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Plenty of room in the truck camper for a fishing buddy. Photo Envato.


TJ comes from the backcountry, Wyoming. He attended Colorado School of Mines and spent six years in the Army, serving two Afghanistan tours. He’s a decorated Captain. His trade is blowing things up – legally. He writes under another ‘nom de plume’ you would recognize, builds fly rods, and ties flies so beautifully that I have never fished them. He lives in Florida City, Florida, on 4 acres with his wife, their three dogs, four cats, and a sturdy, stand-alone garage no one is ever invited to see.

As time wore on

By TJ Douglas

I soon realized that what I missed equally was travel, not coming home every day but relishing instead the new flavor of where I was. Drinking it all in with childlike fascination and thrilled at what tomorrow’s prospects would bring on landscapes where a narwhal whale is more likely to be seen than someone else fishing.

Bragging a little

I had aged well enough to know I did not need to go again to remarkable places my friends or I had fished, like Seychelles, Pantanal, Mongolia, New Zealand, Argentina, Sweden, and Russia. So instead, Canada, Alaska, lower US 48, Yucatan, and Bahama would keep me busy before my trip in the sky.

Becoming a fanatic

I had become a YouTube junky and began watching RV shows, promotions, reviews, and introductions of new and beyond-belief RVs. I had owned a class B and lived in a small class C for nearly five months while on a retirement sabbatical in New Zealand. I knew class Bs and small class Cs from the RV Mecca in Indiana would be precisely like my AMF-made Harley. I’d need a repair truck to follow me around, or I’d have to be a mechanic, electrician, and plumber and own a garage full of tools.

People want their own space

Then, I watched a new trend develop in the ClasB RVs, the type I had been considering for a year and a half. There has begun a break away from junk coming out of Indiana.

However, the DIY community morphed into a cottage industry, and the transformations they produced are stunning in cargo van conversions, principally Dodge Ram ProMaster, Mercedes Sprinter, and Ford Transit. These repurposed cargo vans can easily be reliable off-road vehicles delivering an angling couple to seldom-fished coordinates. 

Bus retrofits, older GMC and Ford airport and local taxi transporters have been made into decent family RVs and ‘tiny’ homes. The acceptance, like in the gold rush days, remains in many even in couch potato today.

People want their own space built by themselves or other more skilled craftsmen and women, and ‘tiny’ is good.

These individual craftsmen became small industry of conversion van companies run by brilliant gals and guys with a half dozen to more employees. These entrepreneurs became the preferred class B RV makers. The market exploded, prices rose, and deliveries stretched out because of COVID-19 [March 2019 May 2023]. It hasn’t relented for them yet.

NOTE: However, the new rage is ‘build kits’ and they are getting so good that if you can build a lego rocket ship for your kid, you’re good.

Throw an eBike on the hitch of your DIY truck camper, and you could see acres of fly fishing possibilities each day that would be unattainable on foot or accessible by 4X4. It’s like flying out from a lodge each day, covering miles and miles of new water at no cost to you. Image by Frank Sargeant. Most fold-up bikes are in the $1,500 to $2,500 range. For example, RadMini 4 . . .

Elkhart is still fast asleep

Few in Elkhart care about figuring out what is happening, and they do not care because business is booming. Unfortunately, trailers are falling apart before they make the dealer lots. Don’t trash the Chinese for junk; Elkhart is our China.

Newbies are furious, but big money is on a gold rush fever, so it’s shut up and dribble for the little guy complaining.

NOTE: There are pockets of RV producers who have stepped up and cleaned out the garbage the industry is noted for, which is overpriced, gaudy junk. The Western states, the East Coast states, and Canadian companies are leading the changeover in quality.

Today, the van conversion market is overpriced – no matter the maker

A used Mercedes Sprinter 170, Extended, 4×4, RV, converted, could cost about $100K for a used rig with all the bells, whistles, and 65,000 odometer readings. The complexity of the systems within the builds of some conversions suggests the owner be well-versed in many systems. A breakdown in the Canadian wilderness with no iPhone signal and no traffic for weeks could put RV adventurers in harm’s way and has.

Some want to go another direction, one that they control, pure DIY

I am not a craftsman – as far from it as possible. I designed and built things; I knew systems and workflows, banking, money, and markets – it was my job. I was not a hands-on tools person – except with explosives, which is a different ballgame altogether.

