Fishing is often a group endeavor. Not much can beat a good fishing trip with beer, friends, and tall tales of the one that got away. There’s something to be said, though, for solo fly fishing. Getting out, unwinding, clearing your head, and just fishing. Being so focused on the act of catching a fish can be meditative, and that experience is often best while alone.
I get a lot of things out of solo fishing. Often, it’s just relaxing. Many times it’s just out of stubbornness. I want to fish where I want, when I want, and not have to check in with anyone. Whatever the reason, it’s important to realize that fishing alone presents its own challenges. Here are some ways to make sure you have a safe and successful solo day on the water.
1. Double-check your gear
Arguably the most dangerous thing that can happen to you on the water is being caught without the fly, tippet, or floatant you need. Fishing with a buddy is great because you know you can borrow whatever you might need. Lost your last mayfly spinner in a tree? Someone will cover you. Forgot your hemostats? Someone has an extra pair.
Before you go out on your own, it’s absolutely imperative to make sure you have everything you’ll need while you’re out. Taking an extra pair of some things, like nippers, is also a good idea. For small accessories that weigh next to nothing, but serve an important purpose, it’s worth carrying an extra.
2. Make sure you’re ready to wade
This one doesn’t necessarily apply on lakes or small streams, but is something to be aware of if you’re fishing larger rivers alone. Numerous times on big rivers, I’ve had to link arms with my group to wade across a strong current. If one person goes down, the others will keep them up.
I’ve also taken my fair share of falls without an arm to grab, and several have ended up with full-to-the-brim waders and 50 feet downstream. I’ve lost things from my fish pack, soaked phones, and been left with nothing but wet clothes.
Even when the actual wading is done solo, it’s easier to get over mishaps like these if you’re on the river with friends. When you’re actually fishing alone though, it’s different.
On big rivers with high flows, a fall in the water might be no laughing matter. Fall in and fill your waders, and you might be headed downstream. If the water’s cold, that’ll only make the problem worse.
Being aware of your abilities while wading alone is important. It might be necessary to pick your crossing spots more wisely than you normally would. If the bottom is slippery, also consider bringing along a single trekking pole or grabbing a long stick for support. Having the extra leg will make sketchy crossings much more manageable.
3. Tell someone your plans
It’s always a good idea to let people know where you’re going, as well as when you plan to be back. I’m often pretty bad about this one. I’ll throw out a general area of where I’ll be, knowing I’ll likely wander around wherever I want to at the time. This is better than nothing, but at the end of the day, knowing the general area might not be that useful if you need help.
Even if you’re not sure exactly where you’ll end up, having a list of possibilities is still helpful. You can leave a plan A, B, and C with someone, so they know that if A was bad, you probably just went to B.
Don’t forget to also leave your ETA too, even if it’s a big window. On more remote trips, it’s normal to be a few hours later than expected, but if a whole day goes by after your predicted return, someone will know to actually seek help. You can take the type of trip into account when planning an ETA. For a day trip, you can probably plan your arrival within an hour, but if it’s a multi-day backpack, a whole day might be appropriate as a return time.
4. Consider your camera
This is one of those ones you don’t think about until there’s a fish in your net. It’s the most beautiful fish you’ve ever caught. You must get a good picture. And then you realize, no one is there to take your picture.
In this situation, some people just give up. Others take a picture of the fish in a net, which usually doesn’t do it justice. Some will try to get a decent looking selfie with the fish, but this is inevitably hard to take and unflattering for all involved. Many anglers will bring along some sort of device, a stick or tripod, to help them out.
One of my favorite ways to take pictures of fish alone is to just photograph them in the water. Depending on the size and energy of the fish, this may or may not be the best method.
Regardless of which method you choose, what really matters is having some sort of photo-taking plan in place ahead of time if pictures are important to you. If you don’t plan ahead, you might be caught off guard with the fish of a lifetime.
5. Take an emergency kit
Taking a first aid kit is really a must-do regardless of how many people you’re with. But, it’s even more important when you’re alone. Any number of things can go wrong, from falls to insect bites.
While a first aid kit is a good idea no matter the group size, something you may also want to take along when you’re solo is a more sizeable emergency kit. This isn’t anything formal you’d buy at the store, just a kit you put together with things that’ll come in handy in a pinch.
It can include things like duct tape, a lighter or matches, a compass, a map, an emergency blanket, a GPS, and anything else you may need. Without someone else around, getting yourself out of a pickle is completely in your own hands. The extra benefit of carrying a kit like this is that it often comes in handy during non-emergency situations too. I’ve needed duct tape plenty of times without actually needing help.
6. Bring something to do
If you’re spending a night or more alone on a fishing trip, keep in mind that you’ll probably have plenty of downtime around meals and before bed.
Some of my first solo overnight trips were spent going to bed at 8:30 simply because it had never occurred to me that previously, all my entertainment after dark had been hanging out with my friends. I quickly learned taking something to do is vital.
On a day trip, this one isn’t as relevant, although it’s still not a bad idea to throw an extra book in the car in case the fishing is slow at times and you need a break.
7. Know how to net big fish
A huge benefit to having people around is always having a netter. If you’re fishing for small fish, this probably isn’t an issue, since half the time simply setting the hook will bring a small fish within reach.
I’ve seen my fair share of people who don’t know how to net their own big fish, though. Some try to wade backward onto shore to beach the fish, but this isn’t good for the fish and also just isn’t very efficient.
Two of the most common issues are not pulling in enough line, and pulling in too much. Try to net with too much line out, and you won’t be able to get the fish close enough. Pull in too much line, and the fish will be tethered to the end of your rod, putting it roughly nine feet from you. Practice stripping just enough line in that when you lift your rod at the end of the fight, the fish ends up near your feet.
Also, bringing the net sideways through the water toward a fish will likely spook it, and a spooked fish can be hard to deal with when you’re trying to land it solo. If you’re able to, get the net under the fish and scoop upwards. This technique will usually allow you to net the fish before it runs.