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Go Fish

If you can't hook a monster in one of these fishing holes, you better hang up your rod.

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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;; $19 each). Both books include maps.

contact: Buffalo National River, (870) 439-2502; Ozark National Scenic Riverways, (573) 323-4236; Ozark National Forest, (479) 968-2354;


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


Atchafalaya Basin

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;

New Mexico

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;; $15). U.S. Forest Service Pecos Wilderness map (888-ASK-USGS;; $9)

contact]:Santa Fe National Forest, (505) 757-6121;

New York

Adirondack Park

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;; $16). The Adirondack Mountain Club sells region-specific maps (800-262-4455;; $6 each).

contact: Adirondack Park Visitor Interpretive Centers, (518) 327-3000 and (518) 582-2000;

North Carolina

New River

Northern portions of the New River are famous for white-knuckle rafting, but the North Carolina stretch is known for swift, easily paddled riffles and long, languid pools loaded with feisty smallmouth bass. A 26.5-mile section of the New holds State Scenic River status, passing through deep hardwood forests with pastoral views of old mountain farms and easy access for canoe campers. The New River State Park includes canoe access points and primitive, paddler-only campsites. Along the way, you’ll have to decide whether to dip a line in the innumerable ledge pools or drop trou for a quick summer swim.

guides:Hiking North Carolina, by Randy Johnson ($16).

contact: New River State Park, (336) 982-2587;


Woodland Caribou Provincial Park

Pike the size of small children ply the cold waters of this giant park, a sprawling million-acre wilderness of exposed bedrock, virgin jack pine forest, and sphagnum bogs. There are more than 12,000 miles of canoe routes along chains of lakes and rivers, and little access other than by boat and floatplane. You’ll need hefty tackle to handle the huge Northerns–up to 4 feet long–and platter-size walleye. Novice paddlers should stick to the relatively tame Gammon River system, which stitches together medium-size lakes. Whitewater vets will want to ride the Bloodvein, which careens past ancient pictographs and some of the best wilderness walleye fishing in the world.

guides:The park offers a free map showing canoe routes, portage points, and access areas.

contact:Woodland Caribou Provincial Park, (807) 727-1329;

West Virginia

Cranberry River

Most southern Appalachian trout streams are small creeks tumbling through thick rhododendron glades-the kind of water that requires expert casting skills. Not the Cranberry River, which drains a wide, forested valley in the rugged hills of West Virginia and the Cranberry Wilderness Area, one of the largest wildernesses east of the Mississippi River. There’s plenty of room to wade and cast for wild and stocked rainbow, brown, and brook trout along both forks of the Cranberry. Access is via an easy, near-level hike along a graded forest road, which means two things: You can pack the chest waders, and you can expect small crowds on summer weekends. Fortunately, numerous side trails lead to lonely campsites tucked into the hollows.

guides: USGS topo maps Hillsboro, Lobelia, Webster Springs SE, and Woodrow (888-ASK-USGS;; $10)

contact: Monongahela National Forest, (304) 636-1800;


Wind River Range

You’ve died and gone to fish heaven: Not only does this range boast 15 of Wyoming’s 16 highest peaks, more than two dozen active glaciers, and 400,000 acres of designated wilderness, but its huge battlements of fanglike rock lord over what many consider the finest backcountry trout fishing in the country. Thanks to an old-time guide named Finis Mitchell, who years ago carted trout to the Wind’s high country in milk cans strapped to pack horses, six species

of trout now thrive there: lake, golden, brook, rainbow, brown, and cutthroat. Hike from alpine lake to stream to lake and you could catch all six in a single day. Best bets include the Popo Agie and Fitzpatrick Wilderness Areas of the Shoshone National Forest.

guides:Walking the Winds: A Hiking and Fishing Guide to Wyoming’s Wind River Range, by Rebecca Woods ($15). Northern Wind River Range and Southern Wind River Range waterproof trail maps (Earthwalk Press; $8 each).

contact: Shoshone National Forest, (307) 527-6241;

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