The Angling Adventure – How to Plan for an Off-the-Grid Trip
If you’ve been following me for a couple years now, you know that I’ve been to Guyana, South America a few times. I’m excited to say that I’ll be returning there for another angling adventure next month. As I started assembling the gear on my packing list, it occurred to me that although I blogged about every trip upon my return (see here), I never covered how I planned for those trips. Well – it’s time to do just that.
Those that know me know that I was a professional planner/strategist back when I served in the Marine Corps. It’s in the spirit of dusting off those skills, plus the desire to make planning for an adventure easier, that I’m writing this blog. As you’ll learn, there’s a lot to consider and much to do to ensure your success before hopping on that plane.
A Little Framing is in Order
Now that I’ve shared my excitement about returning to Guyana and the inspiration behind this blog, let’s delve into a couple ideas to help me frame what follows. For one – few, if any readers of this blog will be planning for an expedition. What I mean is I seriously doubt that anyone reading this is planning on travelling to some remote part of the world, assembling a group of locals/natives, acquiring a lot of gear, and journeying into the unknown for a month or more. I’d love to take it there, but that’s “book-level” material and I’d alienate 99.99% of the readers.
Although an expedition would be a blast, my assumption in writing this is that you booked a guide via some sort of service and that you’ll be under the care of that guide/service while there. These guide services run the spectrum from primitive to “jungle luxury” (power, showers, laundry service, meals, climate control, etc.). For this piece, I’m going to take the perspective of someone planning for a primitive trip so I can provide as much information as possible.
One last note on framing – there are some words I need to define (not Merriam Webster – my more colloquial take) to make sure were on the same page:
Success (in reference to the adventure) – you return home safe, feeling fulfilled having had the experience of a lifetime.
Primitive – as close as reasonably possible to living off the land. You catch and cook all your food. You boil/purify your water. You sleep in a hammock, or something easily erected/torn down. You clean yourself and your clothes in some sort of water source close by. There is no source of power. There is no cell phone connection.
With the framing out of the way, let’s move on to the first essential step in planning any adventure – research. Despite my skepticism about online information, there are key aspects you should explore to ensure a successful trip.
I’m going to show some bias here that might be counterproductive to this entire piece – I don’t trust much of what I read online about what other folks did when they went on an adventure. However, I encourage you to entertain other thoughts if for no other reason than to think critically. Read blogs from the guide service as well as people that have been there, but you should look at anything that’s prescriptive with a jaundiced eye.
The most important thing to read about prior to departure are cultural considerations for the country/locality you’re visiting. There is nothing worse than an ugly American showing up and acting like they own the place or have a right to be there like it’s a little slice of America. It sets a horrible tone that’ll take the entire trip to curtail, if at all.
Learn about how/why “adventurers” gained access to these locations via the natives. Learn about customs and courtesies – what’s complimentary, what’s insulting, etc. In this case, search engines are your friend folks. There are MANY resources online that can help you learn about where you’re going and the people that live there. You MUST understand – you’re placing your life in their hands. That FACT should remain with you from planning all the way to your return trip home.
Your Daily Pattern of Life
Having gathered information about your destination, it’s time to connect that knowledge with your daily patterns of life. Consider the mundane activities and necessities you often take for granted in your day-to-day life and imagine how they’ll translate to your adventure.
Close your eyes for a minute and think about your daily routine. I’m talking about things like using the restroom, eating meals, doing laundry, sleeping, brushing your teeth, etc. Do you smoke, dip, or have any other addictions/vices? Make a list of these things because when you’re on an adventure, you’ll be doing the same stuff – but you won’t have the conveniences of the “modern” world to facilitate any of them.
Compare this list of activities to the list of amenities provided by your guide service. In the case of a primitive trip, you’ll live in a camp and there won’t be much there. Hammocks for sleeping, maybe some bug netting, some cooking tools, maybe some plates and cutlery, and a source of fire are the extent of what’s provided. How are you going to wash your clothes? What about your body? I don’t mean to get gross here, but what are you going to use to wipe your butt?
