Damon Bungard is why they invented the term “outdoorsman.” Bungard, who lives in Tennessee and works as the brand manager for Jackson Kayaks, is one of the few people in the world who’s been a professional kayaker, professional angler and professional hunter at different points in his life. These days, the well-rounded athlete spends most of his free time finding ways to combine all of his passions into seamless, self-supported adventures. Sometimes that means embarking on multi-day backpacks in search of white tail deer. Or paddling class V whitewater deep into a Wilderness area to fish holes that have rarely seen a fly line. This April, he’ll star in a show on the Sportsman Channel called “The Orion Chronicles,” that details how Bungard is able to blend adventure with traditional outdoor sports.
“I remember teaching whitewater clinics in these pools and watching the trout rise. And nobody was fishing,” Bungard says. “I thought it was ridiculous. I would be on various, multi-day kayaking trips and get into a totally clear eddy and see all these fish. So I started packing a seven-piece rod in my stern. Sometimes I’d just strap it to the outside.”
We talked with Bungard about the gear he relies on when he’s seeking elusive brook trout deep in the Southern Appalachians.
Using gear that’s made in the US is important to me, and it’s hard to find a good pack that’s made here. But EXO makes a great one in Boise, Idaho. The 2000 is an innovative pack system loaded with technical features. I use this for week-long fishing and hunting trips. It’s light and moves well.
I like hiking in boots I can fish in. I don’t like carrying different footwear. I wear this boot with a good, wool sock (see below) and a neoprene sock too. It’s a hybrid hiking/wading boot. I want one boot on the trail and river. That’s the key to successful backcountry fishing. Keep your gear versatile and simple.
It’s the Southern Appalachians, so there’s a good chance it’s gonna rain when you’re in the backcountry. I like this GORE-TEX jacket from Simms. It’s super packable, but it’s also really comfortable. I can spend all day in this jacket, hiking and fishing, and never get soaked or sweaty.
Having good socks is important. These wool socks are really comfortable and they dry superfast. I’ll fish in these all day, moving in and out of the water, then dry them fast by the fire and put them right back on.
Bungard’s advice for fishing the backcountry: Keep your gear versatile and simple. And seek out native brook trout, even if you don’t plan on catching them. Brook trout only live in beautiful places. To get where the Brook are, you’re going to get solitude and you’ll be in the cleanest water in the planet.
If I’m going after trout, I like a 7’ four-weight Superfine. Orvis has been making quality rods for decades. This one is an ultralight, nimble rod built for tight Appalachian streams. The four-weight is good for getting into bigger, deeper holes, but it’s still flexible and small.