Fishermen walk with fishing poles along a river with a waterfall behind him

Gear Up for Backcountry Fishing

Here’s what you need to fish more remote rivers, creeks and streams that require a degree of work to access the water.

Whether you’re a seasoned angler or someone picking up a rod and reel for the first time, the call of a natural waterway is hard to ignore. Not only are free-flowing rivers, creeks and streams peaceful and picturesque, they can also offer excellent opportunities to catch freshwater fish like bass and trout. And the more that you fish them, the likelier that you’ll be drawn afield, looking farther upriver for fewer crowds and less pressure on the fish. So, as you search for pristine waters (and with them, better chances for fish), you’ll need to pay closer attention to your equipment. The higher the effort to reach the water—whether you’re just headed down a river bank, wading into your favorite creek, or hiking into a remote honeyhole—the more that the right gear can increase your odds for success. 

Cover the Basics

Start with the essentials: Pick the appropriate clothing for your freshwater outing. Make sure you’re covered with a synthetic, breathable and quick-drying shirt plus a pair of water-resistant pants. It can be tempting to wear shorts and go shirtless, but the right fishing outerwear (especially if you’re bushwacking to the water) protects you from the elements and keeps you from getting wet and staying wet—and shields you from the sun beating down and reflecting up from the water surface. 

Proper footwear will also keep you safe and upright. Pick something that is water-resistant or waterproof when you are fishing from the river bank to keep your feet dry. Also look for shoes with a solid, lugged sole that provides traction on wet rocks and in mud or puddles. To keep your feet comfortable, don’t forget the foundation of performance socks made of merino wool or a synthetic like polyester (no cotton). Finally, if you’ve got a long hike in, pack your fishing footwear (to change into) and consider a pair of lightweight trail runners or hiking shoes for the approach. When you’re done fishing, they’ll provide cold feet a dry respite on the way back out.

Tackle Picks

A few simple outfitting choices can make all the difference.


Spinning rod-and-reel combos are a solid, versatile option for freshwater fishing. They allow you to use live bait or lures and easily cast into your waterway to use a bobber, cast upstream, jib, or bounce your bait across the river bottom. 


Look for a spinning reel or baitcasting reel that provides easy control and accurate casting. On small creeks or streams less than 10 feet wide, pair this with a 5- or 6-foot-long ultralight rod that will not be complicated to carry to shore and will reduce the casting headaches of getting lines caught in overhanging branches and brush. On wider rivers over 10 feet wide, pair your spinning reel with a 7- to 10-foot-long fiberglass rod that can give you more casting power with less effort—and better ability to reel in the bigger fish that often swim in higher-volume rivers. 

Fly specifics

If you’re a fly-fishing angler, look for a lighter-weight setup, like a 3- or 4-weight rod, which often work best on smaller streams. Small flies like nymphs are often good for lower-volume creeks and streams. Remember: Smaller waterways support smaller fish that hunt smaller prey. 

Bait and lures

Don’t overlook using simple, live bait like nightcrawlers on a smaller river or creek. These can be especially successful if you bounce them across the riverbed. If you prefer lures, consider a quarter- to an eighth-ounce jig. They’re well suited to slow-moving water or areas near river mouths where they can move about in the water column to catch a fish’s attention. 

A detail of Fishermen with fishing poles along a river

Fishing Apparel 

If you’re fishing rivers, streams and creeks, consider these pieces of gear to give yourself a bit more success and a lot more comfort. 


Some of the best fishing in creeks and streams isn’t from the shore; getting in the water gives you better angles to secluded spots, like behind vegetation or under branches that dip into the water (especially for fly anglers). A good pair of waders—waterproof overpants that allow you to walk or “wade” into the water—get you comfortably there. Opt for either chest or waist waders, which ride higher to keep you drier in deeper waters. Look for durable construction. And for cold water, consider an insulated pair; for remote water, consider a lighter weight pair.

Wader boots

Make sure to check the bottom of your waders as some of them come with attached boots. Waders without integrated boots require wader-compatible boots or shoes. Wader boots are often made of quick-drying materials that can get wet and dry again to be ready for fishing a few days in a row. These should have a durable and grippy sole to keep you sure-footed, even as you walk across the bottom of river beds.

Wading jacket

These can act like both rain gear and tackle box all in one item. They come in insulated or uninsulated, though, so select according to your area weather and temperature needs. Either way, waterproof materials help keep you dry from rain downfall, or river water that splashes up. Wader jackets have the added benefit of fishing-specific pockets and systems for carrying your tackle and tools in various purpose-built pockets.

Added Extras

Once you’ve covered the essentials, these are the next additional items worth adding to your setup to up your haul. 

Wading staff

This simple, yet overlooked item can keep you upright while wading through current. Think of staffs like hiking poles that fold up for carrying to the river bank. They often have handles made of cork, or a similar material to help them float should you accidentally drop or need to track one down. 

Fishing net

Want to nab that photo to prove your catch? A net provides a crucial tool for landing a fish confidently and safely without hurting or damaging it. Look for one that’s lightweight to carry and that can attach well to a pack. Many river anglers prefer a net with a long handle that provides added reach around or past obstacles, like tree trunks, branches or delicate water plants. 

Stream thermometer

It’s important to know the river temperature (especially in summer months) as shallow and narrow bodies of water can heat up quickly, which can be critical for the survival of certain, sensitive species like trout. Many fish will stop biting when the creek temperature rises above 68 degrees. 

Polarized sunglasses

Protecting your eyes from the sun’s rays that beat down on you (and that bounce up off the water) is one thing; polarized shades also block out aspects of the visible light spectrum to let you see into the water. That means vision beyond the roiling surface to the bottom of the creek (and the fish that swim in it as well). 

Packs and bags

Fishing riverbeds involves standing on slick, uneven ground, and traipsing through the woods to get to your spots, which makes carrying tackle boxes or similar cases difficult. Instead, look for a hip pack, sling pack, or chest pack. These all provide handy access to your gear, without having to take a backpack off and set it on the ground—particularly useful if you’re wading with nowhere dry to set your gear. Look for fishing-specific compartments and pockets that help organize your tackle and tools, and storage capacity if you’ll be spending a longer day out, farther from your vehicle.


Getting fish on the line is one challenge; getting them off can be an entirely different struggle. Consider the three most important—a set of forceps to pull hooks out of a fish’s mouth, snips to cut any line, and a small blade for any problems that either of these can’t handle—and make them all quickly reachable with retractors. These are attachment devices that mount your tools on your chest and allow you to pull them off your vest or bag for use, retracting back into storage mode when you let them go, which keeps you from dropping these small, often necessary tools in the drink.  

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.