Story by Matt Hardinge
Photos by Matt Hardinge

Overlanding Perfectly Complements Fishing Life

A Fish Out Of Water

Overland adventures become more fulfilling when you’re fishing.

You’ve finally completed your truck build, called your boss to request a few days off and packed supplies for several days of off-the-grid living. The purpose: a long drive into the mountains to set up camp by an alpine lake and unwind for a long weekend. Fishing is a natural complement to many overland trips and offers a new and exciting hobby to pursue in all the beautiful places your truck takes you.

The driving experience, alone, is enough to justify the expensive truck accessories and PTO for some, but the adventure doesn’t need to end once you set up camp. Your camp shouldn’t be a place to spend your whole weekend. Instead, it should be a “launching pad” for more outdoor adventures, like fishing.

Fishermen Know Overlanding

Adventurous anglers have been overlanding for years, even before the current craze gripped the automotive community. For them, living off the grid in search of the next big fish or beautiful river was a necessity to access pristine fishing areas. The off-road driving was just a means to an end.

What makes the pursuit of fish so exciting? And why should you consider it, not only as an extra activity, but as one to plan entire road trips around?

The many opportunities we’re afforded in North America are unique compared to much of the world. Large swaths of public land, well-managed fisheries and a vast variety of species mean that this is a rich and diverse activity that can be enjoyed all across the continent. In addition to the plethora of opportunities, fishing can also be enjoyed alone, with children and with friends while sipping on a cold one. Fishing is for everyone, so there’s no excuse not to get out and enjoy the water after you’ve set up camp.

Getting Started With Fishing

  • Research online to learn basic skills needed and what appeals to you.
  • Visit your local fly and/or tackle shop for rentals, lessons or a guided tour.
  • Invest in the right gear, shop used online or make new friends at a local shop.

Many people have dabbled in fishing at some point during their lifetime, but it’s not a sport that can be mastered in a short time. The variety of species and techniques means that regardless of experience levels, there are always learning opportunities to fish in new waters while on the move.

Fishing is an activity that can be enjoyed by everyone in the family.

With that said, the journey to becoming a good angler need not be daunting; nor is it an activity that should put you off while you’re taking the time to learn a new skill set. Yes, fishing is a very technical hobby, but a little research and practice will have you succeeding on the water in no time.

Just as when you’re researching off-road modifications, YouTube is an incredible resource to access in the comfort of your home. You can research different techniques to get an idea of what appeals to you without investing in gear right away.

Bed rack storage bins, such as those from Leitner Designs, can be useful to haul wet fishing gear that you don’t want to carry inside the cab of your truck.

After going down the YouTube “rabbit hole,” your next move should be to visit your local fly and/or tackle shop. They’ll likely offer rentals, lessons or guided trips that’ll give you a more hands-on understanding of techniques and the ability to apply your newfound skills on the water.

Once you’re ready, it’s time to invest in gear. As with most hobbies, the “buy-once-cry-once” rule definitely applies here. While starter packs will get you by, they aren’t the best. If you’re serious about fishing, you’ll outgrow them very quickly. The nicer equipment will make your life much easier.

A bed drawer system, such as the one from Decked, can help keep gear organized and protected when traveling.

Fishing gear is expensive, so I’d suggest looking for deals on the higher-end equipment on eBay or Facebook Marketplace; there are some great deals to be found there. If you want to buy new, it’s always best to support your local shop, because you’ll quickly make friends there, and it’ll be a tremendous resource as you evolve as an angler.

Where To Go Fishing

  • Research areas you may already be traveling through.
  • Get the appropriate fishing license for ample amount of days.
  • Use each state’s Department of Fish & Wildlife’s website to research stocking dates.
  • Know the rules of the area you choose to fish to prevent poaching.

Whether it’s on your drive to work or your journey to the campsite, you’ve likely passed lakes, rivers, streams and ponds; and the chances are good that you’ve driven past thousands of fish along the way. While not every body of water holds fish or is open to fishing, most of them are, and they require just a little bit of research to understand the potential opportunities.

If you’re planning your overland journey in advance, you have a good idea of waterways you’ll be passing or the destination lake you’ll be camping at.

Great fishing spots can be found along your journey.

