A wilderness paddling adventure can take you through some of the best fishing waters on the planet. But because of the confines and weight restrictions of a small boat—mixed with the probable requirements to portage your outfit at some point on the journey—you’ll need to downsize your tackle box or tackle bag and pack more purposefully. Versatility is key, so bring fishing gear that can cover multiple presentations and species. Most importantly, don’t forget to carry backup items. After all, you can’t just pop into the local tackle shop for replacements when you’re in a remote wilderness area. Here’s what I pack for my extended paddling and fishing expeditions in northern Canadian and Alaskan waters.
To save room, I leave my bulky tackle box or tackle bag behind and opt to pack my lures and other tackle into a clear-plastic tackle tray that has a waterproof O-ring around the edge. These trays usually don’t come with handles, so I fashion a strong handle out of duct tape or glue a D-ring to the tray so it can be easily clipped down in my canoe while running rapids. Your lures won’t fall all over the place, either, if it gets flipped upside down like they would with a tackle box.
Gear can break pretty easily on backcountry trips. Because of this, aim for durability and accessibility over performance when it comes to selecting a rod. For example, a telescopic rod is preferable because it’s so easy to stow and deploy. Bring two so you have a backup, and make sure they are durable. Bass Pro’s telescopic rods have performed the best for me. If you bring a typical rod, make sure it’s a two-piece so you can stow it more easily and opt for an indestructible-type, such as an Ugly Stik or Bass Pro Brawler. Bring a telescopic rod as a backup too if you go this way and leave your expensive graphite rods at home, because they’ll break.
Bring medium to large spinning reels. I’ve been using a 5000 series reel on my trips for a while, but you don’t need to go that big. A 2500 series reel is also good. Make sure you have at least three reels for every two people, in case one gets lost or breaks. Even though these trips can be hard on your equipment, I highly recommend not skimping on your reel. Higher quality spinning reels can take more abuse than cheaper ones; plus if you hook the fish of a lifetime while you’re out there, you don’t want to be out gunned.
Fishing Line and Leaders
For versatility, I like 30-pound braided line. If you’re casting in very clear waters, you may want to consider using a 20-pound fluorocarbon leader also. If you’ll be targeting smaller trout, bring a second spool with 6- to 8-pound mono on it; again, a fluoro carbon leader never hurts. If you’re heading into northern pike country, pack some wire leaders, too. Always make sure your group has enough back up line as well.
Again, if you’ll be targeting northern pike, your fingers will be happy you packed a pistol-style hook-removal tool, because often your multitool pliers won’t be enough. Consider securing the tool to a retractable fishing tether that you can affix to your seat for quick deployment and accessibility when the pike are eager to bite.
For northern river trips, No. 2 to 3 Mepps in a variety of colors are my staples, particularly for trout and grayling. No. 4 spinners are great for pike and walleye. Consider bringing a couple Mepps XD or Panther Martens for when you want a little extra depth on your retrieve.
Pack some spoons for casting, jigging, and trolling for lake trout, pike, and other species. Some of my favorite large spoons include a silver 4-inch Williams Wabler and a 1 1/8-ounce yellow-and-red “Five of Diamonds.”
For trolling and casting to smaller species, such as brook trout, I bring some small spoons like the Williams Ridgeback, which is excellent when jigging for walleye as well. For targeting Arctic char, I particularly like a half-ounce Pixie Spoon. Heavy enough to cast a good distance, it can be fished deep or shallow, and it won’t plane on the surface when you reel or troll with some speed.
Jigs are inexpensive and don’t take up much space in your box, so bring a large assortment. But avoid cheap ones, because the hooks are likely to bend before your drag kicks in, resulting in lost fish.
You’ll need soft-plasitcs to dress your jigs. Bring 3-inch (or larger) curly tail grubs in a range of colors and styles. Also, if you’re far enough south that you’ll be targeting bass, pack various colors of 5-inch worms for wacky rigging, along with O-rings so they last longer.
You’ll want something that won’t get snagged when fishing shallow rivers, so bring a selection of shallow or suspending-minnow lures, such as Rapala X-Raps. For targeting deeper fish—as far down as 30 feet—I also recommend a Cotton Cordell Wally Stinger or a Rapala Tail Dancer. And if you’re adventuring in bass country, also take along a topwater plug too.
Hooks, Swivels, and Weights.
Bring a variety of sizes and styles of hooks for rigging soft-plastics and live bait. Be sure to add some to your survival kit too. You’ll want snap swivels for rigging lures to the end of your line, so you can quickly swap them out. To help prevent line twist when trolling, bring barrel swivels for tying onto your line a few inches above the snap swivel. Finally, pack some three-way swivels for trolling lures with weights while targeting deeper fish. You’ll also want to pack some split shot to attach to your line when you need to get a little deeper. Bring a selection of 1- and 2-ounce pencil sinkers to use with a three-way-swivel rig for trolling any where from 12 to 80 feet deep.
You’ll need two carabiners: One to clip down your rod to the boat and the other to clip to your tackle tray in case your boat flips.
Keep a multitool equipped with needle-nose pliers on your belt for removing hooks—and tackling a myriad of other fishing- and camp-related tasks.
Standard landing nets of any significant size often get trapped under a bunch of gear when you need them most because they’re bulky. Choose a sturdy, compact folding net with metal moving parts and rubberized netting.
I like to pack a spring-operated scale, as opposed to a digital one, as it’s more durable and water-resistant. Why bring a scale in the first place? Because it’s great when engaging in friendly competitions and quests for that personal-best fish…and because it keeps you honest.
Nothing beats a meal of fresh fish out in the backcountry. Bring a sharp, fillet knife that’s about 8 inches long. For safety, it’s important to keep the knife secure in its sheath so it doesn’t come loose in your pack.
I love to pan-fry fish over the fire—with the pan directly on the fire logs or coals—but grilled trout with onion slices is tough to beat. To grill your fish with the least amount of fuss, bring a double-sided fish basket grill with a handle.
In addition to what you carry in your tackle try and day-bag, when you’re on a remote fishing adventure, you should always keep a length of fishing line, some hooks, and a small spoon in your survival kit—which should always be carried on your person. This way, if you get lost or separated from the boat, you’ll at least still have a way to catch fish for food.