Taking Time to Be a Good Fly Fisher

If you want to be a great fly fisher, it’s going to take some time — perhaps time you can’t afford to spend. Recently, I saw a blog post claiming it takes a minimum of 50 days a year on the water to be a great fly fisher. 100 days is ‘way better,’ and 200 days is “better yet.” According to the post, if you spend only ten days on the water per year, you can only be an “adequate angler.”

good fly fisher

I don’t dispute this. Yet, I’d argue that you can be a good fly fisher if the 10 days you spend on the water are well-spent. Not every day on the river is created equal.

Practice makes permanent

There’s an old adage that piano teachers and basketball coaches and, perhaps, fly fishing instructors quote: “Practice makes perfect.”

Well, not necessarily. The truth is, practice makes permanent. It takes practice to get better. But if your next practice is not better than the last one, then you are only reinforcing bad habits. This is the reason why a couple days on the water with a professional guide or with a fly fishing friend who is better than you will be more productive than ten days on your own — at least when it comes to the rudiments of fly casting and reading water.

Substitute for time on the water

Another comment I frequently read in fly fishing blogs is that there is no substitute for time on the water.

Actually, there is — provided that it takes place between the times you spend on the water. I realize that casting in your backyard is not quite the same as casting into a river. But I’ve seen newbies learn casting basics in their back yard and then translate those same basics into good casts on the river.

Between trips to the river

So then, if you can only fly fish 10 to 15 days per year, the key to improvement is what you do between trips to the river.

In addition to practice your casting, you can watch videos and read fly fishing books. Taking a fly tying class at your local fly shop will boost your skills as well. Even if you never tied a fly once you completed a class, your knowledge of streamside entomology (what bugs are hatching in what stages) will help you the next time you cast your fly upon the water.

Another difference maker

There is an additional difference maker that factors into whether you move from adequate to good to great.

It’s your natural aptitude and your athletic ability.

Perhaps “athletic ability” isn’t quite the right descriptor. But some people just have the fly fishing gene. I think of a guy who fishes fewer days than I do per year. He has not read nearly as much as I have about fly fishing; nor has he ever taken a fly tying class. Yet this guy is a natural fly fisher and can outfish me any day of the week.

Here, then, is the takeaway. You can be a good fly fisher if you make the most of the 10-15 days you spend on the water and if you use the time between them strategically.

I honestly don’t know if I’m an “adequate” or “good” fly fisher. I definitely know I’m not great. But as one who spends 15 days or less on the water a year, I get better every year, and I catch a lot of fish when the conditions are right. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

Why Fly Fishers Should Stop Wading

I have a novel proposal for fly fishers who are not catching fish. It may seem a bit extreme. But hey, if you’re not catching fish, you’ll try anything, right?

stop wading

If you think you have the right fly size and pattern, if you mend your line to reduce the drag on your fly, if your casts don’t send fish fleeing for cover, and if you’re getting your nymphs deep enough, then here is my suggestion:

Step away from the river.

That’s right, stay out of it. Stop wading.

What Fly Fishers Do

I told you my suggestion sounded a bit extreme.

Wading in the river is what fly fishers do. That’s what a friend figured the other day when he heard I was a fly fisher. He is not. But he was interested and said, “Oh, is that the kind of fishing where you stand in the water?”

Yes, I suppose that’s our mental image of fly fishing. And yes, I will admit there’s something enchanting about standing in a river as you cast—especially on a late fall morning when the snow is softly falling or at dusk on a warm summer day.

But I’m more and more convinced that fly fishers who are not catching fish should stop wading. It’s not a punishment! Nor is it always and forever. But fishing from the river’s edge should be your default mode; wading is the exception. There are at least two reasons why.

Fishing near the bank

First, follow the lead of the fly fishers in drift boats. They typically cast to the banks. That’s where the trout are lurking. Sure, there may be some runs on the other side of the stream or perhaps fifteen feet away from the bank. But a lot of feeding lanes crowd the bank.

