Growing up in rural small-town Utah meant living some unique experiences. Secrets weren’t safe – everyone knew everyone else’s business. Kids were largely left to fend for their own entertainment, especially during summer. Moms would give the vague “Be back before dark” comment, and some even locked their doors to ensure kid-free time, a move that, if made today, would trigger the simultaneous condemnation of Twitter and Child Protective Services.
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Another thing about living in rural small-town Utah – everyone drove trucks. Or, perhaps more accurately, every family had at least one pickup truck. Most were old, dusty, coming apart at the seams. Farm trucks, finally retired from the alfalfa fields, ready to spend their senior years on pavement. As me and my friends grew up, we took these trucks on adventures. Camping, fishing, hunting, rain or snow, on “roads” that certainly weren’t ever built with truck traffic in mind. Our trucks became as much a character in our adventures as anyone else.
My best friend Lander had an ancient little stick-shift Toyota Tacoma. Somewhere along its journey, the “MA” emblems fell off the tailgate, leaving only the silver letters spelling “TACO.” Taco ran like a champion, even though I don’t remember Lander nor me performing any sort of regular maintenance (his dad probably did while we were busy not helping). Whether we wanted to spend the evening in the Meadows, fishing the stream that ran through the old campground, or driving south to Burraston Ponds, Taco delivered.
Brigg had a larger version of Taco, a four-seater Toyota with a camper shell on the bed and a huge lift. It was loud, drank gas like an alcoholic with an open tab and a freshly broken heart, and had a reputation for getting out of even the muddiest of situations. I don’t remember Brigg ever washing the truck; he wore the dried dirt as a badge of honor, as proof that his truck walked the walk.
Trevor’s green Chevy took a beating during junior year. We cracked the radiator one afternoon, after a particularly stupid idea came to fruition (yes, if you’re going fast enough, a three-quarter ton truck will get air off an old dirt bike jump) and limped through town back to Trevor’s place, stopping every couple of blocks to borrow someone’s garden hose and cool off the motor. Aside from that slight defect, the green Chevy saw us through more adventures than I can remember.
I had a truck, too. My dad’s old white Chevy, a single cab with a bench seat and a gas-guzzling V8 motor. It could practically drive itself to the beaver ponds or Diamond Fork River, the two places I spent the most time fishing when I should’ve been in class. The Chevy had just enough room behind the seats for fishing poles, coats, and other essential gear for two people. It was the perfect setup for grabbing a buddy before fourth period and saying “I have all the stuff ready, and the fish are biting. Let’s get outta here.”
Eventually, each of these trucks were sold. Brigg’s cousin bought his Toyota, the Taco changed hands when Lander’s parents moved to Colorado, Trevor’s green Chevy went to someone for parts, and my Chevy’s transmission became someone else’s problem. I drove a Camaro for a while after selling the Chevy, which was hardly an ideal fishing vehicle, although I’m certain I drove that Camaro where one has never been driven before or since. After the Camaro I bought a small SUV that some of my fishing buddies at the time dubbed the “Mom Wagon.”
From the moment I sold the Chevy I was dead-set on getting another fishing truck. Call is nostalgia, or keeping up appearances, but there’s something hopelessly romantic about hopping in the fishing truck before dawn and heading off for unknown adventures. Having reliable four-wheel drive and decent clearance means virtually no water is off-limits, so maybe it’s more about confidence than anything. Regardless, I had a detailed list of required features when I started shopping for my current fishing truck. Some were reasonable, while others were intangible, only recognized after spending thousands of miles in a vehicle. What I ended up with is the greatest fishing truck in the world.
First and foremost, the truck had to have a solid four-wheel drive system. I wanted a low rear-axle gear ratio (the number of times the rear axle spins to complete a full revolution of the wheels) so I had rock-grabbing power to pull me up steep, bumpy roads. Ideally, I wanted a stick shift, especially for the drive down those steep, bumpy roads. My buddy Mike converted me to the gospel of stick shift trucks after he drove us off a mountain known for burning brakes (and breaking truck axles) without touching his brake pedal once. “Leave it in first or second, in four-low, and you’ll never need to touch the brakes going down something that ain’t vertical,” Mike said.
I also didn’t want a truck with a lift. Lift kits might look good (to some folks) but they pose two serious problems for fishing trucks. The first is that a lift will suck some power from your truck, so if you don’t opt for a V8, you’ll notice a big decrease in horsepower and acceleration. And, if you opted for a V6 or inline-4 to save on gas money, the lift essentially negates those savings.
The other problem with lifts is seen only when you’re headed up a road pitched at a 45-degree, or greater, angle. Sure, you can just drive over everything instead of avoiding the biggest rocks and potholes, but when you top out on the hill you can’t see what’s on the other side because your hood is so far off the ground. Add to that driving an unfamiliar dirt track in the dark, and you have a recipe for potential disaster. I suppose, if you’re with a buddy, they can get out and guide you over the top of the hill, but we don’t always have someone along for these adventures. The best fishing truck is one you can drive without help, or a stepstool to get in and out of the cab.
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A regular-length bed is another must. Short beds might be more aesthetically pleasing, but they’re not great for sleeping. I spend more nights sleeping in my truck bed than I can count, and if you have the right setup, you can save a ton of cash on motels. I’ve spent many a night in my truck on trips through Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.
Finally, and this one is a bit selfish, but the best fishing truck in the world is one that has just enough room for you and a buddy. Maybe two. Any more than that and you’re suddenly stuck driving on every fishing trip with more than two or three anglers. I love driving, but sometimes I want to be the passenger. If you opt for the mega-ultra-super cab, you’ll rarely have that chance. And it’s nice to not put the miles for every fishing trip on your rig, too.
The world’s greatest fishing truck exists, in different forms, for every angler. Over the miles, you’ll start to notice other features that you can’t live without. My truck’s integrated bed storage, for example, is something I can’t live without. Same goes for the deep boxes under the two back seats, or how far back the driver’s seat leans when I need to pull over for a power nap.
I’d like to change a few features – most notably adding intermittent wipers instead of the two-speed “low” or “high” settings I currently have – and maybe add some accessories, but as the truck currently stands, it’s the best in the world. I just hope it lasts long enough for another young kid – mine, ideally – to take it on all sorts of new adventures.
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, bamboo rod builder, and fishing guide from Utah. He’s the News Editor for MidCurrent and a regular columnist for Hatch Magazine. Connect with him on Instagram/Twitter, @Spencer_Durrant.