Packing gear for a fly-in fishing trip is a challenge. In fact, we’ll call it a three-pronged challenge because there are three important factors to keep in mind.
One, is that once you’re at the lodge or outpost there isn’t a sporting goods store nearby if you forget something vital – like a fishing rod.
Two, is that you’ll be fishing for a variety of species in differing habitat requiring some specialized gear for each situation.
And three, is that you’re flying in a float plane with stringent weight limitations, so for safety reasons you are very limited on just how much gear you can bring.
We call it the 10-pound rule.
That’s right. Because the weight of your luggage can’t exceed 60-pounds per person, then your fishing gear should be limited to about 10 pounds.
Here’s how it can be done.
- Leave the tackle box at home. Don’t bring your huge tackle box with everything from crappie jigs to musky baits. Similarly don’t bring your fly fishing vest either. Vests, like tackle boxes, accumulate so much stuff that you need an index to find something. Instead, whether I’m fly fishing or spin fishing, I’ve gotten into the habit of carrying a lot of my necessary gear in a quick-dry fishing shirt or breathable rain jacket. I’ve found this much handier than a vest or tackle box.
- Take inventory: Instead, spread the contents of your tackle box or fishing vest onto the living room floor, kitchen table, etc. so you can see all of your riches. Then start separating the vital gear into one small, organized pile.
- Be selective: Choose gear that will work for a variety of situations, like a good multi-tool with a sharp blade and sturdy pliers and all the other gadgets to repair a fishing reel, sharpen a hook, untie a knot, and nip fishing line. Include some carabiner clips to attach things to your day pack or to the boat. For example I like to clip my jaw spreaders and pliers to the boat with a light rope and a carabiner. Try not to be that obsessive-compulsive person that thinks they can’t catch fish unless they have this or that. For example, you’re not going to loose 17-pounds of lead sinkers on this trip. So bring what you need, not a year’s supply.
- Leave the worms: Seriously, there is no need for live bait. I’ve caught as many fish – or more – than those that tip their hooks with worms, minnows or leeches. As you can imagine, live bait – especially in containers of water – is difficult to carry in a float plane because of weight limitations. Trust me, fish in these remote northern waters will bite a piece of bubble gum or an orange peel.
- Compare it with my list: Once you’re done, compare it with my list. I actually pack all my spin-fishing gear into one rod bag; and my fly gear into a small packsack with one or two fly rods in tubes lashed to the side. Here is how they look:
I put two rods and reels into a cordura rod case with a plastic protective insert to prevent breakage. In the side compartment I put a clear box mostly consisting of 3/8 oz. jigs in a variety of colours. In the same box I include several crank baits – most of which are diving baits but also a few surface models. I also include classic spoons like the red-and-white Daredevil, Five-of-Diamonds and Little Cleo. Then I compress several bags of twister tails into a larger zip-lock bag. I find that pink-and-white, white, yellow, black, and orange work well. I am partial to Yum tails because they don’t dry out and shrink once exposed to the air. I also add several steel leaders to this kit. I include a pair of long nose pliers, a jaw spreader, a tailing glove, a filleting knife, line nippers, jig eye cleaner tool, and a cloth tape measure into this pocket as well. If I have room left over I’ll tuck in an extra spool of fishing line. You can also include a fish stringer if you like but things like nets and life jackets will be in each boat at the lodge.
Fly fishing gear
Unless your trip plan includes a float down a small tributary river, you’ll be fishing exclusively from the boat. Fishing from the boat has many advantages. Less insects and lots of room for a back cast being the most obvious. So unless you have specific plans for walk-and-wade fishing you won’t need your chest waders.
You will need a 7- or 8-weight, four-piece travel rod that stows nicely in a short aluminium rod tube. This size of fly rod will work nicely for anything you’ll encounter up north. If you’re strictly a fly angler then bring two rods. One a 7-weight and the other a 9- or 10-weight rod for pike. You’ll be fly fishing top water and subsurface, so have one spool loaded with a floating line and the other with a sink-tip line for streamer fishing. I find the majority of the fly fishing I do on these trips is streamer fishing, so my floating line is usually kept on my spare spool. Streamers can be multi-purpose. I fish a lot of rabbit-strip streamers. I tie them on size 2 hooks, 4X long in a variety of colours in black, white, chartreuse and orange. Generally they are about 4-inches long in total. The same streamer will catch brook trout, pike and walleye.
As I mentioned, I lash my travel rods (in aluminum tubes) on the side of my day pack. Inside the day pack I stow my reels and extra spool, leader and tippet material, fly box containing streamers, dry flies and a few poppers. I also include some fly floatant, a small container of split shot, some crazy glue and a package of braided fly line-to-leader connectors. I also add an extra fly line in that pack. They’re light, and can save the day if your main fly line comes in contact with a boat prop. It’s an expensive mistake – but it does happen.
Similar to my spin fishing kit, I include long-nose pliers, a jaw spreader, tailing glove, filleting knife, line nippers and a cloth measuring tape – but I don’t duplicate these items if they exist in my spin fishing kit.
So there you have it. My three-pronged approach to a successful fly-in fishing trip with 10-pounds of gear.
Now go get ‘em!
Spin fishing list:
Light tackle rod and reel combo
Medium heavy rod and reel combo
Spare spool and parts
Spare fishing line
3/8 oz jigs various colours
Twister tails various colours
Crank baits, diving and surface
Steel leaders 12-inch, 30 pound test
Spoons: Five-of-Diamonds, Daredevil, Little Cleo
Cloth measuring tape
Jig eye cleaner tool
Fly fishing list:
7- or 8-weight, four-piece fly rod in a rod tube
Matching fly reel with a sink tip line
Spare spool with floating line
Tapered leader for dry fly fishing
Leader material (0x-4x or 10-pound test to 5-pound test)
Heavy leader material for pike (30-pound mono)
Bite leader material (30-pound) or 12-inch steel leaders
Streamers (several dozen in a variety of colours for pike, walleye and brook trout)
Dry flies (Caddis and mayfly imitations in sizes 12- to 8)
Poppers and mouse patterns
Braided fly line/leader connectors
Cloth tape measure