Most of these daily activities require a tool or some sort of item – like a bed and blanket for sleeping, a toothbrush and toothpaste for brushing your teeth – you get the point. Generate a list of all these items, but don’t buy anything just yet. There will be additional constraints you’ll have to consider before buying what you don’t already have.
Weather and Environment
Now that we’ve detailed your daily routines, let’s discuss how weather can play a significant role in shaping your experience. From clothing choices to adapting to changes in the environment, being prepared for Mother Nature’s surprises is crucial.
The Differences Between Locations are Huge
One thing to consider about the weather is that what Mother Nature is up to at your destination is likely VASTLY DIFFERENT from where you are now. I’ll use my upcoming trip to Guyana as an example. I leave in late February. By that point, I’ll be winterized after having spent the previous 3-4 months fully covered by clothing and acclimated to the frigid temperatures of the Buffalo Niagara Region. Guyana, being an equatorial country, is the exact opposite of that, which poses some problems.
I’m of Irish and eastern European descent (white skinned), so going from VERY LITTLE sun exposure to fishing in the sun for 12 hours a day, every day, COULD lead to serious, trip ruining sunburns. Problems can also occur when transitioning from freezing temperatures to temps in the upper 80s in a humid rainforest. Adequate hydration becomes important as does the ability to endure long days of fishing in the heat.
I prepare for both issues by tanning every couple of days (builds up a base to prevent burns) from November until I depart. I also spend nearly 25 minutes every day in the sauna after work outs. I’ll get deeper into physical and mental preparation later, but I mention it here because it’s “unnatural” for a human to wake up in one climate and go to bed in a completely different one – you’ve gotta be prepared for that.
Packing To Meet the Conditions
The most obvious reason you need to check up on the weather is to determine what clothing and “sleeping gear” (like blankets, pajamas, or sleeping bags) to bring. In the case of a primitive trip, you’re going to spend most of it “dirty” by western standards. Having a variety of outfits in this situation is just signing yourself up for a lot of ruined clothing. In fact, after a couple of days, you won’t care what you’re wearing anymore so long as it protects you from the elements – mainly the sun, wind, and precipitation. Bottom line, pack what it takes to keep you comfortable, don’t pack a lot of it, and DON’T FORGET your sunglasses.
As we explore the weather’s impact, it’s essential to highlight the physical and mental resilience required for an adventure. Transitioning from your normal routine to an active, physically challenging environment demands preparation and mental fortitude.
Understand that just getting to your destination is going to be taxing. There will be a lot of time spent on planes, trains, autos, and boats. That involves lots of sitting, eating random foods at random times, and very little sleeping. In short, getting there is highly disruptive to your “normal” pattern of life. Are you prepared for that?
Once you’ve reached your destination, you’ll be “active” for almost all your waking hours. Unless you’re a fellow guide or a professional athlete of some sort, I doubt there’s been a time that you’ve spent the majority of your consciousness for days on end engaged in a physically taxing activity. Do you feel prepared?
After the excitement of getting there is over and you’ve spent a few days engaged in the “adventurers” pattern of life, thoughts of home will start to pop up. Have you ever been away from your family for a couple days? Better yet, have you ever been unable to speak to friends and family for more than a couple of days? If the answer to either of those questions is “no,” start thinking about how you’re going to handle that. Unfortunately, I don’t have a good remedy for this (well, I sort of do – see the next section) as I’ve spent years away from my family in combat so I’m “used to it” nowadays. Bottom line, it’s something you need to be aware of – use whatever mental tricks necessary to keep your morale high.
Final Thoughts on Fitness
The ability to endure travel and be able to fish from sun-up to sun-down for days on end while keeping your head in the game boils down to one character trait – resiliency. Resiliency is the capacity to withstand or to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness. It’s an incredibly important mental and physical attribute for all adventurers. Nature is a complex system, full of chaos, so no matter how well you plan, you should expect things will go wrong and that you’ll encounter adversity. Your ability to meet those challenges and move on with motivation will help to ensure the success of your trip.
