

3. The fishing is great

Top of the list of backcountry arguments for many anglers is the quality of fishing. Anyone who has fished a pressured frontcountry fishery knows that fish wise up over time.

While there’s something to be said about testing your skills on fish who know better, I think there’s even more to be said about casting to fish who rarely see flies.

It’s often very apparent on backcountry bodies of water that the fish are less wary. Instead of needing the perfect presentation with the perfect fly, unpressured fish will readily take what you offer. This also means you can catch fish on flies you don’t normally get to use. One of my favorite backcountry lakes is where I like to throw bumblebee flies, just because I can.

A cutthroat trout is held in a person's hand with a bumble bee fly in its mouth

4. It’s good for you

Believe it or not, wading through fast water burns a decent number of calories. But guess what burns way more calories: backpacking in to fish.

Many people who fly fish also enjoy hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities. So, what better way to combine multiple disciplines?

There’s something satisfying about wearing yourself out to access fish. While wading itself is way better than sitting on the couch, carrying a loaded backpack a few miles and then wading will burn more calories, beef up your muscles, and give you a nice cardio workout.

5. You’ll foster great relationships

Fly fishing itself is a great way to meet new people and make lifelong friends. But, I’ve found that my closest fishing buddies are the ones who come into the backcountry with me.

There are probably a few reasons for this. Suffering through a grueling hike, a cold night, or a wilderness rainstorm together is a quick way to grow closer to someone. Sharing a tent, a stove, and maybe a bottle of whiskey around the fire also helps. Additionally, you and your companions will be relying on each other if things start to get hairy.

While I have plenty of fishing friends with whom I love sharing the water, I’ll always keep my backcountry friends the closest.

two women sit in a field in tall grass

If you’ve thought about backcountry fly fishing but haven’t yet given it a try, now’s the time! As always, please feel free to reach out if you’re not sure where to start. I’m always happy to help someone get set for a backcountry adventure.

5 Responses

  • This article makes me want to go fish in the back country right away. I’m starting to get into fly fishing but I don’t live in a state that is well known for outdoor activities or fly fishing. Is there a resource that you use to find public streams to fish when you are away from home that you would recommend?

    Reply
    • Katie Burgert

      Thanks for reading, James! I’m glad you’re taking the leap into fly fishing and sure you’ll catch the bug. Even in states that aren’t known for fly fishing, once you start to look closely you’ll probably find quite a few hidden gem opportunities. Of course, some areas are harder to find public land than others. The main resources I use to find new water are Google Maps and OnX Maps. OnX is the most useful, as it shows private land boundaries. If I see a backcountry stream on public land in CO, I assume it probably has some fish to catch. There are also state-specific resources you might be able to use. Here in Colorado, CPW has an online “fishing atlas” where you can filter by species, etc, to find new places to fish. You may want to check your own state’s fish and game department to see if they have any similar resources. Knowing stream access laws for your state will also be helpful, so you know where you can and can’t fish. Here is a good summary to reference. Aside from the backcountry, local ponds are a great place to practice your fly casting. Panfish are still some of my favorite fish to catch!

      Reply
  • Tre’

    Another inspiring piece Katie! My fly fishing gear arrives in a few days…I’m hyped to start researching backcountry spots! Are there any books or resources you’d recommend?

    Reply
    • Katie Burgert

      Thanks for checking it out! I do have some resources I’d recommend. In short, they are OnX Maps, Google Maps, the Colorado Fishing Atlas, and books like this and this. OnX and Google are great for scouting spots and planning hikes (OnX gives private land boundaries too). The Colorado Fishing Atlas is good for finding spots CPW stocks or where they know have fish. You can sort by species, accessibility, etc to narrow down options if you have something in mind. And the books are pretty in depth resources that also give a lot of actual places to go, some of which aren’t mentioned much online. Hope this helps and good luck!

      Reply

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