Want to catch a real monster, something so big and ugly it could come only from a dark, mossy corner of a blackwater bayou? Try the country’s largest swamp wilderness, which has just recently been discovered by hikers and paddlers.
Spanning a million acres of forest, river, and tea-colored lagoon, Atchafalaya is a veritable bestiary of weird and brawny, but surprisingly yummy, fish. Catfish bigger than you. Buffalofish, 200-pound gar, and a freshwater drum the Cajuns call gaspergou. But reel them in quickly, warn the locals, because alligators will steal your fish right off the hook. Get started on the Atchafalaya River, which winds for 135 miles through the Basin, affording unlimited interconnected-and constantly changing-routes through braided channels, chains of swamp lakes, and cypress-shrouded bayous. Pack a net (for crayfish), a GPS, and a few gallons of DEET.
guides: There are no paddle or trail guides to the Basin, because watercourses change dramatically with the ever-changing water levels. Check with the contact (below) for up-to-date information.
contact: The nonprofit Atchafalaya Paddle Trails, (337) 739-2410; www.bayoutrails.org.
Pecos River and Wilderness
Music to a backpacker’s ears: Alpine lakes in the Sangre de Cristo range are so remote they are stocked via helicopter. To hear the good news up close, hike past the hordes of guided anglers along the Pecos River’s famous pools and into the sprawling wilderness watershed.
Capped by the 13,000-foot Truchas Peak, the Pecos Wilderness covers nearly 250,000 fish-filled acres. Verdant aspen, fir, and spruce forests are stitched with small headwater creeks filled with gemlike Rio Grande cutthroat trout-New Mexico’s state fish-and brown trout. Small stream fishing is challenging, but the payoffs are solitude and an intimate relationship with the water. Try Jack’s Creek and the upper Pecos River above a meadowy respite called Beatty’s Cabin.
guides: Pecos Wilderness map (Public Lands Interpretive Association, 970-882-4811; www.co.blm.gov/ahc/index.htm; $15). U.S. Forest Service Pecos Wilderness map (888-ASK-USGS; http://rockyweb.cr.usgs.gov/forestservice/nm.html; $9)
contact]:Santa Fe National Forest, (505) 757-6121; www.fs.fed.us/r3/sfe.
Deciding where to wet a line within the 6-million-acre Adirondack Park in upstate New York is harder than climbing its famed High Peaks. Larger than Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite National Parks put together, the park boasts 3,000 lakes and ponds and thousands of miles of stream with some of the best brook trout, lake trout, and kokonee salmon fishing in the world. Best bet: Strap a four-piece rod to your backpack and hit the Northville-Placid Trail, a 133-mile beauty that shimmies alongside beaver ponds, lakes, and clear streams. Or hoof it off-trail into remote, trout-rich beaver ponds and lakes that lie in the big woods cloaking Saranac Lake.
Paddlers should consider the St. Regis Canoe Area, where more than 50 remote ponds hold fantastic numbers of brook and lake trout. And Little Tupper Lake, in the William C. Whitney Wilderness, contains a strain of brook trout found nowhere else in the world, making it the largest lake in eastern United States with its original strain of trout.
guides: Good Fishing in the Adirondacks, edited by Dennis Aprill (315-245-1066; www.adirondack-books.com; $16). The Adirondack Mountain Club sells region-specific maps (800-262-4455; www.adk.org; $6 each).
contact: Adirondack Park Visitor Interpretive Centers, (518) 327-3000 and (518) 582-2000; www.northnet.org/adirondackvic/.