Published Aug 17. 2014 - 9 years ago
Updated or edited Oct 28. 2021

Biking and Fly Fishing

Having a hard time finding new fishing locations is a common complaint. How about using your bike to go new places? Mike Hogue introduces you to the combination of biking and fishing.

Heading into the wild - Passing a small pond in a meadow
Riding into the wild
Fly Fish Food

I want to begin by discussing my background. I am first off a fly fisherman and then I am an outdoorsman. For along time, I've thought the the fly fishing industry has never connected the dots if you will between outdoor activities like hiking, camping, canoeing and biking. The trouble is that each industry is its own worst enemy. Biking has evolved into this macho racing/mountain biking/x-cross thing where it is all about speed, distance or doing extreme tricks. Hiking and camping all too often focuses on long hikes, ultra light equipment and space saving technology. Fly fishing too has issues of not being able to attract new, younger participants.

Let's face it,

I am part of the Baby Boom generation and I am not extreme, fast or even distance oriented at this point in my life. I am all about outdoors and finding new ways to explore what boundaries fly fishing can and can't have.
But to call me extreme?
My extreme is missing my iPod full of 70's and 80's tunes, no mattress pad when camping and no cold beer or soda.
I am not in hurry to get some place and in fact, going slower allows me to see and explore places I hadn't thought of. For sure which ever direction I go fishing in it needs to have a beginning, middle or end somewhere near the ice cream store.

The fly fishing industry

has tried some new innovations and we have been through several recent fads like Tenkara, Euro Nymphing and the extreme, big fish thing. Frankly, most of these "new approaches" aren't new at all and are more or less just different styles that are added to get you to buy new equipment, lessons, books or DVDs. Most of these techniques could quite frankly be done with small adjustments to some existing gear that most enthusiasts already likely own.

What the industry is missing

the boat on is creating new ways, new places and new applications of how to use what we have better. When you consider that the pontoon boat, float tube and inflatable boats were created by the fly fishing industry and these products revolutionized the idea of portable boats, the idea of cycling and fishing isn't too far behind. Inflatables created all kinds of new access and uses. Individualized boating also took the whole idea of a guide and float trips to a new level by allowing each person to figure out places and methods to float and create trips on their own.

Fortunately we are lucky

that the cycling industry is so evolved. Hi tech road and mountain cross racers have obsessed about size, weight, strength and speed for so long that a great deal of innovation has already occurred. Biking is also akin to wading. Since most of us wade and fish, by using a bike to cover more ground, the fly fisher increases access, mobility and also more choices to fish. Also consider that the cycling industry has some 80 million participants. This group is a considerably larger group than bass fishers, fly fishers and canoeists combined. If the fly fishing industry was able to capture even a small part of this group, there would be plenty of new customers to create all kinds of industry growth.

A bass -
A bike accessible pond -
Bass and pond
Mike Hogue

Finding new places

to fish is a common complaint, I hear time and again. There is no access or a lack of access to fishing. Well let's think about this a minute. By one estimate there are some 44,000 bike trails that run through some 193 million acres of national forest property. There are also countless rehabs of "waterfront" property that involve abandoned rail roads, new walkways and bikeways that surround lakes, beaches and all sorts of water frontages. Well intentioned community designers have long sought out multi use applications of attractive areas. Most of these areas are by and large "ignored" or overlooked fisheries. Why? Maybe these areas lack the name brand or sexiness or imagery surrounding of what fly fishing should and shouldn't be.
In many instances the river front properties offer a great way to see and experience different kinds of water. Lots of modern office parks also have walkways, bike trails and ponds to explore. With trails that are maintained and set up for multi use, lots of ground can be explored, easily, quickly and within a short period of time on a bike. Biking and fishing can be a real boon in that you can travel to places that cars, trucks and other vehicles can't or won't go. Many areas that are accessible to both walking and biking give you tons of options than if you tried to cover all these areas on foot. Often these are really great places to fish since the areas are mowed, have easy access and don't have lots of vegetation in your way to hang flylines and stick flies on back casts. You can keep complaining about access, and I'll fish these new undiscovered areas.

A brown trout -
Dam and stream -
Trout and river
Mike Hogue

I came back to cycling

and fishing with a vague idea that I needed a way I could become self sufficient when I floated a river. I wanted a way to "self portage" myself between a launch site and a take out point. I toyed with the idea of moped and then I started looking at bikes. I last cycled about 30+ years ago. As a kid and a student I had a 10 speed racing bike. I road my bike all sort of places and long before I could drive, it was my way to get about. I loved having the wind whip in my face and loved the feeling of being able to power myself to go where I wanted. I also could see, feel and become closer to the place I was traveling through. Just like a paddle boat allows you to experience the water and come in closer contact with it, a bike allows you to come in closer contact with the spaces you travel through. You can see and feel the road you actually travel on. Biking allows you to cover lots of ground quickly and to explore lots of new areas.