The YouTube trend that stood out to me was converting soccer mom vans like the Toyota Sienna with AWD, Honda Odyssey, Chrysler Pacifica, Dodge Caravan, and Plymouth Voyager. The Sienna is the stand-alone best of the bunch because of its larger interior space and AWD, but they all have unsatisfying cons.

SUV might be the way to go

Second, within the scope of easy DIY conversions is the Chevrolet Suburban and its copied platform by the Cadillac Escalade, GMC Yukon XL, and Denali – even Ford’s much-improved Expedition. 

The Suburbans have been around since the Depression, and thousands are still on the road. So buying one with a healthy north or 100,000 odometer miles is not much of a gamble. Converting a Suburban can be a big or simple project.

With the Suburban conversion [simplified], take out the third-row seats, fold down the second-row seats, fit a 4’X84’X8 sheet of plywood to make a one-piece floor, and anchor both sides with cubbies. One side is a bed, and the other is the counter and drawers. With a Solar Generator, you’ll have all the electricity you need, with several large lithium batteries, and by adding solar panels to the roof. “Technically,” you could live out your life with all the juice you’d ever need, and with modern-day water purifiers, you get the point.

Brown Bear Fishing for Salmon in Katmai, Alaksa

Brown bear fishing for salmon in Katmai, Alaksa. With your RV seeing what others might not. Envato photo.

Go pickup?

The Silverado, Ford, Ram, and Toyota pickups offer another DIY conversion option by adding a topper or truck cap. Truck caps are plentiful and cheap, but like the RV industry, they are flawed; they make junk. Common drawbacks must be addressed in every build-out.

Tuck caps are notorious for leaking water and dust. Truck caps leak profusely at the rear window hatch and tailgate, with additional concern for side windows and at the lockdown point to the truck itself. These insults are fixable without too much aftermarket hassle. Two, no truck cap on the market has insulation worth mentioning, which is again fixable, but there is a considerable loss of interior space.

Tailgate entry

Letting the weather dictate your outings because of the lack of insulation is an option but foolish. The third issue is an annoyance; you can only ingress and egress the interior of a truck cap via the tailgate, and I feel a safety issue if there is a need to get away.

What is the purpose of converting vans, SUVs, and pickup trucks to long-term campers?

The purpose of the build is to hit the road, camp out on county, state, or federal lands [dispersed camping], and fly fish DIY or be guided if not knowing where the bodies are buried and searching would be too time-consuming, even dangerous alone.

The RV craze is attracting new, young customers to the outdoor industry. Unfortunately, it shows signs of infrastructure stress, crowding, and poor behavior, causing a rejection of boondocks. On the flip side, this overpresence of RVers has opened up stays at farms, vineyards, or individual driveways in small towns, and, in some cases, cities have designated temporary RV stays.

The idea of doing this fishing destination on a friendly budget and having fun is not part of the RV fad, but since game fish live in nice places, there will be campers at great fishing holes throughout the US and Canada

An Osprey Fishing in Maine

RV trip photos – an Osprey Fishing in Maine. Envato image.

Try renting

The good idea is to test your tolerance for this “Glamping” and fly-fishing adventure on several weekends. There are dozens of RV rental places scattered throughout the US and Canada, as well as a plethora of RV Parks.

If they are biting at dusk, you missed it. If they are biting a dawn, you missed it 

Keep in mind that with your self-sufficient and self-built rig, you can go fishing for weeks without paying for accommodations of any kind or for restaurant or bar tabs. Finally, and most importantly, not being time-limited by an outfitter or lodge – leave at 8:00 am and quit at 3:30 pm. That is hugely significant.  

No game in town more nuanced than fly fishing

Even if you do tie flies, it’s important to always stop at local fly shops, and if there’s more than one – all of them. Like your home fly shop, some good information flows effortlessly when buying locally tied flies. Relying on local fly shops, as you know, is especially valuable if you’re well beyond your border knowledge. Things like the ebb and flow of coastal tidal creeks, the significance of weather reports, and interior freshwater hatches are crucial to success at unfamiliar coordinates.

Exclusive fiction stories by TJ Douglas:

A Rutted Road  . . . 

Finding Belle . . .

Watch a pickup become a nice sleep-in, fly fish out-of  RV conversion


Author Skip

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