If you must wade, find an entry point between runs and walk out far enough so you can cast back toward the bank.

Whenever I hike up the Yellowstone near Tower Fall in Yellowstone National Park, I leave my waders in the truck. I’m not a fan of hiking 3-4 miles up the river in waders before I start fishing. Surprisingly, there are few places where not having waders puts me at a disadvantage.

Honing your observation skills

The second reason is related to the first. If you commit to fishing from the bank (at least for awhile), you will likely pay more attention to what is happening near the river’s edge.

I remember a time on Montana’s Madison River when I was getting ready to wade out to a run about 20 yards from the bank. Seconds before I stepped into the water, I saw two trout rise five feet in front of me. If I had not seen them, I would have sent them racing for cover when I walked through the little run where they were feeding.

Have I over-stated my point? Perhaps. But with so many prime places for trout to feed along the bank, it’s worth fishing that area before you think about setting foot in the water.

So, when all else fails, step away from the river.

My Favorite Fly Fishing Streamers

I love fly fishing with streamers. I suppose it reminds me of those days long, long ago when I fished Mepps spinners with an ultralight spincast rod and reel. Streamers also catch large trout — especially in the fall when brown trout are on the move. Mainly, though, I love the shock of a trout attacking the streamer as I retrieve it.

favorite fly fishing streamers

If you’re new to fly fishing (or fly fishing with streamers), the good news is that there are a few basic patterns which work consistently — from season to season and year to year.

Here are my top five favorites.

Woolly Bugger

The Woolly Bugger is the poster-child of streamers. I’ll bet I fish with one 85% of the time I fish with streamers.

The construction of this “fly” (if you can call it that) is simple. It’s basically a chenille body – with hackle wrapped through it — followed by a maribou tail. This pattern looks lively as it darts through the water.

I prefer garden variety colors—black, brown, and olive. The color combinations are endless, though.

For example, I tie my olive Woolly Buggers with black hackle and sometimes with black maribou. I’ve even used red chenille with sparkles along with black hackle and then black maribou with a couple strands of red crystal flash.

Fly fishers often refer to patterns like this as Crystal Buggers.

My preference for size is anywhere from 6 to 10, and I rarely fish a Woolly Bugger without a beadhead or conehead. Weight is important.

You can find more information on Woolly Buggers here: Know Your Pattern.

JJ Special

Technically, a JJ Special is a Woolly Bugger with a bit different color scheme.

But the pattern is so popular and unique that it deserves (in my opinion) its own entry. The JJ Special features a brown (chenille) body with gray hackle and yellow rubber legs. Then, the tail is brown over yellow maribou.

The brown and yellow color scheme makes the fly resemble (you guessed it) a young brown trout. This has been a go-to pattern for me when I’m fishing browns in the fall. Also, I am partial to the conehead version of this fly — although a beadhead will work just as well.

Muddler Minnow

To be honest, I rarely fish with Muddler Minnows. It’s not that they don’t work. They really do. It’s just that I do so well with Woolly Buggers and can tie them rather easily.

A Muddler Minnow imitates a minnow (surprise!) or a sculpin. Or, if you skim it on the surface of the water, it can imitate a floundering moth or mouse.

The head consists of spun deer hair. Some fly tyers enjoy the artistry of spinning hair. Others, like me, find it time consuming compared to slipping a conehead or a bead onto the hook! The other prominent feature is a wing and an underwing.

Zonker

This is another pattern I rarely use since a Woolly Bugger works so well. But the Zonker is a classic. It can be terrific on big rivers because it is a super-sized meal for large trout. A long strip of rabbit fur with the hide attached gives this fly its heft.

Dolly Llama

I don’t always fish with something the size of a 1957 Chevy Wagon. But when I do, I opt for the Dolly Llama (aka Dali Lama, aka Dalai Lama).

Like a Zonker, it uses a strip of rabbit fur attached to the hide. But this fly is long because it includes a second hook which is connected by wire to the first hook, trailing behind a couple inches.