Who are You Going With?
Having touched upon individual readiness, let’s discuss the social aspect of your adventure. The people you choose to share this experience with can greatly influence the overall enjoyment and success of the trip.
Your Guides Won’t Necessarily be a Source of Companionship
I already mentioned the importance of learning about the local culture so you can quickly build a rapport with your guides. Here’s another note on that idea – there’s a good chance they won’t speak your language. It’d be awesome if you could have long, deep conversations with your guides but in many instances, that won’t be possible. They’ll likely know enough to give you instructions and maybe teach you a few things about your surroundings, but don’t expect much more.
If you think you’re OK with spending days on end in silence, punctuated by the action of connecting with your quarry, think about this: have you ever done that before? It sounds like a good idea to some, peaceful and maybe even “Zen-like.” However, humans are social creatures, so I seriously doubt you’d find that enjoyable after a few days. In short, adventure travel is FAR MORE entertaining if you’re with someone or a group of folks you know. Who are they?
How Much do you Really Like Spending Time With…
When considering who you want to join you on an adventure, think about this – you are going to spend close to 24/7 with that person/group of people. You better know them VERY WELL because an adventure will bring out the best and worst in people (yourself included) and you’ll be exposed to all of it. All the little quirks that you might’ve been aware of prior to the trip (and could avoid at your convenience) will be in your face daily and often – can you handle that? Will it still be enjoyable for you?
Choose your team wisely, my friends – the group dynamic will make or break an adventure. In my opinion, having executed more than a handful of adventures, it’s the MOST IMPORTANT consideration.
The Pursuit of Your Quarry
Now that we’ve considered the importance of your adventure companions, let’s transition to the exciting part – the pursuit of your quarry. Whether you’re an angler, hunter, or bird enthusiast, understanding your target species and its environment is fundamental for a successful off-the-grid experience.
Characteristics Of Your Quarry and Its Environment
In the case of a fishing adventure, you’ll likely target more than one species. Here is a list of what to consider when pursing multiple targets:
- Pattern of life – Where do the fish reside in the water column and when? Fish, just like humans, behave differently depending on the time of year. Some make spawning runs and get super concentrated in shallow water. Some make beds in the shallows. Some hunt the surface under overhanging trees in the morning and hunker deep during the midday hours. Some spend almost all their time in the deepest holes. Oh yeah, what do they eat during all of this? You need to be aware of this pattern of life for every fish you want to catch so you can select the right baits (more on that later).
- Size – It’s a simple and obvious consideration. How big does your quarry get? You’ll need to know this before selecting the right terminal tackle as well as the right rods and reels.
- The Mouth of the Fish – Does your target species have a boney mouth with a lot of teeth or is it mainly soft tissue? A simple question but PARAMOUNT when selecting the right terminal tackle.
- Environment – Will you be fishing a river? What kind of current do you have to deal with and where will your targets reside in that current? What kind of obstructions will there be – rocks, down timber, sand bars, etc? What kind of water clarity should you expect? You must answer these questions before determining the best baits as well as the right terminal tackle.
Once you’ve answered all these questions, you’ll be ready to start compiling the tackle you’ll need for the trip.
Considerations for the Complete Angling System
Now that we’ve explored the essential considerations for understanding your quarry and its environment, let’s shift our focus to assembling the necessary tackle for your angling expedition. Understanding these key factors will serve as a foundation for developing a comprehensive list tailored to your specific adventure.
Finding and Staying in the Strike Zone
The term “strike zone” refers to the specific area within the water where a fish is most likely to strike or take the bait or lure you’re presenting. It’s the space around the fish where it perceives the bait as prey and is inclined to make a move towards it. Understanding the strike zone is crucial as it’ll help you target your presentation effectively to increase the chances of enticing a fish to bite. The size and location of the strike zone can vary depending on factors such as the species of fish, water conditions, and the type of bait or lure being used. I like to keep it simple when considering how to get my baits into the strike zone, so I break it down this way – top, middle, and bottom.
