Categories: CampingGuides & hacks

Fly Fishing by Bike

Traveling by bicycle is a fantastic way to experience a new place. Which is why, in 2009, we sold everything we owned and set out on our bikes to see the world in a whole new way. We pedaled 10,000 miles over 15 months, rambling our way through numerous small towns and state park campgrounds.

Night after night, we found ourselves camped in beautiful places, oftentimes beside beautiful lakes or rivers. Unless it was hot, we would just watch the water from the bank, wondering what lurked beneath the water’s surface. Until one fateful day when we stumbled into an outdoor shop in Fort Worth, Texas… and left with a beginning fly fishing kit.

Over the past few years, we have really embraced the joys of fly fishing by bike (#bikefishing). Now, when we look for places to camp, we also look for good fishing waters.

Deschutes River, Maupin, Oregon

Deschutes River, Maupin, Oregon

Why #bikefishing?

Why fish in the first place? Once you start fishing, you see the water in a completely different way. You’re more attentive of how water flows around rocks in the river, as you look for eddies and riffles where a fish might hide. A downed tree isn’t just a downed tree, but a place where a big lurking trout is taking cover. The pretty river or lake next to your tent reveals its depth and nuances to you, like a book in a new language you’ve just begun to understand.

Aside from a different appreciation of your surroundings, it’s also a great way to interact with locals. You’ll notice regional differences in fishing techniques, from preferred fly colors to how you should present a fly. Talking to local anglers can give you a greater appreciation of a place than if you were just playing cards at the campsite.

Combining fly fishing with bicycle touring guarantees a win-win situation. Even if you arrive at the river and the fishing isn’t the reel-scorching catch-fest you wanted, you at least enjoyed a lovely bicycle ride to get to the river.

Trout Run Trail, Decorah, Iowa

Oxbow Regional Park, Oregon

Western Fly Fishing vs Tenkara

Our preferred method of fishing on bicycle tour is fly fishing. There is something beautiful and gratifying about casting dry flies to rising trout in the middle of the river after a long day of riding. Fly fishing is also relatively lightweight. Most rods weigh only a few ounces, and the flies themselves weigh next to nothing. If you’re just starting out, you can often buy a complete beginner kit that includes a rod, fly line, reel and case. Just add some flies and some tools, and you’re ready to go.

Fly rods and lines come in different weights – from wispy 2wt rods meant for small fish to heavy 12wt rods for salmon. A good all-rounder rod is a 5wt, which is light enough to make delicate presentations but with enough backbone to bring in decent sized fish.

Sample Western Fly fishing Kit

  • 5wt rod, reel and line (reel and line weight should match your rod weight)
  • 3x 9ft trout leader (“3x” refers to the breaking strength of the line)
  • Spool of 3x tippet (tippet material is thin monofilament you tie to the end of the leader and to your fly)
  • Hemostats and line nipper
  • Fly case and flies (a mix of dry flies and nymphs)
  • Fishing license

Nestucca River, Oregon

A fly fishing method that is relatively new in the US is tenkara. Tenkara is a Japanese form of fly fishing, which uses a long and thin telescoping rod (usually between 10-13 feet) connected to a single fixed length line. There is no reel, just the rod and line. The casting is similar to Western fly fishing; but, because there is only a fixed length of line, it is much easier to learn. Most people can start catching fish after just 15 minutes of instruction. Another benefit of tenkara is how quickly you can set up the rod. With practice, you can hop off your bike and be fishing in under two minutes with a tenkara system.

Sample Tenkara Fly fishing kit

  • Tenkara rod
  • Level line
  • Spool of 6x tippet
  • hemostats and line nipper
  • Fly case and flies
  • Fishing license

Both systems are effective at catching fish. The fish won’t be able to tell what style you’re using. Tenkara is great for fishing smaller rivers and creeks and has a shorter learning curve. Traditional fly fishing gives you a little more advantage on bigger rivers and casts heavier weighted flies like nymphs and streamers a lot better.

Nestucca River, Oregon, Photo by Path Less Pedaled.

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The Art of Wet Wading

After your rod and line are sorted out, you have to figure out how you’ll wade in the river. If space on your bike is at a premium, you probably won’t want to carry a full on set of waders and wading boots. During summer months, you can usually just “wet wade,” which is basically just wearing some shorts and water shoes.

Crocs and neoprene socks make a great light and inexpensive wet wading option. Crocs are generally fairly grippy on wet surfaces, though you want to take some tentative first steps. The neoprene socks give you a little protection from small rocks as well as give you some warmth. It may be a hot day, but trout streams run cold from snow melt!

How to Carry it All

With the exception of your rod, most of your fly fishing gear should be able to fit in the small corner of a pannier. A cheap hip bag or fanny pack keeps everything in one place, with the additional benefit of being a simple way to carry your tackle and some snacks when you’re out on the river.

Panniers with outside vertical pouches make great rod tube holders especially for travel rods and tenkara rods. If you have a saddlebag with D-loops, you can use a pair of old toe straps to lash on your rod tube. A sure fire method is using some bungees and securing the rod to the top of your rear rack.

Now Get Out There

The Pacific NW has a myriad of great bikefishing destinations. Along the coast, you’ll find salmon and a thick canopy of trees. In Central & Eastern Oregon & Washington, you’ll find rainbow trout and high desert.

One of our favorite places is the Deschutes State Recreation Area (, where the Deschutes River meets the Columbia. The campground at the mouth of the river is lovely; but for a unique bike-camping-fishing experience, follow the Deschutes River Trail upstream to one of the dispersed campsites. Because the sites are used mostly by rafters and hikers, they’re quiet and secluded and dark at night (except when the train rumbles through at 2am on the opposite side of the river).

Deschutes River, Oregon.

Deschutes River, Oregon.

About the authors: In 2009, Russ Roca and Laura Crawford did what most people only dream about – they sold everything they owned and spent three years traveling by bicycle. Their experiences led them to champion the ways in which cycling can positively impact rural areas – and they now work with communities and tourism organizations who want to build better cycling destinations. In between it all, they still travel (and fly fish) by bike.

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