This fly worked superbly a few years ago when I fished Alaska’s Clear Creek a few hundred yards upstream from where it emptied into the Talkeetnah River. I caught several 19-20 inch rainbows on a white Dolly Llama. To be honest, I haven’t used it in the big rivers in Montana (that’s why Woolly Buggers exist), but my friends in the Pacific Northwest like the Dolly Llama for steelhead.

You can’t go wrong with any of these patterns. Learn to fish them effectively and you’re bound to have a blast.

And if you haven’t yet listened to our episode with Dave Kumlien, fly fishing guide and streamer fisher extraordinaire, you can do so here: Catching More and Bigger Fish with Streamers.

The Truth about Trout Lies

If you want to catch trout, you need to know the truth about trout lies. I’m referring to the places where trout lie — as in “hang out and spend their time.”

trout lies

Gary Borger is the expert on this. In his book, Reading Waters, he defines a lie as the “place that the fish holds in the current.” Then, he identifies three basic categories of trout lies. Fly fishers who understand these will know where to look to find trout:

The Sheltering Lie

Trout need protection from predators.

According to Borger, these “sheltering lies” exist under something. This might be a place under the bank, under a rock, under a log, under deep water, or under vegetation. Typically, fish do not eat when they are in these places. Borger says they zip their mouths shut and hunker down until they feel it is safe to go out again.

The Feeding Lie

Trout, of course, need to eat.

They need protection from the currents in the river, yet they need those currents to bring food. So they will often lie in slower current, right at the edge of faster moving current. We refer to this spot as a “seam.” Borger notes that the slow current behind a rock or another obstruction is a great place for trout to feed.

One of the easiest ways to spot a feeding lie is to look for the line of bubbles which meander down the current.

This is the food line! It’s where insects drift through the current.

The Prime Lie

Fly fishers hit the jackpot whenever they fine a prime lie.

According to Borger, this is both a sheltering lie and a feeding lie rolled into one.

A classic example is an undercut bank. The bank itself provides protection from birds of prey. Yet, the current brings the food close to the bank. That’s why trout will dart out from under a bank to take your hopper pattern or even a tiny dry fly. Sometimes, you’ll find a prime lie in a deeper pool or in water under a foam patch. The key is to look for places which provide both cover and food.

Good fly fishers shouldn’t tell lies. But they should be able to spot them.

Surviving the Fly Fishing Off Season

fly fishing off season

My nephew texted me a few days ago to ask me about winter fly fishing. He said, “I’m not sure I want to wait until spring to fish!” The same day, I saw on Facebook that a guide-friend from New York state thanked his clients and fellow fishing guides for a spectacular season.

It reminded me that the fly fishing off-season is here — or almost here. I consider the off-season November through February. If you’re a fly fisher, what can you do to survive it?

1. Go fishing

Personally, I’m not a big fan of winter fly fishing.

One year when I lived in Montana, I caught trout on a fly rod every month. But after doing it to say that I did it, I rarely made it to the river in December and January.

Other than Midges, the hatches are minimal. Plus the temperatures are frigid most days.

Still, if you’re patient and content to catch fewer fish, you can do well in the winter on nymphs and even on the surface with Midge patterns (yes, a size #20 Parachute Adams will work). My podcast partner, Dave, and I had a fantastic February day last year on the Blue River (really, a small creek) in Wisconsin. The temperatures were in the high 50s, and the browns were hitting our nymphs.

If you live near brown trout fisheries, play close attention to when these waters close for the year.

For example, the fishing season in Yellowstone National Park runs through the first Sunday in November. If I still lived in Montana, I’d take a break from elk and deer hunting to make one last trip to fish the Gardner River for the “runners” that are heading to their spawning beds.

2. Reflect a bit

I’m convinced we (fly fishers) need to get better at this. We need to savor the moments we’ve had over our past year of fly fishing.

So go back through your photos to re-live your best fly fishing memories. Review your journal if you keep one. If you don’t keep a journal, grab a sheet of paper (or open a file on your word processor) and write down your top ten favorite memories from the past season.