The top refers to the surface of the water. In Guyana, the overwhelming majority of the predatory fish feed on the surface. Insects, amphibians, reptiles, and rodents are major sources of food over there and all of them end up on the surface of the water at some point – either by accident or by using it to get from one dry spot to another. Accordingly, I bring a collection of top-water baits to “match-the-hatch.”
Although I default to top-water baits as often as possible on adventure fishing trips, it doesn’t always work. Sometimes, and this is more for a fishery with clear water and/or one with deep water (over 20’ let’s say), fish won’t feed on the surface. There are a few reasons for this – they could be apprehensive to feed on top due to aerial or land-based predators, or they could be well fed and not necessarily looking for a meal at that moment, or they didn’t evolve to fit that niche. Either way – if you want to catch ‘em, you’ve gotta get the bait in front of ‘em. In this case, you need to build a collection of baits that will get you down to the right depth. Crankbaits, jigs, bladebaits, spoons, etc. are all good choices.
Now for the bottom of the strike zone. Fish sit on the bottom for a couple reasons. When fish are in current, they often rest on the bottom as it’s safe from predators and it provides a break in the current via rocks or other structure. Other fish, like catfish for example, hunt on the bottom. In both these cases, getting down can be a challenge. Blade baits, jigs, and live/cut bait rigs with weights all will get you there.
Color, and Size/Profile
Now that you have an idea of how to get into the strike zone, let’s consider the color, size, and profile of the baits you should bring:
- Color – I’m a huge fan of simplicity with respect to color. Think about it this way – if you’re on an adventure fishing trip, your quarry isn’t pressured. In other words, it’s likely your quarry has never seen a human, let alone an artificial bait, so there’s no need to get super technical here. Use colors that attract attention or match the existing forage. When I go to Guyana, all my baits are either fire-tiger or black over white – that’s it.
- Size/Profile – Most of the game fish I’ve caught – regardless of the location – ate something about 4” or less in length and less than 2” in height. Sure, I’ve used bigger baits for stripers and muskies – mainly to cast farther, but I’ve caught those same fish on small baits too. Just like I mentioned in the Color section above, keep it simple. For example, the biggest bait I bring to Guyana is a 4” stick bait. Most of the baits in my box are less than 3”. Why? Remember what I said about fishing all day, every day, for a couple weeks on end? What you cast all day long will affect your ability to stay in the game. If it’s light, easy to cast far, and easy to work, you’re going to catch more fish than if you went the opposite route.
- Live Bait/Cut Bait – I couldn’t find a better place to include this option, so I placed it here. You can thumb your nose at bait fishing all you want. Enjoy being that cool. From my perspective, there’s no better way to figure out what’s going on beneath the surface than bringing dinner to the table – especially when you’re off the grid in unfamiliar territory. However, when you’re on an adventure, there’s no bait shop. You’ll have to catch your own so consider how you might make that happen.
Choosing the Right Terminal Tackle – So you can Keep Your Baits and Land Fish
In case you don’t know what I mean by “terminal tackle,” the definition is in the phrase. It’s tackle that you won’t have for very long – think hooks, weights, leaders, and line. Here are some notes on terminal tackle:
- Hooks – As I mentioned earlier, consider the mouth of your quarry. You’ll need the right hooks to get “hooked up” and remain that way until you land the fish. Wide gapped, single hooks do a better job than treble hooks in keeping toothy and boney mouthed predators on the line. In-line circle hooks are the best. Treble hooks do well with softer mouth fish – but I encourage you to switch all treble hooks out with inline circle hooks (1/0 – 5/0 are optimal for just about any predator). Why? Because treble hooks are really good at getting caught in nets AND anglers – which would be horrible for you while you’re off the grid where holes in the skin can turn into infections quickly. Trust me, you’ll hook and land more fish on an inline circle than you will a treble hook – make the switch.
