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Fishing Vehicles

I am NOT a car or truck guy. To be honest, I simply do not give a shit about having the best, the newest, the whatever-ist vehicle. I don't know vehicles very well, nor do I much care to. Give me something that is dependable that I do not have to think much about and I am very happy. My "fishing vehicle" has always been my only vehicle. I am not cool, I have never had a cool fishing vehicle, and I probably never will.

George Close with his Jeep
George Close with a super-cool fishing vehicle.

I have never owned anything that approached the cool-factor of this Jeep. I have no remembrance of George's jeep, it must have been before my time - or at least my memory.


There are great stories with remembrances of amazing fishing and hunting vehicles, this will not be one of them. My fishing vehicles have run the gamut - from sedans to SUVs to pick-up trucks - but they've never been cool, sexy, or really, ever all that interesting. They have been functional vehicles (until they stopped being so functional). They have been vehicles I have used to carry plenty of camping and fishing great. Rarely a boat for fly fishing but sometimes a kayak or canoe was strapped to the top or a boat was towed behind. They have been practical vehicles that have gotten me where I am going and carried a bit of gear there. That's my attraction to vehicles. Many are much more into vehicles than I am.

Rainy windshield
Waiting it out in the rain - I can date the photo by the state park stickers.

Aside from a new vehicle (more later...), the other thing that piqued my interest to write this post is remembering stories about hunting and fishing travels "back in the day" when travel was a lot different and less dependable. I think of Aldo Leopold and the family traveling from Madison's campus to The Shack which must have been a much different journey than it is today. His story about trout fishing "the Alder Fork" or any number of other stories of his travels in Wisconsin. Or better yet, his travels to the Gila National Forest and the wilderness area now named for him, the Kaibab Plateau, or other places in the Southwest. And I think of "hizzonor", Gordon MacQuirrie, President of the Old Duck Hunters Association, Inc. and his travels in Northern Wisconsin. Or Nick Adams or Robert Traver's (John D. Voelker) traveling and fly fishing Michigan's Upper Peninsula - and Voelker dying of a heart attack in his car as he was returning from a fishing trip. Or I think of Jimmer's Chevy taking a shit...

The stories are notable because of how different - and difficult - travel once was. Today, we largely take safe and easy travel for granted. Cars are more dependable and generally last longer. I had this conversation recently about how we now expect 200,000 miles or more on a vehicle whereas there was a point in time when getting half that was more the expectation. Our roads are largely great - unless you are well off the beaten path. Interstates make travels so much faster and easier than ever before.


Pickup Trucks


If there is a vehicle that is associated with the hunting and fish crowd today, it is the pickup truck. Pickups were once working vehicles with few frills. I remember my dad having a mid-60's Chevy that was as bare-bones as you could get. I also remember being in it at about 12 or 13 years old - starting it in second because first was "a granny gear" - while a rope was tied to the bumper and the end to the willow tree that my dad was cutting down. Today, they are more popular and thus have many more bells and whistles with more comfortable rides than ever before. Very un-truck-like in my estimation.

My old Toyota truck
My friend Rich and I getting ready for the Tour de Wisconsin where we put on 1,000 miles and fished for a week around the state. Good Times!!

I have owned a couple of Toyota pickups - back in the day when manufacturers were producing smaller, less expensive, and relatively fuel efficient trucks. They were a great compromise vehicle for a single dude. They got decent gas mileage, could carry some gear, and being Toyotas - were quite dependable and long-lived, the sort of things a guy that doesn't much give a shit about vehicles is looking for. As a fishing vehicle, unless you have a topper or a tanneau cover, the weather is not your friend so invest in a lot of waterproof tubs and bags and hope for the best. But they carry more gear than most vehicles - something that comes in handy if you are planning to tour the state, for example.


