How Hammocks Made Me a Better Fisherman

Updated: Sep 21, 2020

I became a canoeist 50 years ago so I could extend my trout fishing range. With a 10-foot homebuilt fiberglass canoe that weighed 36 pounds I could portage into remote lakes and paddle into remote stretches of river where there was less fishing pressure and larger fish.

This 16-inch rainbow trout in the upper Jackson River in the Allegheny Highlands of Virginia was in a section of river with steep banks and dense underbrush and briars, accessible only by canoe.

The canoe expanded my fishing range into areas of solitude and wilderness I had never seen before and I loved the freedom of it. I could go places where there were no deeply worn fishermen's paths along the banks. Even further than I could go wade fishing.

The small canoe and the ultralight Tenkara fly rod were a perfect team to put me on small trout streams that saw very little fishing pressure.

But I still couldn't get to those remote fishing holes at dawn and again at dusk when insects are most active and trout are surface feeding. I had to get up at break of dawn to leave camp and paddle fast to my fishing hole, then I had to turn around and go back home every night.

My next step was to become a canoe camper so I could go farther into the backcountry on lakes and rivers, and stay longer. It became a passion that guided my life. I even chose where I would live and work based on nearby fishing opportunities.

As the years went by I became less of a fisherman and more of a canoe camper and hiker. I realized that even on the days I didn't catch fish I was still happy and content just to be out in the woods and on the water whether I was catching fish or not.

Next I became a kayaker. Now I can go off-shore to remote islands and include crabbing and clamming along with salt-water fishing.

During all those many years I slept in a tent. I still have my 2-man Eureka! tent that I bought at a hardware store in my home town and it still sheds water.

The Eureka Apex XT2 is the leader in the field of affordable and reliable two person tents. It has been my loyal companion and home away from home for many nights in the backcountry.

Sometimes on outstanding trout streams it was a real chore to find a good site to set up the tent. Too many times the available tent camping sites were worn out by previous campers with fire rings and chopped down trees and graffiti, even trash strewn around.

Fly fishing on the Maury River near Goshen, Virginia, no place to set up a tent. I would have to camp somewhere else then paddle upstream to prime trout spots such as this one.

I would often paddle or hike for hours to find a campsite level enough and clear enough to set up the tent. Sometimes I´d spend an hour trimming back briars and underbrush and moving rocks and boulders out of the way just so I could set up my tent and go to bed. I just did it, not knowing there was a better option.

There were stories about hikers who were using hammocks but I never met anyone personally who was doing it until 2006, when I met Tom Hennessy, founder of Hennessy Hammocks. He was at Appalachian Trail Day in Damascus, Virginia demonstrating his classic expedition hammock tent.

Instantly I saw this was the solution to my biggest camping problem. How ridiculously simple. With this incredible hammock all I needed were two trees. I fell in love with it even before I ever slept in it.

After sleeping in it the first time I was astonished how much better I felt the next morning. No aches or pains. I slept like a baby all night. Even though I am a side sleeper, usually tossing and turning from one side the other all night, I was totally relaxed in the hammock and I don't think I moved a muscle all night. The moment I woke up I knew that I was going to be a hammock camper forever. I would never again sleep on the ground.

The Hennessy Hammock Expedition Asymmetrical changed my fishing trips instantly and made my camping life much simpler and far more comfortable. Now I had more hours for fishing in early morning and late evening instead of paddling the shoreline searching for a flat spot.

Snug camp in a briar thicket on the upper Jackson River, blue ribbon trout stream, Allegheny Mountains, western Virginia

Just being able to paddle to where I wanted to stay overnight, beach my canoe and set up camp regardless of terrain was a miracle. On the rivers and lakes where I fish its hard to say for sure how many more hammock campsites there are compared to tent sites, but its at least a thousand hammock sites to one tent site.

Later when I hiked the Appalachian Trail and other trails in the Blue Ridge Mountains I reaffirmed my notion that hammock sites were everywhere I looked; on steep hillsides, swampy creek sides, rocky ridges and at the wooded edges of bald top mountains where the views went on forever.