- Leader Material – Your best options for leaders are wire and fluorocarbon. Think about the possible weight of your quarry – then add 10lbs. That’s a pretty good rule of thumb when deciding on the strength of your leaders for an adventure. Why 10lbs? Because the underwater environment is full of obstacles like rocks and down timber. In fact, you might not be able to see anything that’s down there. Your leader must be able to withstand frequent contact with those obstacles if you want any chance of landing your quarry.
- Running line – If you’re unsure what I mean by running line, it’s everything below the leader. It’s what’s on your reel and what you’ll be casting all day. In this case, I match my line choice to the size of the quarry I’m pursuing and not much more. I only use braid for running line – the lighter the better, within reason, to allow for far and accurate casting all day long. Braid is super sensitive, abrasion resistant, has a much smaller diameter than flouro or mono, and perhaps most importantly – it casts far and smooth.
- Weights – This is a tough one. You’ll need weights to get to the bottom – that part is easy. However, the size of the weight will depend on depth and current, and there are far too many variables here to provide a general guideline. You’ll also need to roughly match your rod choice to the weights you plan on using. For example, it’s kinda tough to fish the bottom with a 2oz weight hanging from a light-action rod. Bottom line, you can make some reasonable assumptions about the depths and current. Go bigger than you think is necessary, but not by much.
- Other terminal tackle – What I’m thinking about here are things like barrel swivels, snaps, 3-way swivels, etc. All have their place toward making things easier, but none are required. There’s a knot to use in place of all these items and I encourage you to learn how to tie all of them. If you do decide to bring some of this stuff, pay attention to the weights they’re rated for.
Rods, Reels, and Other Tools
At this point, I hope you noticed that I started with the bait and have been working my way back to what you’ll be holding in your hands. I think that’s the best way to think about your “angling system” because when it comes to selecting rods and reels, you MUST consider everything I discussed above FIRST to make the best choice.
I could write another, robust blog just about rods but there’s numerous references online to help you choose the best one. The most important thing to consider is that every rod has a classification and rating for the weight it can cast/retrieve. The folks over at MEATEATER did an excellent job explaining this here: https://www.themeateater.com/fish/general/conventional-fishing-rod-action-and-power-explained. In short, match the rod to your quarry and what you’ll be presenting to it.
Specific to an adventure, I highly encourage you to purchase travel rods. These rods are usually at least 3 pieces and break down easily into something you can carry onto the plane vs. checking baggage. I’ll get into this a bit more later, but you should avoid checking baggage whenever possible if you’re going on an adventure. There are obvious reasons for this – mainly, you don’t want to risk the airlines losing your gear before you get to your destination. You also don’t want to carry around a baggage item that’s 7’+ long.
Choosing your reel is a little more daunting, but I’ll do my best to keep it simple. Just like rods, reels have classifications too. This blog does a great job of explaining: https://www.reelcoquinafishing.com/blogs/florida-fishing-blog/best-fishing-reels-for-anglers-what-to-look-for-when-buying-fishing-reels.
Specific to an adventure, I encourage you to purchase reels of high quality. You don’t need to buy the most expensive reels out there, but you should be willing to drop some coin. Think about it this way – all the tackle discussed to this point has been simple/solid – a lure, weights, rods, etc. Reels are anything but. They are complicated little systems with gears, spools, knobs, washers, bail arms, etc. – all are vulnerable to failing in a harsh environment. Adventures take place in harsh environments. Make sure to choose a reel that’ll endure those conditions without fail.
Now that you’ve thought about every element of the angling system from what you’re presenting to the fish to the equipment used to make it all work, there’s one last item(s) for consideration – tools. What if the fish you hooked took it deep into its throat – and the fish has teeth – how are you going to remove it? When you’re tying wire leaders, how are you going to cut the wire? What about thick fluorocarbon? What if a fish bent the hell out of a hook and you need to replace it, how are you going to pull that off?