The minimum requirement to legally fish is the particular state’s fishing license, which can be purchased online, at sporting goods stores or gas stations close to well-known fisheries. Fishing licenses can usually be purchased for one day, several days or annual use. Prices vary from state to state. Nevertheless, your home state will always offer the cheapest option, because prices are higher for out-of-state anglers—sometimes a lot higher!

What better way to spend an afternoon to break up travels than by casting your line into a rushing stream or quiet fishing hole.

If you’re traveling out of state for a longer trip or to a state you frequent regularly, an annual license might make the most sense. The length of license you get is up to you, but the best way to figure out its worth is by estimating the number of days you’ll spend on the water. Multiply that by the day rate. If that number exceeds the annual fee, you’re best off buying the annual out-of-state license. Generally speaking, around a week to 10 days of out-of-state fishing justifies an annual license.

You have your license, and now, you’re good to go … right? Not exactly.

If you’re planning your overland journey in advance, you have a good idea of waterways you’ll be passing or the destination lake you’ll be camping at. Now, it’s up to you to research the legality of fishing in that particular area. The state’s Department of Fish & Wildlife website will have all the information you need, so it’s best to consult it before getting your line wet. Almost every state offers some sort of stocking program, which is posted on its website. This is generally the easiest place to find fishing opportunities; and, if you figure out the timing of the stocking, you can expect some really incredible fishing.

Generally speaking, most bodies of water within public lands are open to fishing. Even so, you should always check local regulations, because some fisheries are seasonal, have special requirements, such as a bait ban or mandatory barbless hooks or are catch-and-release only. Knowing the rules is absolutely essential, because if you’re caught breaking them, it’s considered poaching.

Be sure to research and check local regulations before you drop your line. Knowing the rules is essential to avoid a fine … or worse.

Violations can range from a fine, a ban on hunting and fishing—or, in severe cases, even jail time. Poaching violations can also result in confiscation of any equipment used in the crime. Not only could this include your fishing gear, it could also include your boat and even your overlanding rig. Fishing regulations are simple and take just a few minutes to research. But, when in doubt, you can always call Fish & Game or speak to the people at the local ranger station.

Ethics, Conservation and Best Practices

  • Leave No Trace
  • Give each other enough space.
  • Be sure your hands are wet when handling fish, or keep it in the water.
  • Take only what you will eat.
  • Catch and release native species and take invasive or introduced species.

There are many forms of ethics when it comes to fishing. The best advice I can offer is to be respectful of other fishermen and the land around you.

Just as with any outdoor activity, the “leave no trace” principles apply here as well. Be sure to pack out what you bring in. Also, pack out what you find along the way. We call this “fishing karma.” Whoever packs out the most trash will be rewarded with a hog on their next outing. It’s a real thing and a great habit to get into.

In fishing, especially fly fishing, you must give space to other anglers. The space needed on a lake or a pond could be as little as 50 yards. However, on a river, anglers are constantly moving. It’s best to figure out the direction someone is moving and either go the opposite way or walk much farther down from them. I generally give someone 1/4 to 1/2 mile of space if I’m heading in the same direction. Never cross the river near someone who’s fishing; give them space; be respectful; and don’t disturb the water.

Never cross the river near someone who’s fishing; give them space; be respectful; and don’t disturb the water.

After you catch a fish, wet your hands before handling them so you don’t compromise their protective slime coating. It’s best to keep them in the water while you remove the hook. If you just have to take a photo, make it quick and release them unharmed. Think of this as if you were being held underwater: It wouldn’t be pleasant. Keep this in mind as you handle the fish.

If you’re planning to eat the fish, I think it goes without saying that you should only keep what you intend to eat, regardless of what the legal limit is. There are rules and regulations in place, but it’s good practice to catch and release native fish and keep invasive or introduced species. A little research in your fishing area will help identify what’s what.

Out west, the popular fish to eat in the backcountry is the non-native brook trout. These fish are abundant on high lakes and streams and are good eating (if cooked right). Trout can be cooked with as little as a bit of tin foil, some salt, pepper and a campfire. It’s really a great reward for a day spent on the water.

Worthwhile Investment

The diverse places to fish, the variety of species and the excitement of the chase make fishing a great activity to enjoy with friends and family alike. There’s a bit of a learning curve. However, the small investment of time will reward you with tremendous opportunities, in addition to your off-road adventures. Don’t just take my word for it; start learning now, and get out and enjoy the water.


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