On a recent biking trip

along an abandoned railroad line near my home, I traveled along 2 trout streams, fished 1 large warm water pond and followed another stream that had several large beaver ponds. Most of this area was completely new to me which is quite odd, because I was pretty sure I had fished most of the water near me. I discovered I've overlooked a great deal of water and places to fish by not exploring these new areas. On this trip I caught about 10 largemouth bass with one trophy sized bass of 3-4 pounds. I had many more strikes and missed fish. I was fishing new water, close to my home and no one else was around other than curious fellow cyclists.

The fly fishing pack -
Flies, tippet and gear -
Mike Hogue

Let's begin with gear.

Choosing a bike is largely a personal thing. There lots of bikes, lots of brands and lots of choices. There are touring bikes, mountain bikes, hybrid bikes and cruisers. Much depends on how and where you want to ride. Touring bikes are distance and speed oriented while mountain bikes are designed for off the road trails. Hybrid bikes are part touring and part mountain bike. While a cruiser is more or less a throw back type of bike that usually has a single speed and internal hub style brake.
Most important is choosing a bike that fits your budget, your needs and also fits you. Box stores offer lots of budget deals while independent bike shops offer the ability to custom match your needs to the exact model. Bike shops typically offer lots of personal attention and have many more size choices. This is a real plus if you are an unusual or difficult shape, size or length. Just like buying a rod, choose a bike that matches where you are going, what you want to do and where you are going to ride. There are also used bikes that you can buy. Bike shops are fun places to shop and the stores are usually, active lively places with great people that enjoy the outdoors as much as you do. Many of these folks are just as serious about biking as you are about fishing and have spent a great deal riding, touring or mountain biking. Most of them are very interesting people and not the sort of people you would meet at say a fly shop or Trout Unlimited meeting.
For what its worth, I bought a Hybrid bike with a 17" frame and 29" wheels. I bought a close out model from the past year that was discounted. My bike is a moderate priced bike and has loads of high tech features which puts my old bike I used as a kid in the stone ages. My new bike has 28 gears, alloy frame, high pressure tires, a comfort seat with shock absorber and straight handle bars that are adjustable.
I went to local bike shop that has been a family business for close to 60 years. The shop employees, were friendly, engaging, knowledgeable and helped me fit and choose a bike for me. I honestly believe the independent shops ( since I have a small fly shop ) are the way to go since they can select a product to fit you. The local bike shop set up my new bike, tuned it up to fit me and adjusted the bike so it is more comfortable to ride. I would recommend this shop ( Ithaca Outdoors ) to anyone. Ithaca has 3 bike shops and each is very different with different customers each appeals to. Choose a place you feel comfortable with and I am sure that the staff will do a wonderful job and you will enjoy your new bike.

Most of the clothes

from the cycling world I have found make terrible fishing clothes. Cycling clothes often have spandex pants with a padded seat and then there are the jerseys with really bright colors. Biking shoes are next to impossible to even walk in, let alone trying to fish in these. Part of the reason for bright colors is to become visible on the road and the space age material is to help reduce weight. Add this up and I find that these clothes aren't for me. Plus given my middle age body, tight and spandex are things best left to another generation. Last thing I need is some sling shot bike shorts giving me a wedgie.
Regular street jeans and such are also hard to bike in. Jeans make it hard to climb on and off your bike. River shorts and sandals with a rubber covered toe I find are good choices. This allows you to save space, jump in the water and do some fishing while giving you the ability to ride comfortably. Try selecting things that are comfortable and easy for both sports. Choosing some clothes that you already own or selecting fishing clothes that are both light weight and comfortable.

The bike by the pond -
Walkers and bikers -
The bikes on the road
Mike Hogue - Henning Eskol

Another issue is hauling stuff.

