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These days, many flyfishers will gladly spend $700 for a new rod, $500 for a new reel and $400 for new waders, all in hope that the best equipment will improve their angling success. Ironically, though, many who shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars on gear neglect two pieces of equipment that are absolutely free and will likely improve their fishing success far more than any gadget featured in a glossy catalogue. What these anglers already have, but sadly overlook, are their own two legs.
Simple walking is the no-cost key to improved angling, just about anywhere. Sadly, angling and walking have become two separate activities, when in the days of Izaak Walton, they were knotted together as tightly as hook to line. In Walton’s day, angling meant walking, and the walking was as important to the experience as the fishing. These days, anglers who walk out of sight of their vehicles are in the minority, but those who follow the tradition of Walton will usually find better fishing.
The main reason that walking equates to better fishing is simple: it’s all about fishing pressure. Easily-reached waters will either have fewer fish (where regulations permit catch-and-keep) or more educated fish (where regulations require catch-and-release). While some anglers enjoy the challenge of catching extremely well-educated fish, many more will do better by leaving the crowds and the PhD fish behind with a simple walk.
Finding places to walk to does not necessarily mean donning a backpack and toiling eight miles up a mountain trail. Even heavily-fished rivers paralleled by roads have sections that are less-fished than others. Avoid the obvious runs and pools adjacent to parking area and seek out the less-obvious areas. Even a bend shielded from the road by a narrow band of brush or trees can eliminate anglers who are insecure fishing out of sight of their vehicle. Similarly, walking carefully down a steep bank will separate you from less adventuresome anglers and probably improve your success.
Tributaries to popular rivers frequently offer walking/angling opportunities neglected by many. While a major river may be crowded with anglers, even a 10-minute hike up a tributary can provide solitude and a shot at fish that have moved up out of the main river, particularly as spawning season draws near. Extend your hike to 20 minutes or more, and you’ll avoid perhaps 90% of the pressure any stream ever faces.
Equipment for the walking angler is refreshingly simple. A map even as basic as one produced by the Forest Service shows streams, lakes and trails, and can open up worlds of opportunities, while USGS topographical maps provide additional valuable detail. A daypack is handy for lunch and basic survival items, but many prefer a fanny pack to keep additional weight off of their shoulders. Waders are items of personal preference. Some anglers are content to wet wade in a pair of wading boots, while others will prefer lightweight hip waders with wading boots. The new generation of rubber-soled wading boots are built like hiking boots and serve well for both hiking and wading.
The next time you’re frustrated by long lines of anglers at a popular river, then, there’s no need to join the fray or to go home frustrated. There is an answer to better fishing when you face crowded waters. Just walk away.