By Alec Clement
Reeling in the Miles
Originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of A.T. Journeys Magazine.
Ounces equal pounds and pounds equal pain, an adage that a past thru-hiker gave to me starting out on my 2,191-mile hike of the A.T. He was referencing the fishing pole that I tried to sneak past him on my pack shakedown. Up until that point, I was open to dropping weight off my pack. Now I was thinking of a different adage, “hike your own hike.”
Due to the advice I was given, I sent my pole forward 30 miles ahead to Neels Gap. This would give me a chance to decide if the Trail would provide plenty of fishing opportunities to make the extra weight worth it. Within the first 100 steps of the approach trail I realized I made a mistake not having my pole on me. There was a beautiful waterfall (Amicalola Falls) cascading down into a pool of water (Reflection Pond). Although I can’t confirm fishing was allowed at this spot, it gave me the foreshadow I needed.
It can be a challenge to carry any extra weight on your hike, regardless if it’s for a day hike, a section, or a thru-hike. I once met another hiker that fished only using a spinner, 10 feet of biodegradable fishing line and a stick that he’d tie the line to. I believe he had the right idea. He never missed a fishing hole, but also never worried about additional weight added to his pack. You should know what compromises you are willing to make while fishing and hiking. For me, it was an ultra-light, collapsible pole that stowed away on the side of my pack. This made for quick access; which was important because it took miles to get to Katahdin, not the beautiful (and sometimes delicious) fish I caught. Do what works best for you.
Be aware and courteous. There are hidden fishing spots along the entire A.T. that remain beautiful because…they’re hidden. There was a breathtaking riverbend that could have been my favorite fishing spot on the Trail. The problem was that it was littered with beer cans, old camping gear, and the like. Although it hardly made a dent, I tried to carry out what I could from that mess. The very best part of hiking and fishing is the connection you have with nature. That connection can be severed with ignorance and wastefulness. The good news is that connection can be restored.
Luckily for the day- or section-hiker, there are numerous fishing spots along the A.T. that can be accessed by a short hike. Here are just a few highlights:
Starting in North Carolina, there was the Nantahala Outdoor Center. Although whitewater rafting and other water watersports run supreme here, the fishing here is also worth noting.
In Erwin, Tennessee, I had the pleasure of staying at Cantarroso Farm and Apiary. My stay there turned into eight days – half of all the zero-days I took on my thru-hike. Owners, Mike and Peggy provided me with a fishing pole that wouldn’t snap from the river monsters the Nolichucky River sheltered.
A great spot for those unable to hike but who would like to experience a clean river, dirty hikers, and everything in-between are the Dismal Falls in Virginia. And in another part of Virginia, my favorite hiking trail to fish on came at a great cost. The price to pay was to break my “purist” streak (hiking every foot of the Trail) and it was well worth it. This trail reminds me of both the largest trout I’ve ever caught and the even larger trout I lost. The Creeper Trail, which stretches from Abingdon, Virginia through Damascus, Virginia follows the Whitetop Laurel River. This 34-mile trail hosts many activities for families and travelers such as horseback riding and biking. To get fishing supplies and insider info of the river check out the fly-shop “Hooked.” You can also find more info of the trail and its rich history at: vacreepertrail.org
New Hampshire and Maine
New Hampshire and Maine have so many remote ponds and rivers to fish from it’s hard to choose from. Luckily, by following Route 16 you can get to many of these trailheads; which ones you choose is entirely up to your preferences.
Rules and Regulations
Each Trail state has different rules and seasons for fishing. For more information on catch and release designated areas or acquiring a state-specific fishing license visit: fws.gov/fishing/FishingLicense.html
Leave No Trace Fishing Tips
Stick to impacted trails and access points: Trail braiding and streamside trampling are common problems at popular fishing spots, stick to already impacted trails and use designed access points as much as possible.
Trash your monofilament: Carry out everything you bring in, and do mother nature a solid by packing out the trash of others as well. Monofilament takes 500 years to photodegrade, and even the smallest piece of tippet can be fatal to wildlife.
Lead-free – the way to be: Lead used in split shot and fly-tying materials is a common source of wildlife poisoning. Tungsten, stainless steel, tin, and bismuth are all suitable and non-toxic alternatives.
Respect the catch: Fish are only a renewable resource when given the opportunity to thrive and reproduce; know how to properly handle, photograph and release a fish. Remember that rubber nets are gentler than cloth, and wet hands are better than dry.
Don’t fish for likes: Consider the ramifications of telling the world about your favorite fishing spot. Use social media in an environmentally responsible way and think before you post.