Striking out for remote fish country is the quintessence of the wilderness experience. On your own, you connect to the landscape on numerous levels. Every decision-where to camp, when to rise, how far to hike, whether off-trail or on-is yours alone. There is something intensely rewarding about using so many skills on a single trip, something ancient and honorable about foraging on the move. And then there are the people you meet: If you're lucky, there will be none of them.
Backpacking anglers need to go extra light due to the increased load of rods, reels, waders, and bulging fishing vests. Shed pounds by packing only a tent's rain fly and poles, plus a groundsheet. Toss the water filter and replace it with iodine or water purification tablets. Choose clothing carefully: Switch from cotton and wool items to synthetics. They weigh less, and you can often scale back the number of items required due to their quick-drying properties.
Look for packs built specifically for backpacking anglers, or opt for one with tunnel pockets designed for trekking poles and skis. Rod tubes will fit nicely. If yours is flimsy, replace it with a stout waterproof metal tube, and glue wader felt to the bottom to make it into a stream-crossing staff.
** The Perfect Site**
Tent sites a mere step from small streams and creeks are often too tempting to pass up, but your level of care and awareness of your impact must increase with proximity to pristine shores. Look for established spots, or walk your gear away from the water. Answer nature's call in a small cathole dug 6 to 8 inches deep at least 200 feet from the creek or lake. Burn logs completely so that you don't leave charcoal stumps. Double-check to make sure you remove every scrap of food, litter, and lashings. Be extra vigilant about tent-site drainage. By definition, streamside campsites are often flat areas surrounded by steep slopes, just the sort of terrain that can funnel heavy rains your way.
** Where To Go**
** Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, Idaho **Leave the rafting hordes of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River far behind in this 2.4-million-acre wilderness. Nearly 2,500 miles of trail stitch together the river, creeks, and remote lakes where rainbow, brook, and golden trout share water with grayling, Dolly Varden, and powerful steelhead. Salmon-Challis National Forest, 208-756-2215; www.fs.fed.us/r4/sc
** Pecos Wilderness, New Mexico ** This area contains a quarter-million acres of high-mountain forests, laced with small streams and trails through the aspens. Target bruiser brown trout in alpine lakes so remote that they're stocked by helicopter, or tie into a Rio Grande cutthroat, New Mexico's state fish, in tiny, technical water. Santa Fe National Forest, _505-757-6121; www.fs.fed.us/r3/sfe _
** Allegheny Highlands, Virginia** The Appalachian Trail is just one of hundreds of trails to access the trout streams of the Virginia mountains. In the lower elevations, browns and rainbows lurk. Headwater creeks hold native brookies. George Washington & Jefferson National Forests, 888-265-0019; www.southernregion.fs.fed.us/gwj/index.shtml
** Allegheny National Forest, Pennsylvania** Take your pick: Hike in for native headwater brookies, stocked browns and rainbows, or superb muskie, walleye, and northern pike fishing. www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests/allegheny
** North Cascades National Park, Washington** This craggy country is famous for some of the most spectacular trail scenery in all of the West. Fewer know it for its excellent trout fishing. Many of the remote lakes here hold beautiful native cutthroats, and those streams not clouded with glacial milt are practically teeming with trout. _www.nps.gov/noca _
**Bite Troutstream wading sandals **A lightweight alternative tto wading boots, these sandals have uppers with a protective toe guard and soles with both felt and sticky rubber pads for underwater traction. $80; 800-248-3465; www.biteshoes.com
RH Outfitters River Comanche fishing lanyard This device sports seven clip stations for tools and fly boxes, plus two fly patches, and a removable tippet-spool holder. $30; 919-633-0017; www.rhoutfitters.com
Black Diamond Solinas headlamp This integrated hybrid LED/xenon headlamp is waterproof, comes with a spare bulb, and blasts a solar-strength beam. The battery is rechargeable. $150; 801-278-5533; www.blackdiamondequipment.com