After numerous adventures, I’ve found that folks tend to neglect thinking about tools. Those questions in the previous paragraph seem obvious but for some reason, folks often don’t consider them when assembling their gear. I cannot stress enough the importance of wire clippers, braid cutters, hemostats, needle-nose pliers, and spit-ring pliers. From removing hooks from fish (and yourself) to repairing baits to re-rigging – you’re going to need tools to accomplish the task.
By this point in the blog, you’re likely starting to get overwhelmed and have a massive gear list in mind. Remember what I said earlier – compile a list but don’t buy anything just yet. Well, until you read what comes next.
Space and Carrying Capacity
Your biggest limitation when it comes to adventure travel is SPACE and/or CARRYING CAPACITY. Space will be an issue in every mode of transportation. What I mean by carrying capacity is what you’ll carry in your hands or on your back – that’s an issue when you’re not in that mode of transportation. You must assess both before compiling your gear list.
The biggest challenge to staying within your limitations for both space and carrying capacity is redundancy. In other words, MANY TIMES, having one of something is barely better than having none of that thing. As I’ve mentioned a few times now, adventures are tough on equipment. For example, I broke a rod on every trip to Guyana. I’ve also severely degraded the function of more than a handful of reels. You’ll need extras for both.
The Packing System I Use/Recommend
Now think about clothing, sleeping gear, comfort items/vices, and everything else I’ve mentioned up to this point. Where are you going to put it all? There are numerous ways to go about this. Here’s what I recommend:
- Buy a travel rod case, one that’ll fit in carry-on. Simms makes a great one GTS Rod and Reel Vault | Simms Fishing Products. It’s important that a case like this has the capacity to hold more than just rods and reels – jam it tight with as much of your tackle as possible – especially redundant items like extra spools of line, leader material, etc.
- Buy a small pack or sling – something with just enough capacity to hold your tools, some terminal tackle, a couple tackle sleeves jammed full of lures, a water bottle, and your vices. Consider it your anglers’ purse for lack of a better term. Having something like this keeps all the items you use on the water together. Trust me – after a few days, when you get used to being dirty all the time, there will be a tendency for gear to go adrift if it doesn’t have a place for you to store it. Again, Simms has the perfect solution for this – Freestone® Sling Pack | Simms Fishing Products.
- Buy a carry-on bag – I recommend a backpack so you can keep your hands free as often as possible. Make sure it’s built from resilient materials – even better if it’s waterproof. This thing is going to get thrown around a lot so it must be rugged. Put your small pack/sling in this and then surround it with everything else on your packing list – mainly clothes, sleeping gear, hygiene items, etc.
If you follow 1-3, you’ll end up with a pack on your back and a rod case in one hand – both of which you can carry on the plane. If you think that’s not a lot of gear, you’re right. It’s tough prioritizing how much of each item to bring but trust me – I’ve packed 3 weeks’ worth of gear this way on many trips – it works.
Yeah, I know, I dropped a TON of information in this one folks, but there’ a lot to consider when travelling into the unknown. Putting all the technical stuff aside – consider the essence of embarking on such journeys. Beyond the logistical considerations and meticulous planning, there’s a spirit of exploration and a thirst for the unknown that drives us to seek these adventures.
Planning, as detailed as it may be, is a map—a guide through the known. Yet, the true magic of adventure unfolds in the unplanned, in the moments when you surrender to the rhythm of the unfamiliar. It’s the stories that emerge when things don’t go according to plan, the connections made when language fails, and the resilience found when nature tests your mettle.
In the pursuit of quarry and the serenity of untouched landscapes, one discovers not just the mysteries of the external world but the depths of their own capabilities. The adventure is not just in catching the perfect fish or conquering the terrain; it’s in adapting to the unforeseen, embracing the challenges, and finding joy in the simplicity of survival.
So, as you zip up your travel rod case and hoist your backpack onto your shoulders, remember that the best adventures are crafted not just in the gear you carry but in the spirit with which you face the unknown. Here’s to the anticipation of the unexpected, the thrill of the chase, and the moments that redefine what it means to be an adventurer.