The ideal fly fishing vehicle?
This past December, our family waved farewell to our beloved Subaru Outback, affectionately named Molly by the kids. We bought her in May of 2008, fresh off the auction lot with 76,000 miles on the odometer, yet very much looking like a really new used car. She was born in 2002, a 4 door “sport” wagon with a nice looking silver metallic finish, roof rack, 4 speed automatic, and a 2.5 liter boxer engine under the hood. She could get up and go and was eager to climb hills and gobble up snow, which she always did with ease courtesy of Subaru’s reliable all-wheel-drive system. And as an Outback, she rode with a little more ground clearance. Her interior gauges featured a tachometer, various engine gauges, and even outside air temp. She also sported far-seeing bug-eyed fog lights.
Some readers might recall that Subaru got in a bit of trouble after the “Outback” concept was launched for marketing that labeled the car as “off road capable”, apparently hinting that the car’s AWD system was as good as 4WD. Aussie actor Paul Hogan was hired by Subaru and in TV commercials touted the car for rough-terrain driving capability with the ride and comfort of a passenger car. While Molly was not a Jeep, she never left any of her drivers stranded. Some of the places I took her were certainly off-road, most on the way to some Southern Tier river, stream, creek or lake.
Not only was Molly a capable and safe ride for the kids, she was also extremely reliable. We experienced very few issues and even drove her right on the tow truck (leading her to the slaughter?, yikes!) with 167,000 miles on her. Her original Panasonic battery failed after 8 years of use. I remember removing it when the car would not start and could hardly believe it. As reliable as her engine and transmission were, Molly’s 2.5 liter engine was not exactly stingy on fuel. On the highway one could count on 25 – 26 mpg which was not bad, but certainly not great for a 4 cylinder engine.
In the end, Molly’s undoing was a car’s cancer: rust. Her lighter gauge steel frame and body were not enough to hold up to upstate NY winters and regular baths in road salt. I suspect we could have gotten twice the miles on her odometer before putting her out to pasture, but her underbody was so badly rusted that our mechanic could poke holes through her frame and therefore could no longer pass her for state inspections. Our family has owned 3 Subaru’s and they’ve served us well, save their susceptibility to corrosion.
I loved Molly as a fishing vehicle for all of the aforementioned reasons, and more. She was not too tall to single-handedly put a kayak atop her roof. And with her rear seats down there was plenty of room for gobs of tackle, gear, and provisions. I am left wondering how to fill the fishing vehicle void she leaves behind.
That’s made me ponder the question of what makes a good fly fishing vehicle. Searches on the internet abound on the topic and everyone has their own particular needs for the specific fishing they do. But for the record, here’s my take on general requirements. Amp up or tune down as necessary…
- Off-road capability. I consider off-road capability to be very important as many of the places fly fishers are drawn to are indeed, off-road. It also helps for late fall/winter/early spring fly fishing where snow and ice may be encountered. Off-road capability is all about traction and that’s where some type of all-wheel-drive or 4 wheel drive system is important. I also prefer a manual transmission, though automatics have really closed the gap on fuel efficiency and performance. Off-road capability also includes road clearance. Imagine driving a Corvette over some of the roads used to get to that prized fishing spot!
- Cargo space. This is also subjective, but I’d say the ideal vehicle should have enough storage space to support lugging fly fishing gear, provisions, and camping equipment – enough to satisfy a week in the woods. An added bonus is enough room “in the back” to support sleeping in the vehicle if necessary.
- Towing power/carrying capability. Most of us in the Southern Tier are, at most, towing a drift boat or small outboard-powered skiff, jon boat, or canoe, and at least, car-topping a kayak or light canoe from time to time. So the power and torque to tow and the ability to roof carry gear or small craft is a plus for any fly fishing vehicle.
- Fuel efficiency. Right now, oil is at all time lows, and gas and even diesel prices at the pump are very low. Still, a 4 – 6 hour round trip to a favorite but distant fly fishing destination shouldn’t drain the bank or the tank. And, long legs help if a trip is remote enough to where gas stations aren’t around every bend.
- Reliability. The last thing any angler needs is to get stuck going to or returning from a fly fishing trip. Of course getting stuck where one is fly fishing does have some advantages (“gee honey, the car just won’t start” while a fly reel sings in the background), but since most of us have to work and have obligations of some sort at home, getting stuck anywhere is ultimately a problem.
- Cost of Ownership. Price is obviously a factor to consider in purchasing a vehicle, but the total cost of ownership should also be considered. Maintenance costs, reliability, and fuel efficiency all factor into this category.
I am a recent diesel convert thanks to my current commuter – a 2.0L VW Passat TDI. While this 4 door sedan offers incredible room and trunk space, a comfortable ride, and a 6 speed manual, its the motor that makes the car. The turbocharged diesel offers mileage that realistically surpasses the 50 mpg mark at moderate highway speeds and gobs of torque on hand (it unfortunately runs a bit short for my version of the ideal fly fishing vehicle in that it is FWD only and lacks the extra cargo space of a wagon). Diesels offer all a fly fishing vehicle could ask for in mileage, towing power, and reliability, but nipping at their heels are other engine options. The improved fuel efficiency of gas engines and the recent addition of hybrids and electrics will only add more options for those anglers looking to squeeze a few nickels out of their fly fishing dollar.
Added to the increase in power-plant choices, power, and fuel efficiency, is a surge in newly designed trucks, SUVs, and crossover vehicles, all easily fitting the fly fishing capable category. And while the more traditional Chevy Tahoe or Silverado might meet the rough and tumble needs of some, I’m going to highlight a few recent entries that might be on my list as a future buy:
- Volkswagen Alltrack – the concept of an “Outback-beater” that features VW’s all-wheel-drive system (4 motion), 6 speed manual, lots of cargo space, increased ground clearance, and a reasonable price will launch in 2017. At this point, the powerplant will be VW’s 1.8L TSI (turbocharged) 4 cyclinder, but when VW resolves its diesel woes, there could be a 2.0L TDI (turbocharged diesel) under the hood for truly extended fly fishing range (30 city / 44 highway mpg). The Alltrack is a vehicle that blends well with everyday life.
- Chevy Colorado / GMC Canyon – both mid-size truck offerings from GM will soon be equipped with a 2.8L turbocharged diesel. This diesel puts out 177 horsepower and a mighty 369 ft-lbs of torque and offers fuel economy of 22 city / 31 highway mpg and 7,700 lbs towing capacity. The Colorado / Canyon can be configured with an extended cab for extra passenger room, yet still offers a large bed that can be capped for dry hauling. Extra road clearance and excellent off-road capability make this a winner for remote fly fishing adventures.
- Jeep Grand Cherokee – the ultimate SUV offers luxury with rough and tumble all wheel and 4 wheel drive options, cargo room galore, 22 city / 30 highway mpg, and 7,400 lbs towing capacity. But that same luxury drives the price of this fly fishing vehicle into hoitey-toiteyville. Jeep is also toying with more diesel offerings and a rebirth of the Jeep Comanche (or Gladiator) – essentially a mid-sized Jeep pickup truck.
After all is said and done, fly fishing is often more about personal choice, i.e., fly rod brand and action, reel drag type, vest or sling pack, and this certainly applies to the type of vehicle one prefers when driving the river road. Style, budget, and purpose all play into personal choice. The criteria listed in this post should help inform those looking to improve their fly fishing “wheels”. And lets hope those wheels lead down the road of better fly fishing adventures…