The tendency to rush from one run on the river to the next one can carry over into rushing from one season to another.

Stopping to reflect a bit on the past year of fly fishing can provide a lot of satisfaction. It will also create anticipation for next season.

3. Get ready

Use the time from November through February to do what you can never find time to do during the prime months of fly fishing (March through October).

Tie some flies. Watch some You Tube videos on fly casting. Read The Fly Fisher’s Book of Lists (couldn’t resist). Go through your gear and take inventory. Re-organize your fly box. If you’re planning on purchasing a new rod or waders or whatever, the off season is a time to do some research—whether online or in your local fly shop.

It’s almost November, but March is coming! We will all survive the off-season (I think).

Photo credit: Jim Keena

Know Your Waters: Three Kinds of Rivers

When my son, Luke, played tight end for the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks, he played football on two kinds of surfaces. All his home games took place on artificial turf in an indoor stadium. He even played on red turf at Eastern Washington University on a field dubbed “the Inferno.” But when he traveled to the University of Northern Colorado, the game took place on a natural grass field.

three kinds of rivers

These two different kinds of surfaces — artificial turf and natural grass – required different kinds of cleats and different approaches.

This is true of the rivers you fly fish as well. While every place you fish is unique, you can group rivers into one of three kinds of rivers. The better you understand the characteristics of each type, the better you can make adjustments and set yourself up for success.

1. Freestone Rivers

Surface waters provide the main source of water for freestone rivers and streams.

This means rainfall and snow runoff.

Not surprisingly, then, freestone rivers rise and fall with the conditions. They can flood easily. When the spring temperatures warm and the snow melts, freestone rivers swell with water. This heavy water churns through the river or stream bed, displacing stones—hence the name “freestone.”

All this has a definite effect on fly fishing.

Of the three kinds of rivers, freestone streams may be the most volatile. Anglers must re-learn familiar stretches of river from year to year. A flood may scour out a larger undercut bank where large trout lie in wait for food. Alternatively, the same flood may deposit silt in a productive channel or run so that trout abandon it as a feeding lie.

Conditions can change rapidly, too.

I’ve had good fly fishing on Montana’s Yellowstone River one day, only to find it swollen the next day. In dry years, water levels drop, and water temperatures rise. This means staying off rivers when water temperatures creep into the high 60s. Fighting fish in such warm conditions endangers their lives.

One year, my podcast partner and I fished a creek that Dave and his brother had fished a couple years earlier with great success using hoppers. The stream is a smaller creek that flows into the Gallatin River. But the year Dave and I fished it, we could hardly find a run that was deep enough to fish. There was little snowfall the winter prior, and the creek was so low that the fish were bunched up in small pockets of water.

2. Spring Creeks

Since their main source of water is underground, spring creeks are more uniform in water level and temperature throughout the year. They typically flow through mineral-rich soil. This translates to significant aquatic plant growth which translates to an abundance of aquatic life (insects, scuds, crayfish, leeches, worms, etc.) which translates to a healthy fish population — both in terms of numbers and size.

The spring creeks I fish in the West and in the Midwest tend to have more silty areas than rocky areas. This makes for easier wading.

Spring creeks typically run crystal clear, so trout have the advantage.

When I used to fish Nelson’s Spring Creek south of Livingston, Montana, I found the trout to be more selective than spooky. These clear spring creeks have a few riffles, yet the runs tend to be gentle with slower current. Trout get a clear, long look at what you offer them. So fly size and tippet size matters.

In recent years, Dave, my podcast partner and I, have fished more spring creeks than freestones, given that we both now live in the Midwest. I’ve come to appreciate the more technical chops needed to catch fish in a spring creek.

3. Tailwaters

A tailwater is essentially the river or creek that flows out of a reservoir or lake created by a dam. These, these fisheries resemble spring creeks with their even flow. Because water is often released at the bottom of a dam where it is cooler and where the sediment is rich with nutrients, tailwaters can produce some large fish.

