Hike ‘n’ Fish

I remember pulling into the parking lot of one of the trail heads for the I&M Canal and finding myself in the midst of what I could only compare to a green light pit stop for NASCAR. People were moving around vehicles at hyper speeds, bicycles were being partially assembled, strollers were unfolded and packed, dogs were barking, water bottles were being dropped and the smell of bug spray, sunscreen and hot dogs permeated the air, all in preparation for a late spring day enjoying the great outdoors.

Then, I caught a couple of stares. Spread on the tailgate of my truck were four open Plano boxes, all brimming with my I&M Canal favorites. I was in the middle, prepping a handful of my favorite graphites—four to be exact—as I was readying my backpack for a day of angling. Suddenly, a man parked in a minivan next to me got out and came over to glance at my tackle selection.

Without conversation, he said, “Are you for real? All that gear for this canal?”

“Yes,” I told him, nodding.

He then turned, laughed and disappeared down the trail with his family in tow.

Later on, the dad from my parking lot encounter was making his way back toward me on the canal.

I noticed he was now carrying two of the five bikes he and his family left with as they began their journey. He looked like nothing had gone well for his day. Mine was a good one, though, and to top it off, what seemed like some type of divine timing, my parking lot friend was just a few strides away when I hooked into a big, fat chunk of a canal bass.

A few essentials packed into a Cabela’s Advanced Anglers Backpack. Notice the rods have plastic rod savers, which is a good choice when wandering off the beaten path. These protect rods from tangling or becoming damaged by brush.

As he watched me lip my fish, I turned to him and said, “To answer your question from earlier—yes, I am for real!”

While the content of this article is not intended to spotlight the I&M Canal, places like this man-made waterway offer miles of fishable banks for those who are willing to take a hike.

This month, we are going to take a look at forging our way through and into some rather non-typical bank-fishing opportunities. It might not be for all, or not even be an every-week adventure, but hiking your way to some new destinations could be a welcome addition to your bank-fishing alternatives.

So, let’s cinch down those hiking boots, grab a rod and reel, or four, and travel down some paths not usually taken.

Where to go
As I mentioned earlier, the I&M Canal in the Heritage Corridor makes a great hike n’ fish venue with its graveled trail following the water’s edge for many “hikeable” miles, but there are other similar trails available. These waters have designated paths open for many uses, but also provide anglers on foot with the ability to reach their favorite hot spots with ease and minimal “bushwacking.” These areas include most of our state park systems, forest preserve waters, municipal ponds and lakes and the many miles of Lake Michigan shoreline in Chicagoland.

For those who like to show a bit of that wild spirit that’s caged up inside and feel the need to get off the paths frequented by joggers, bicycles and strollers, there are many trails, though not maintained, that will lead you to the secluded banks of many rivers, creeks, ponds and small lakes. Just make sure you’re aware the areas you choose to explore are NOT private property. If you happen upon purple paint applied on things such as fence posts, trees, gates, etc., STAY OUT! These marks are becoming popular in indicating the boundaries of private property—no signs, just purple paint. And, relating to safety concerning fishing these more desolate areas, always carry your smartphone, which most do, and make a habit of letting someone know your plans and whereabouts.

Hiking gear and clothing
As far as clothing and footwear, I’m sure you don’t need to be told how to dress for the outdoors. But you need to dress for your personal comfort too. If you choose to wander down some of those more wild paths, just make sure to protect yourself with proper apparel.

Hiking shorts might work well on groomed paths, but get yourself into some briars with shorts and you’re in for a world of hurt. I prefer good ol’ blue jeans for my off-the-beaten-path wear. These protect you from stickers, briars and branches, all waiting to draw blood.

I would also suggest a nice set of pack-away rain gear. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had my tail feathers soaked to the bone on days with a 0 percent chance of rain.

Now one thing not to cut corners on is quality footwear. Style isn’t important here, so just wear footwear that offers you support, a good bottom grip, protection from water and a relatively lighter weight. I prefer some type of higher boots too, as I want a pair that supports my ankles. Much of your hiking terrain is uneven, and most of the injuries will come from foot and ankle mishaps. And, it’s usually a long way back to the vehicle.


A trail awaits you.

Due to the multi-species availability on most of these bodies of water, time and space do not allow for a species-specific rundown. But we do cover those topics in this column on a normal basis. Check the waters you intend to fish and adjust your tackle appropriately to target the species you desire.

One critical piece of tackle to consider when hike n’ fishing is a tackle bag. While I have many styles and sizes of bags, when the hike is about to happen, I always switch to a backpack tackle bag. One of several reasons I choose the backpack style is that these just make more sense for fishermen. For one, by carrying your tackle on your back, both your hands are free: one to carry your rods and the other to move branches and other natural elements from your path. Having that hand free can help when traversing unstable areas, keeping your balance and avoiding a possible injury. Also, a bag on your back as opposed to one over your shoulder will not get hung up when working through brush.

Physically, a backpack carried in the center of your back removes unnecessary strain to your body, while a bag over one shoulder throws your entire body off—not noticeable in a short walk from your vehicle to just a single bank location, but it can wear on you when putting some considerable ground between you and your starting location.

For me, I use a Cabela’s Advanced Anglers Backpack Tackle Pack (pictured). I can carry 3-3600-style boxes, plus the bag has many other pockets for necessity items. You can use a standard book bag, but the Advanced has heavily padded straps and padding for your back where the bag rests and is constructed of very durable materials. This is important when dealing with the snags that nature has in store for you when it reaches out and touches you.

At the start, I mentioned that I carried four rods, and do so often. But do yourself a favor and narrow your rod selection down to one or two. When I give in and do so myself, it makes the journey much more stress-free and someday—I swear—I’ll hit the trails with just one rod. I’m not sure when that will take place, but it is on my bucket list.

Other ‘stuff’
With my bag and most other backpacks for that matter, there is usually plenty of room for other necessity items that will increase your enjoyment of times spent hiking your way to new fishing locations.

Here’s just a brief list of my “stuff” that I slip into my backpack: rain gear, bug repellent, dried snacks (e.g., nuts, jerky, granola bars) and usually a spool of line that matches at least one of the rods that I’m using. My “stuff” varies from one trail to the next, but you get the idea; just bring the things you need. One other take-along item is water. Make sure you carry a couple of bottles to get you through your hiking and fishing day. Dehydration will not only make your day unpleasant, but it is also a serious safety issue. Be sure to stay hydrated.

As we head into the warm-weather months of this fishing season, I hope you consider hitting the trails or paths to some incredible adventures and add the concept to Hike n’ Fish as another way for you to connect with the great outdoors.

See you on the bank, or even hiking on the trail!