Every hiker who’s ever grumbled over drab camp fare should experience the joy of peeling back charred tinfoil to reveal a flame-cooked, steaming trout smothered in lemon and garlic. Imagine that first bite, its juicy goodness, and the pride you’ll feel knowing you caught this delicacy hours, or minutes, earlier. It’s an experience any backpacker can have, if you know where to toss your line.
In 25 years of hiking, I’ve fished sparkling rainbows from high-mountain streams and fat red drum from the Atlantic surf. Along the way, I’ve learned one important secret: In the backcountry, where lakes and streams get less pressure, even a rookie angler stands a great chance of catching a meal. You might pull a northern pike from wild rice flats high in Canadian Shield country or share gravel bars with grizzlies hunting salmon in Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness Area. Sea kayaking the East Coast’s barrier islands can bring you a bellyful of speckled sea trout. Or you might pitch camp on a river island in Pennsylvania and cast to smallmouth bass rising in the light of the moon. In all of these places, the rugged country is as much of a payoff as the chance to catch a keeper. So grab your tackle (see page 28), get a permit, and try your luck on one of the following hikes. And don’t forget to pack the lemon and garlic.
Current and Buffalo Rivers
You may wonder how to find solitude along these popular streams on spring and summer weekends, but when a 3-pound smallmouth–or 30-pound catfish–strikes the far end of your 4-pound test, you won’t be worrying about anything but dinner. Cloaked in hardwood forest, the towering limestone bluffs and shady hollows of the Ozarks sprawl across the Arkansas/Missouri border and contain a hodge-podge of state parks, national forests, and other public lands. They also include one of the most diverse arrays of fish life in the country: More than 112 known species live in the spring-fed Current and Buffalo Rivers, two national scenic rivers that are famous for their canoe camping. Numerous access points permit overnighters and weeklong trips. To hike in, take the 37-mile Buffalo River Trail or the Ozark Trail, a 30-miler that runs along the upper half of the Current.
guides: Arkansas Hiking Trails and Buffalo River Hiking Trails, by Tim Ernst (800-838-HIKE; www.cloudland.net; $19 each). Both books include maps.
contact: Buffalo National River, (870) 439-2502; www.nps.gov/buff/brt.htm. Ozark National Scenic Riverways, (573) 323-4236; www.nps.gov/ozar. Ozark National Forest, (479) 968-2354; www.fs.fed.us/oonf/ozark.
Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness
Each year, more than 10,000 people float the famous whitewater stretch of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, catching big air on class 5 rapids and landing huge numbers of lunker trout. But a more blissful–and much quieter–angling experience awaits along 2,400-plus miles of trail in the Church, where remote waters teem with steelhead, Dolly Varden, Arctic grayling, and rainbow, brook, and golden trout. More than three dozen alpine lakes and innumerable streams dot this 2.4-million-acre wilderness, and most offer superb fishing. Two areas to explore: the Bighorn Crags region, a jagged rampart crowning 14 high-country trout lakes; and the Big Creek drainage, the Middle Fork’s largest tributary.
guides: Trails of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, by Margaret Fuller ($17).
contact: Salmon-Challis National Forest, (208) 756-2215