Tailwaters are often a bit off-color, so the fish tend to be less spooky.

I have been able to sneak up a lot closer to feeding fish in the Owyhee River in eastern Oregon — a fine tailwater full of brown trout—because it is slightly off color on most days. Like spring creeks, tailwaters resist the volatile swings that weather conditions create on freestone rivers. Conditions are more likely to change from of a discharge from a dam than from a snow runoff or a heavy rainfall.

So the next time you head to the river, identify its type. A little bit of understanding can go a long way towards success. All three kinds of rivers have their challenges, but all three are fun to fly fish.

5 Lessons from a Day Fishing Quake Lake

I recently fulfilled a long-time dream. I fished Quake Lake near Yellowstone National Park. A 1959 earthquake split off a chunk of mountain, and the 80-million ton landslide into Montana’s Madison River created a natural dam. The lake behind it, which backs up almost to Hebgen Lake, stretches 6 miles long and reaches depths of 190 feet. Fishing Quake Lake is something I can now check off my bucket list.

fishing Quake Lake

For years, I’ve heard about some of the large trout that lurk in Quake Lake. Finally, on a recent mid-September morning, my podcast partner, Dave, and I got our opportunity to fish its upper reaches. Here are a few takeaways — reminders or lessons — from that memorable day.

1. The early bird gets the worm

That is, the early bird gets the worthwhile spot.

We hired a guide to take us to a productive area near Quake Lake’s inlet. Shortly after dawn, we boarded a drift boat equipped with small trolling motor. We arrived first, so we had our pick of spots. Later in the morning, we could see a half dozen other drift boats in the surrounding waters.

It reminded me how important it is to arrive early if you want your choice of places to fish.

2. There is a haunting beauty unique to each fishery.

Perhaps the final line in Norman Maclean’s novella, A River Runs Through It, suffers from overuse.

But it’s true: “I am haunted by waters.”

Each river or lake has its own mystique. It’s hard to describe the eerie beauty of Quake Lake at dawn, with patches of fog on the water, clouds of Midges and Tricos fluttering in the air, and the ghost-like remains of tall trees poking up through the water’s surface.

3. It’s pure joy when you catch a trout you’ve hunted

The first fish I caught in the morning was a 17-inch rainbow. I saw it feeding while we were hunting for larger fish in a couple of feeding lanes. I tossed a size #20 Midge pattern a few yards above it and let the current take it above the trout’s nose. I expected the strike and set the hook at the right time.

Yet it still startled me.

This sensation is why I love dry fly fishing.

4. Soft landings work best

Lest my previous point give the impression that I’m a master fly fisher, I will quickly confess that I missed my share of fish on Quake Lake that day. I missed some strikes, made a few errant casts, and spooked a couple of fish when my casts thumped the surface of the water.

I had to remind myself to pull up my rod tip slightly on my forward cast to stop the forward thrust of the line. This makes the line go limp and then fall gently to the surface.

5. Sometimes it’s not your fault if you’re not catching fish

We caught some beauties during our day on Quake Lake — both on dry flies and later on nymphs. But it was a fairly average day of fly fishing.

At times I wondered how many more fish I would have caught if I was a better fly fisher.

At one point, one of us asked our guide: “What are we doing wrong?”

Our guide, who freely speaks his mind and offers blunt criticism when appropriate, replied: “Nothing. Sometimes it’s not your fault if you’re not catching fish.”

He explained that he has fished Quake Lake enough to know the difference between a day when the trout are feeding sporadically and they are in a feeding frenzy.

Our day was the former type. That’s simply how fly fishing works—or doesn’t work. We had a satisfying day, and between sporadic success and the mystique of Quake Lake, it’s a day that I’ll remember for a long time.

What a Fly Fisher Saw One Fall Day in Yellowstone

You never know what you will see during a fall day in Yellowstone. Here are 9 sights from a memorable day of fishing in Yellowstone National Park:

fall day in Yellowstone

1. A bull elk bugling at Mammoth

Even though this huge herd bull and his harem were occupying a manicured Park Service lawn, his raspy bugle reminded me of the days when my dad and I hunted elk during archery season about 35 miles north of Yellowstone National Park.

