Lighten Up! Backpacking to Downsize - The Fisherman

Lighten Up! Backpacking to Downsize

Man standing at the shore showing off the big fish he caught
Forgo a traditional surf bag in favor of a small backpack for a more efficient surf fishing experience.

We had a warm southwest breeze, temperatures in the low 60s, herring in the runs, pogies on the flats, and squid in the Sound. So far this spring was turning out to be epic; and this day looked to be continuing that trend. It was May on Cape Cod, and big bluefish could be found gorging on the bounty that a warm winter had sprung upon us lucky local anglers. A few weeks earlier, when the shadow of winter still encased New England in a grey void, I predicted we’d see a good spring run; and the mild season set in motion the preparations of the coming surfcasting season.

blue backpack with red designMost of the fishing shows were either behind us. Football was long since over, and the weekends filled with the coming of spring’s honey-do list, but also restocking and upgrading of tackle and gear. Hooks were replaced, lures were touched-up, reels were tuned-up, and new fishing line was packed on the spools. Your wide arrangement of lures and plugs, plastics and tins, were laid out before you. What would go in the surf bag? Eight tubes meant eight lures. Or did it? It was time to make a decision: needed are this many poppers, that many swimmers, in this size and also this size. Not to mention pliers and leader material, and the list grew and grew until your surf bag is bulging and you’re loaded up for whatever swims your way. And we’re off to the races, or the flats, as it were!

The cold trickle running down my leg could only mean one thing: I had sprung a leak! For the past two days, my fishing buddy John rice and I had been absolutely crushing yellow-eyed monsters on the flats; and after stuffing Guppys, BigFish, and other pencil poppers of all sizes and colors into our surf bags, along with some old favorites like Smack-it poppers, Kastmasters, and of course a Robert’s Ranger, we were locked, loaded, and ready for another day of wading the flats. Herring, squid, and adult pogies had bluefish in the mid to upper teens in a feeding frenzy. We walked the beach to the seawall, hopped atop, and made the walk down to our exit point. From there it was a short jump down and we were mere yards from the anticipated action. I followed John off the wall with what I hoped was a branch brushing my backside on the jump; but, as you may well suspect already, the branch was a swinging hook from my surf bag. Further inspection revealed the tear in my waders where the hook luckily found only fabric and not flesh. Clearly, it was time to reevaluate the tackle shop hanging from my shoulder.

The quest to find my perfect surf system went through a few iterations and early attempts simply compounded my frustrations. Stage one set the initial foundation with a basic backpack, standard-sized and multi-pocketed. I basically took my packed surf bag and dropped it in the main pocket. Bad idea since I just threw more stuff on top of it. More lures and other accessories, which eventually ended up spilling from the surf bag and getting buried in the fabric inside. One positive take-away was that the backpack’s side pocket was perfect for a bottle of water.

Collection of fishing gear
A look at the author’s surf fishing selection of gear for a spring bluefish outing on a South Cape beach.

Stage two was a bit more thought-out. I shelved my surf bag for future definition and destinations, and relied on the good old standard clear Plano-type boxes to be home to my lures. Pretty good idea, except I decided two boxes were necessary, and the backpack was still getting over-filled. Not only was tackle taking up space, but maybe lunch and a couple of beers. I quickly squashed that idea and if the outing called for sandwiches and suds, well, that ended up in a soft cooler toted separately, and we’d share responsibility. But the backpack was still a load, and I needed to scale back further. Surprisingly, a workplace celebration finally led to my finished product.

After hitting a milestone, our IT department rewarded team members with new, laptop backpacks—the perfect size for downsizing via backpack. This wasn’t your typical backpack but instead more streamlined to accommodate today’s workforce where laptops are a staple of day-to-day operations. This meant a thinner main pocket, less capable of being over-stuffed. In addition it had a front pocket with smaller pockets perfect for tape measures, needle-nose pliers, flashlights and camera, in addition to leader material and associated tackle. In the main pocket, I outfitted with a somewhat smaller-but-deeper plastic tackle container. This allowed for the packing of wide-bodied lures like Magic Swimmers and thicker plugs. Attached to the main pocket was an enveloped pocket perfect for soft plastics.

Surf belt with tube and pliers
The author adds a surf belt with single tube and pliers attached to easily change out a common plug.

Finally I maintain the flexibility of a backpack without being tempted by the size of a normal backpack (and still have a side-pocket for that bottle of water). My outings today, for example if targeting bluefish from the beach, see me selectively choosing pencils and a handful of standard topwater lures, without overkill. If my expedition is targeting stripers from a place like the Canal, I modify the container for the location, which in this case include, a couple of Magic Swimmers, a few pencil poppers, and some jigs. If my destination has a variety of species on the bite, I vary my tackle based on conditions.

However, while my new approach provides a more efficient way of outfitting, there is one additional bit of gear I include on my trips: a surf belt with a single-tube bag and fastened pliers. This one piece of gear allows for more freedom on the flats where I may be wading extreme distances from shore. Gone are the days where this surfcaster foolishly tries to get away with bringing an additional lure in the front pocket of his waders. Now, after finding a greasy-looking stretch of flats, I attach a plug to my rod and reel and throw another in the bag, along with some leader material. If an emergency should arise 100 yards offshore, such as the sickening sound of your line parting as your lure heads to outer space, you’ll have a backup readily at hand and the pliers alongside, ready to release those mega-choppers chewing up the surface.



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