Consider that you can reduce what you normally carry and focus on what you can actually use. For awhile, I used a conventional back pack that is a fly fishing back pack. It holds my camera, fly boxes, waders and can hold rod tubes. I added a bike rack to the rear of my bike that allows me to lash bags on it. I found that strapping my existing pack down, doesn't quite work since my rack is narrow.
It took some time for me to select the correct gear after I looked at various pack options. There are handle bar bags, trunk bags and panniers which are side saddle bags. I looked to find bags that will handle all of my stuff easily without excessive weight or size. I ended up back at the bike store where I purchased my bike after looking through several bags on-line. At the bike shop I could see the different bags, how big they were and how much stuff they hold. I choose a trunk style bag that attaches to my bike rack. This bag expands and has smaller side pockets. Using a rack allows me to strap stuff on the sides while the bag is big enough to hold my tackle, tippets and boxes. Choosing a bag that fits your bike and your needs will make biking easier.
However you wish to pack, think about what you need to carry to fish with rather than what you want to carry. I think you will find that a basic selection of flies, tippets and a small set of clippers and hemostats ( or a lanyard ) will serve you well. I also have small pack rods that are 7 piece rods. If I am warm water fishing, I have a 9' 6 weight rod and for small streams I have a short 7'6" to 6' 6" convertible 4 weight rod that has a section that can be removed to reduce length. These pack rods have short 18" tubes that save space and are fantastic fly rods. They can be strapped on to bikes, tossed in bags or packs and travel well. I also have multi spool reels that have cassettes that pop on and off. These reels can hold 4 different kinds of lines and allow me to have lots of choices for various conditions. You might wish to consider getting multi piece rods that have shorter tubes to help save space.

A bike trail -
Bike path along the water
Mike Hogue

To locate fishing spots,

I started with a map of the county I live in from a cycling group. I indexed the bike routes against street maps to see where many of the paths travel and l checked them to see if they follow any fishing locations I am familiar with or if the bike routes are near areas I am interested in fishing. Our local cycling group created a regional biking atlas that lists lots of trails for me to use. By comparing these maps, I am able to locate new fishing areas. For example several bike routes in my county are on converted rail road beds from abandoned rail roads that are long gone. The rails were pulled up and made into bikeways and walkways. These are easy biking areas and many happen to be near fishing areas. One path surrounds part of our largest lake, while another travels along an attractive country stream and a few ponds, giving me lots of options. When choosing a route to explore, select some smaller sections to bike and don't overdo it until you can work up to biking longer routes. Don't forget some areas that you normally fish that might have bike routes near them.
Lastly consider safety. The most of the injuries with bikes occur because people weren't paying attention. Wear a bike helmet as most of the accidents with cars could have been prevented had some had a helmet on. Also wear light colored shirts to become more visible. In New York State you can only wear one ear bud if you are biking on public roads with phones or iPods. I say stash the iPod and cell phones. By unplugging, you can decompress from the world of Facebook, texting and email. I also added some LED lights to my bike for riding in low light and the dark.

Where ever your bike takes you,

let it give you a new set of adventures and places to explore. Getting exercise while seeing new places expands your fishing and makes this exciting. By trying new things, you keep your fishing fresh and interesting.

Gear links

Axiom Bike Bags
This is a Canadian Company with lots of bags.

Sunlite Bags
Sunlite offers a moderate priced selection of a wide variety of bags. My local bike store showed me these and I loved the design, price and how the bag fit my bike.

Marin Bikes
This is a California based bike maker that uses hi tech software ( Autodesk) to design and build leading edge bikes. These guys developed much of the cross over bikes and technology.
There are several other good bike companies: Giant, Trek, Raleigh, Schwinn, Cannondale all offer great products. All of these companies have dealer links that will get you to shops in your area.

Bike Maps
This is an interactive map that allows you to discover bike maps and routes on your own.

March Brown Travel Rods
March Brown is a rod company that help develop the idea of small travel rods that fit into back packs, travel duffels that save space. The travel tubes are an amazing 18" long.

More about biking and fishing

Bikes for Brookies
An article from Fly Fish Food about using the mountain bike to get to remote spots.

Take the kids biking these holidays
A NZ article about biking, which also touches upon fishing from Tongariro River Motel in New Zealand.

Owner Ross Baker writes:
We are a motel located near a famous trout fly fishing river and targeting anglers wanting to fish the Tongariro River. So we have adopted the bikes with rod tubes, pannier bags for carrying the fishing vests and waders etc. even fish bags are provided for the catch. Then the guests can easily bike between pools to get ahead of those walking. The bikes are very good to get around about 14 km of river trails (Tongariro River Trail) to cover more pools than one can by walking in waders. Naturally they are very popular. Tongariro River Motel have six bikes equipped as shown.

The bikes are x-hire bikes bought second hand from a bike hire firm with over 500 bikes used for the Otago Rail Trail. They have several features including oversized bearings, bouncy wide comfy seats, low center bar for mounting in waders, etc. with a more relaxed sit-up position of a road touring bike - rather than the usual crouch-over riding position for mountain bikes.

Geared up - A Tongariro River Motel bike equipped to go fishing
Ready to go to the river - Fishing guide Kicki Lissborg and Australian client Murray Cullen, bikes loaded with gear and ready to take them to the river - along with Boof, the motel dog.
Ready to ride
Ross and Pip Baker, Tongariro River Motel


Don't forget tenkara...

Don't forget tenkara. Great way to minimize your gear.


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