Car camping is when you throw your gear into the car and hit the road. Canoe camping is when you throw your gear into a canoe and hit the water. How about when you throw your gear into a modern jetliner and hit the sky? I’d call that air camping, or amping, for short.
I have to admit that I like to indulge in a comfy lodge every now and again. Motels are also awfully convenient. But camping has advantages. It gets you right into the middle of some beautiful country, or maybe even right on the bank of a trout-filled river. It practically eliminates lodging expenses and you can fish as early or as late as you want.
However, if you only have a week for a vacation, you probably don’t want to spend multiple days transporting your tent by car. This is where amping shines. Watch your supplies roll down the luggage conveyor belt and you won’t be looking at Internet images of fly fishing paradise that evening… You’ll be actually be there instead.
Packing all your camping and fishing gear into airline-friendly packages is much less daunting that it seems. Assuming you travel with a partner, it can be done if each person has a couple of large duffle bags. Two checked bags per person is a fairly universal maximum for modern air travel. Make sure they don’t exceed the airline’s size limits! Backpacks also work but duffles accommodate bulky items with greater ease. Load two of the duffles with personal clothing and fishing stuff; let the others swallow the actual camping gear.
Besides clothing and personal items, here’s a list of what my girlfriend and I took the last time we did this:
- Sleeping bags, full size pillows, and an inflatable air mattress with a foot pump.
- An 8 X 8 nylon tent with a full fly and a ground sheet.
- A single burner Coleman propane stove –minus the propane canister – and an electric lantern.
- A large frying pan, a medium pot, a minimum of cooking utensils, and a small pail for carrying water.
- A minimum of eating utensils and glasses or mugs.
- Waders, wading boots, 2 fly rods and reels each, and one small chest pack with flies and terminal tackle.
I wouldn’t say that this is travelling light. Notice the two full size pillows! Although very compressible, a lot of people might do away with them. Some might also swap out the large tent for a lightweight backpacker’s model. Opting for a tiny backpacker’s stove is another way to save space. (And maybe make room for a fully stocked vest instead of a little chest pack?) Some unlisted miscellaneous items – like a favorite travel mug – are nicely transported in a carry-on bag. There are probably dozens of ways to compact this list. Be sure to weigh each bag in advance to avoid surpassing weight restrictions.
Obviously, there are essential items – like food – not on the list. To remedy this, pick up a rental car and go shopping as soon the plane lands. Besides groceries, a cheap styrofoam cooler is a smart purchase. Don’t forget to buy a propane canister for the stove. Bear spray might also be a good idea, depending on your destination. Whether bear spray or propane, airlines don’t like the idea of pressurized containers on board their planes… And rightly so! Empty boxes from the grocery store will make storing and organizing all the supplies inside the rental car much easier for the duration of the trip. The cooler, propane, and bear spray can often be given away before returning home.
We have managed to see – and fish! – some interesting parts of the continent on “amping” trips. New Mexico, for example, has some amazing small stream fishing. We camped on the banks of the Cimarron River, a tailwater that drains Eaglenest lake. Most tailwaters are broad, flat rivers but the Cimarron is small, intimate, and delightfully varied. It runs through both forest and meadow. There are riffles, rocky runs, deep bends, and logjams. And did I mention trout? Both wild browns and stocked rainbows.
I’ve always believed that fishing quality is directly proportional to distance from an access point. The Cimarron really challenged that idea… One morning a chap fished the riffle right beside our campsite – something I had never even considered – and landed three wild browns on a hopper imitation.
On the same trip, we also visited the lower reaches of the Rio Hondo close to where this rocky little stream joins the Rio Grande at the bottom of the Rio Grande gorge. Needless to say, it was an interesting descent in the car. The stream chattered over rocks and ledges; most of its water was far too thin for trout. Nevertheless, some determined hiking led to a few good pools and very willing fish.
Another amping trip led us to Olympic National Park in Washington. We pitched our tent amongst huge cedar’s and hanging moss, a stone’s throw from a gorgeous (but foggy!) beach. It was like being on location for The Lord of the Rings.
To be honest, we didn’t have the patience to try for any Pacific Northwest summer steelhead. Instead, we dropped in on the Queets River for sea run cutthroats. Reading about sea run cuts told us they liked deep, snaggy, slow water. Nevertheless, we couldn’t resist fishing the riffles and bouldered runs of the Queets. The action was fantastic but the fish topped out at a disappointing 6 inches. They were all rainbows without a cutthroat in the bunch. I guess that bodes well for steelheaders in the next few years.
Eventually, we did find some deep water near fallen tree. Voila! We also found a few willing sea run cutthroat. They were heavily spotted and covered with a silver sheen, almost devoid of color except the telltale throat slashes.
Throwing all your camping gear on a plane is an economically excellent way to explore some of those far-off waters you may be dreaming about…