6 Tips for Planning a Memorable Fly Fishing Trip

Many of us do not live within an hour of pristine trout waters. Steve and I live in the Chicago suburbs, and while the Driftless in southwestern Wisconsin and the streams of Michigan are in striking distance, we can’t simply hop in the truck for an afternoon of fly fishing and be back an hour after dark. We need to plan our trips and make the most of our time away from our families.

With some simple preparation and forethought, you can create a memorable fly fishing trip. Here are just six tips to make 2016 your best fly fishing year ever:

    1. Try some new waters.

    Steve and I often feel pressure to make the most of every moment on a trip. We often think “We have only a few days. We don’t want to waste an afternoon or evening trying something that is a long shot.”

    Last summer, we took an afternoon off from fishing our standbys (the Yellowstone in the Park, for example) and fished Fan Creek, which is also in Yellowstone National Park. We had heard of it before but had never took the time to fish it. This time we did.

    For the most part, it was a bust, if you measure success purely by the number you catch. I caught a couple smaller West Slope cutthroats (12 to 13 inches), but that was about it.

    Would we do it again? Absolutely. The stream was gorgeous, and we could have fished for days, jumping from run to run and losing ourselves in the back country of Yellowstone Park.

    We now have another place to go at another time. We will be back.

    2. Avoid the Two Worst Seasons.

    If you are fishing in the American West, and fishing the freestone rivers, you’ll want to keep in mind two seasons to avoid: Blown Out Season and the Tourist Season.

    The Blown Out Season runs from late April to July (or earlier or later). This is when the rivers swell and bloat from all the snow melt. You won’t want to risk the trip, unless you like worm fishing.

    Tourist Season runs from late July into the third week of August, some of the best days for hoppers. Steve and I often take a trip in mid August to the Bozeman, MT, area – we love floating the big bugs. But we never fish the Gallatin in July or early August. It is always elbow to elbow with fly fishers, all decked out with their latest gear and $1,000 fly rods purchased for the two or three days in Montana. And often the Lower Madison is too low (as well as packed with folks on float tubes, a whole ‘nuther kind of late summer “hatch”).

    3. Fish the Spawning Season.

    You’ll need to be extra careful catching and releasing the fish, but two great times in the West are spring rainbows before the rivers blow out and the big browns in October. There are no tourists, and hotel rates tend to be a bit less.

    4. Stay Long Enough for a Banner Day.

    Through the years, Steve and I have generally fished for three or four days at a shot. That’s a long time to be away from family, and since my wife and I hover over four kids, the trip puts stress on the family system.

    But we often find that one out of the three or four days ends up being a banner day – a 15 (or more) fish day. The other two or three days tend to be more typical – three or four, if that.

    5. Hire a Guide for One of the Days.

    Just budget it for it – and do it. You’ll improve your skills, perhaps discover new water, and look back at the day as one of the highlights of the trip.

    6. Build Flexibility into Your Plan.

    There’s is nothing like a best laid fly fishing plan that goes sideways with the weather. Especially if you are fishing in early spring or mid to late fall. If the river colors overnight or a foot of snow makes your 2-mile hike impossible or the wind gusts make all kind of casts an Olympic feat – you’ll want options.

    Several years ago, after a dump of overnight snow, Steve and I spent much of the next day hitting the coffee shops and restaurants, waiting for a break in the weather. We should have had another option – maybe a river 50 or more miles away, outside of the snow zone. Maybe have two options for each day on the trip.

There are a thousand other ideas for planning for a memorable fly fishing trip. What are yours?

7 Replies to “6 Tips for Planning a Memorable Fly Fishing Trip”

  1. Great stuff guys. I am really enjoying your podcasts. I am a guide in the Adirondacks. I am blessed to call the famed West Branch of the Ausable River my home waters. Along with thousands of other rivers, streams and creeks. We have some of the best trout water in the country. If you ever plan a trip East look me up, I would really enjoy taking you out on the river, on me. Tightlines.
    To the both of you and your families, I wish nothing but the best for the New Year and continued success.

    1. Thanks, Glen. Would love to fish the Adirondacks. And if we get up your way, I promise we’ll hire you for a day! Hope we connect soon!


  2. For me, planning a memorable fly fishing trip begins with not setting too high of expectations. While it’s nice to catch fish, just being on the water and enjoying nature is already a great day. The only expectation I try to set is that whatever happens, I’m going to enjoy myself and the moment I’m in.

    1. Great point, Kurt. Too often, our expectations are shaped by greed or by past successes. But there are so many variables when it comes to fly fishing. So the expectation you described in your last sentence is spot-on.

  3. I agree. If you really want to enjoy the entire fishing trip do not book during Blown Out Season and the Tourist Season.

  4. I was talking to a good friend of mine that wants to look into getting a fishing guide. She wants to learn a little more and know what to expect so she is not simply winging it. I think that she would like knowing that she should be flexible and easy to learn.

    1. Good point, Alexandria! Being flexible with expectations is a necessity to have a good experience with a guide. A good guide will be flexible, too, tailoring her or his approach to the skill set of the client.

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