An elk’s bugle is one of the most stunning sounds in nature.

2. A tourist trying to coax a deer to eat an apple

No kidding. A tourist with a camera in one hand and an apple in the other outstretched hand had a mule deer doe within twenty yards. Apparently, the font size on the “Don’t feed the wildlife” sign at the park entrance wasn’t large enough for this tourist to see.

3. A grizzly track on the bank of the Yellowstone River

I felt a chill go down my spine when I spotted this track right along the river. At this point, my fishing partner and I were on a remote stretch of the Yellowstone about 3.5 miles from our trailhead. We both checked the position of our bear spray canisters on our belts.

4. Healthy cutthroat trout

We both caught some fat, colorful Yellowstone Cutthroat trout. They were all 14-17 inches with football-shaped bodies. I caught them on hoppers, terrestrials, and streamers. The fishing was solid. We each landed 8-10 cutts.

I’ve had days where I’ve caught more on this stretch of river. But it was still a satisfying day.

5. My fishing partner sliding off of a rock into the river

Since we had such a long hike (see below), we decided not to wear waders. We opted for hiking books and nylon pants. We knew from prior trips that wading the stretch of river we planned to fish was not essential.

At one point, though, my fishing partner was crouched on a rock fighting a fish when his feet slipped and he slide into the water. He got wet but was never in danger.

I may or may not have laughed.

Also, I will not confirm whether or not this fly fisher was my podcast partner, Dave.

6. A bull bison blocking our trail on the way out

On our return, we climbed to the top of a small plateau and instantly spotted a brown animal on the trail in front of us.

My first thought was “Grizzly!”

As I reached for my canister of bear spray, I realized a bull bison was lying down on the game grail in front of us. We made a wide circle and left the bull undisturbed. He stood up to face us and confirm we were leaving.

But he didn’t make any hostile advances (unlike the bull bison we encountered a few years before on the same trail).

7. My Fitbit watch showing 22,324 steps

At the end of the day, I felt like I had hiked 8 miles. But my Fitbit showed 22,324 steps and calculated the distance as 10.4 miles.

My response was “10-4, good buddy!”

8. An elderly couple struggling to stand on a retaining wall above Tower Fall

I saw this right after leaving the Tower Fall parking area. Their view was stunning. But so was the drop-off below them. I shuddered when I thought about how many people in Yellowstone have fallen to their deaths.

9. A wrecker pulling a jeep up a steep bank

The final “sight” which impressed me was a wrecker pulling a Jeep Wrangler up a bank. The driver had obviously driven off the road—whether by swerving or simply veering off the edge where there was no shoulder. Thankfully, the bank was not steep or the driver would not have survived.

So what should I make of what I saw?

I’m not sure I learned anything new. Still, what I saw on that fine fall day reinforced some long-held convictions:

    The sights and sounds of a fall day Yellowstone are stunning. Aspen leaves burst with color, and the bugles of herd bulls and satellite bulls pierce the morning air. It’s hard to beat mid-September.

    It is wise to carry bear spray.

    It’s better to share the experience with a friend than to be alone — especially when your friend provides a bit of entertainment.

    Fall tourists are no smarter than summer tourists.

    There is a new vista and a new danger around every bend in the road or trail.

    Mid-September is simply an awesome time for a fall day in Yellowstone.

5 Facts about Midges Every Fly Fisher Should Know

Midges account for about half of a trout’s diet. Plus, they are about the only hatching insect available to trout during the winter. So here are five facts about midges that you need to know if you are going to fish midge patterns effectively.

facts about midges

1. Midges in rivers and streams are tiny.

According to fly fishing author Dave Hughes, the average size for midges in moving water is around size 20.