You may very well have owned or currently own much nicer, newer, cooler, and - insert other adjectives here - pickups. They are fine vehicles but they have some drawbacks as fishing vehicles. For the fly angler, being able to carry a fly rod from one place to another without having to break it down is very nice. That is hard to do in many pickup trucks as even the longer beds are eight foot long. They become more versatile with cap - even becoming pretty good for sleeping in with a bit of work. Most pickups carry two people comfortably, very few that carry more than two people do it particularly comfortably.


Sports Wagons / Crossover Station Wagons


I don't know if this is an official category of vehicles but it is somewhere between a sedan and a station wagon and a SUV. Many of these are built on a car - not a truck - frame and they ride more like cars than trucks. This is the omnipresent Subaru Outback, seemingly the choice of those who want to look like fly anglers everywhere. Outbacks are great vehicles, I have several friends that own them and love them. And to me, vehicle loyalty is a huge thing and so many of those friends are on their second, third, or even fourth Outbacks. These are great compromise vehicles which is not meant as a slight. Life is full of compromises and these are vehicles designed for a bit of everything - a commuter, a family vehicle, a grocery getter, and, of course, a fishing vehicle.

My tent and VW Jetta Sportswagen
My first camping trip with the new wheels at the West Fork Sports Club in Avalanche - my favorite place.

The impetus for this post is largely that I got new wheels - at least new to me - wheels. My Honda CR-V served me well - it was pushing 200,000 miles, about 110,00 of which I put on it. After a few early issues - mostly with engine sensors - it was a good and dependable vehicle, which was largely why I bought a CR-V. It always had a bit of an oil leak but it was pretty minor until more recently when it became "check the gas, fill the oil". It absolutely owed my nothing but it was time to upgrade. So on to the next hopefully dependable fishing vehicle, a Volkswagen Jetta Sportswagen with their TDI engine. You may remember them from "emissions-gate". So far, so good. Yes, diesel fuel is more expensive but I am getting nearly two times the gas mileage and a tank has a range of well over 500 miles.

Volkswagen Jetta Sportswagen
My - new to me - Volkswagen Jetta Sportswagen - which seems to be a great compromise vehicle, which I mean in the best possible way. I've since added crossbars to the roof.

Sports wagons or whatever you want to call them are a great compromise and not nearly as ugly as the old school station wagons they basically replaced. They are designed to carry a fair amount of gear but they are certainly not at truck or SUV. With the seats folded down, few have a nice level place where one could sleep. When most of your driving is commuting and shuttling kids around, they are great vehicles. In almost all cases, they are going to get better gas mileage than a truck or SUV. They are not for the angler that wants or needs to get to really remote places over crappy roads but for most of us, they are great vehicles.


Sports Utility Vehicles


This is a huge category, ranging from smaller SUVs built on a car frame to mammoth SUVs built on heavy duty truck frames. These are hugely popular vehicles - which like trucks - are often much more vehicle than your average "soccer mom" really needs. At one time, the Chevrolet Suburban was the fishing vehicle of choice but they seem much less common today.

My old Honda CR-V in Michigan's UP
Just over the border in the UP of Michigan at one of my favorite campsites of all time.

The Honda CR-V is on the smaller, more fuel efficient side of SUVs but even at that, the gas mileage was good but not great. It was a pretty good compromise vehicle. It was a good commuter, would carry five people (four comfortably), and it would carry a decent bit of gear with the seats down. It lacked some of the things I would like in a fishing vehicle - most notably, a place to sleep without having to put a tent up for a night. But it carried a strung up rod and enough gear that I was never needing more vehicle. I suppose vehicles are a bit like backpacks - you'll fill them up with stuff no matter their size - or if you really need to carry all that crap.

Rods and reels on top of my CR-V.
No idea why I ever had 5 of my own rods strung up but I recognize all the reels...

A larger SUV would make a better fishing vehicle than did my CR-V, particularly with a seat or two taken out. The trade off, of course, is gas mileage which has become more of an issue recently than it was when many bought their gas guzzlers. I had an interesting chuckle the other day with truck with monster tires, modified exhaust, and stickers about gas prices in the windows. Buy a gas guzzler and live with the consequences.