I later learned I could hang the hammock from a number of other anchors besides just trees. Places where I would never have been able to set up a tent such as rock outcroppings, rip rap boulders in a bridge retaining wall and to the roof racks on my shuttle car parked by a light pole were easy with the hammock.

The Hennessy Hammock package included the rain fly and bug net and was simple and easy to set up. It only took 5 minutes to have my bed ready for the night. It was amazingly and elegantly simple.

This photo from Sundog Eyeware is a beautiful Brook trout caught only minutes after the first rays of morning sun reached the river. These polarized glasses are ideal for improving vision against glare on the water.

Trout fishing and most other kinds of freshwater fishing is most productive in early morning and late evening, dawn and dusk, when insects are most active.

The way I had been fishing was to leave camp as soon as I could see the water and paddle hard to reach my fishing site while the fish were still active. In late afternoon I would reluctantly leave my fishing spot and paddle back to camp so I could arrive before dark.

Now with the hammock tent I can locate a good fishing site in late afternoon, go ashore and set up camp then go back on the water for the evening witching hour when trout are rising to the surface for the evening hatch.

When the hatch ends and trout stop rising I go back to my hammock camp and sleep like a baby all night dreaming dreams of outsmarting wily trout.

The Hennessy Hammocks were designed to be very light and non-bulky so they fit in a backpack easily and take up very little room. To be honest, there were some things about the Hennessy Expedition Classic hammock that I did not care for.

First, was the bottom entry. It was a slit held closed with velcro strips. I had to pull them apart to creat the door, then turn around and sit my butt into the hammock and swing my feet in and push the door closed with my foot so the velcro strip would hold it closed.

Because of the confined space within the hammock it was necessary for me to first get into my sleeping bag outside the hammock and then back into the door opening, sit down and then swing my feet inside. Awkward, but doable.

Getting out of bed in the middle of the middle of the night to pee was an exercise in patience, especially in cold weather when I added the Hennessy under quilt for warmth. The under quilt also had a slit, which had to line up with the door slit on the hammock. More patience required.

Hennessy has since overcome these bottom entry limitations by adding a zipper to the side, like other hammock manufacturers are using. The Expedition Classic model that I had is now called the Expedition Zip. Just unzip the side, sit down in the middle of the hammock, then swing the legs in.

Another thing I wasn't crazy about with the original Hennessy was the sewn-in-place bug net. It was a no-see-um type net with very close weave. It limited air flow and increased the inside air temperature on hot nights and led to condensation from my breathing on cold nights.

The bug net was also very confining. There was no way to sit up or move around and I couldn't use the hammock as a sling chair for lounging. Regardless of season I had to carry it everywhere even when I didn't need it.

The final big reason I didn't continue to use the Hennessy Expedition Classic was because of the diamond-shaped, asymmetrical rain fly. It was very light, but totally ineffective in keeping hard, slashing rain from being blown into the hammock during heavy storms.

I started leaving the asymmetrical rain fly at home and using a square rain fly instead. It extended beyond the ends of the hammock and could be dropped almost to the ground to block storm winds and rain. The square rain fly was more bulky and weighed more, but the extended coverage and added privacy made it well worthwhile to me.

Now I use is the House Fly made by Eagle´s Nest Outfitters (ENO) in Asheville, North Carolina. It extends to cover my hammock and my gear stored inside and has end panels that can be closed for maximum privacy and weather protection. Or the door panels can be tied out of the way for air flow and to enjoy the views.

More than a decade has gone by and I am still in love with canoeing, kayaking, hiking and trout fishing. I hope I can encourage others to take up these wonderful sports and to use hammock camping as a comfortable and convenient temporary home in the backcountry.

For in-depth reading about trout fishing I highly recommend The Orvis Fly-Fishing Guide that covers North America.

For anyone interested in hammock camping the best possible resource is The Ultimate Hang by Derek Hansen, second edition. The bible for hammock campers.

Andy Lee is the author of Five Hundred Miles to the Sea, Adventure Canoe and Kayak Camping Book 1 and the administrator of the Facebook group Adventure Canoe and Kayak Camping.

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