Hank man
I ran out of photos and want to see if "Hank Man" read the blog. This was an SUV that we rented for a trip to New Mexico and southern Colorado.

Money not being an object - either in purchase price or to fuel it, a large SUV like a Suburban is pretty much the perfect fishing vehicle. They have plenty of room, carry enough people, do it fairly comfortably, and they can tow most anything you would ever want to tow. But for the commuter, they are more vehicle than is necessary. If you can own a vehicle just for fishing and/or hunting, they are a great vehicle.


Other Vehicles


For many, fishing vehicles are whatever you own. I know mine has been sedan, a Ford Taurus, which served me well a few decades ago. Minivans get a bad name by many - hence why I think so many drive SUVs that don't really use their capabilities (and my many SUVs aren't built all that capably anymore). But a minivan is a great fishing vehicle with their room, ability to carry gear, and decent gas mileage. Move up to a full sized van and you add a lot of comfort but poorer gas mileage and less versatility.

Old School camper
"The Argentinians" - friends of friends that I hung out with at the West Fork Sports Club in Avalanche in their borrowed camper.

Moving up a class size or two, an RV is a great way to travel but certainly presents some issues. Given the choice, a pickup or SUV pulling a trailer is probably preferable to a self-contained RV, at least for those that need to travel between fishing spots. This is always one of my concerns when I see these truck tent and other cool looking ways to travel. To move, you basically have to pack it all away and self-contained RVs are sort of similar to that. Everything has to be put in a place where it is safe for travel.


The Perfect Fishing Vehicle


It is what works for you and how you fish. Some of us put a premium on cost and gas mileage. Others need a vehicle that will get them almost anywhere. Yet others put a premium on being able to carry a ton of gear or pull their boat or camper behind their vehicle. Everyone's perfect fishing vehicle is a little unique. But then again, perfect doesn't really exist and isn't really necessary. I've been happy with my "good enough" fishing vehicles.


If I were designing one from the ground up, for how I travel when fishing, I would put a premium on a few things:

  • Relatively good gas mileage and range. I like to set up a base camp and travel from there and can really put on some miles. With current gas prices, using fewer gallons is quite nice. And being able to put on 400 or more miles between fill-ups is pretty nice as well.

  • A flat, protected sleeping space. I would not use this that often - I prefer a cot in a tent for a good night's sleep but it would be nice once in a while, particularly when in a place for just one night, to have a place to sleep without setting up a tent.

  • Ability to carry a strung up rod safely. This is pretty important for me. I will quite often fish a couple of places in a day and want to know I can keep my rod safe without having to "futz" with it.

  • Dependability is important. I want to get from place to place without having to get it much thought or worry. And I would like my fishing vehicle to go for a couple of hundred thousand miles.

My perfect set up might be something like Mav's (see his YouTube for more) - a pickup with a topper and a custom made camping set up. Because everything is self contained and stowed away, getting ready to move requires little effort. Moving between days is pretty easy - certainly easier than most other options. But even with that, there are tradeoffs with gas mileage and ride comfort.

Volkswagen sportswagen in the distance
Walk down and fish back or fish up and walk back? My preference is for the later but both work.

I am not a "gear head" and my perfect fishing vehicle is the one that I have at that moment. On longer trips, I am a camper so I have some needs to carry gear but I try not to go too crazy in what I carry. For example, a single butane burner or small camp stove travels with me more often than my "King Cooker" and 20 pound propane tank. The biggest things I typically carry are a much too large - but quite comfortable - cot, a large tub that is my "kitchen", and a 50 quart cooler. It doesn't take a two ton vehicle to carry camping gear for a weekend or even a week.

I do not get overly romantic about fishing vehicles. For me, they are a way to get somewhere. You and others might have much stronger opinions on fishing vehicles. I am certainly not the first to write about fly fishing vehicles and I'm sure many did it much better as they know more and care more about vehicles.


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