A size 16 is a big one, and some midges get as small as 24 or 26. This is why I typically stick with midge patterns in the size 18-20 range for nymphs and in the size 20 range for dry flies.

2. Midges have up to five generations per year.

This means you can fish midge patterns all year.

Fly fishing expert Jim Schollmeyer claims that trout often feed selectively on midge larvae in heavily fished streams even when other insects are hatching. However, trout feed most heavily on midges from late fall to early spring when there are few other insect hatches. This explains why you must fish midges if you’re on the western rivers in February.

3. Trout eat midge larvae constantly

Trout are more selective when feeding on midges in their pupal and adult stages. Yet they constantly feed on midge larvae in moving water. That’s why I always have a handful of beadhead Brassie or Zebra midge patterns (both nymphs) in my fly box.

4. Midges cluster on the surface

Mating midges will form clusters on the surface of the water as groups of males gather around single females.

In my experience on Montana rivers, this happens especially during late winter and early spring. What dry fly patterns work best?

A Griffiths Knat is a great pattern to imitate clusters of midges, although I’ve used a Parachute Adams with success on Montana’s Lower Madison during the winter.

5. Spent midges end up in slow water

Have you ever noticed trout sipping on tiny black dead bugs in a pool or eddy (slower water behind an obstruction) at the river’s edge? These trout are feeding on spent females that have laid their eggs and have been swept downstream.

Some anglers like a CDC Biot Midge, although a Renegade or Parachute Adams usually works for me.

It seems like Mayflies and Caddisflies get all the press. But don’t head for the river without some tiny midge patterns — especially if you fly fish during the winter.

Two Weeks before Your Fly Fishing Trip

I am currently in preparation mode for a fly fishing trip. Dave, my podcast partner, and I are leaving in a few days for the West. Last week, I shared some tips for planning a fly fishing trip to a specific region—the area in and around Yellowstone National Park. In this post, I want to zero in on what I do to get ready for a trip two weeks in advance, what to do before your fly fishing trip.

before your next fly fishing trip

This is about preparation, not planning. Here are three simple ways I prepare:

1. I ramp up my workouts

I usually make it to a local workout facility about three times a week.

But when I’m two weeks away from a trip, I ramp up both the frequency and the intensity of my workouts. I take some longer walks on days when I’m not doing my lifting and elliptical regimen.

Yesterday was too nice to work out inside, so I rode my mountain bike on the Des Plaines River trail and stopped to run up a long sledding hill a couple times. On my way back, I paused to look at the muddy Des Plaines River and reflect on how I’ll see clear water in a few days! I make sure, of course, not to overdo it. I intentionally do not work out on the two days before I leave for a trip.

We have a hard hike planned for day one of our trip, so I want to give my body time to rest and recover from my intense workouts.

2. I read some “pump up” material

When my son played college football, he had his air buds in several hours before a game to get pumped up and ready to hit the field.

Honestly, I haven’t found any tunes that seem to fit a fly fishing trip. Suggestions, anyone?

Maybe John Denver’s American Child would work if I was “going up to Alaska” to fly fish. But it seems like overkill to jam to Taio Cruz’s Dynamite or one of U2’s more raucous hits.

So I read a good fly fishing book. It may not make the adrenalin run, but it does stir my sense of anticipation. Since I’m headed to the West, I’ve been re-reading Yellowstone Runners by Chester Allen—a memoir about three weeks of fishing the wild trout that migrate from Hebgen Lake into the Madison River.

Of course, any good fly fishing book will do.

3. I take inventory of my gear

This seems obvious. But if I start doing this two weeks in advance rather than the night before, I end up being a lot more prepared.

My fly boxes need re-organizing, and I need to figure out if I have enough tippet material, dry fly dressing, and first aid kit ingredients. I make sure my rods are and reels are ready to go. I also set aside some of the little items that can easily be left behind — neck gaiter, thermometer, headlamp, and plastic bags (for wallets and keys on days I wet wade).

Then I remember to look for my favorite hat and favorite fly fishing shirt. How can I expect to enjoy the trip if I forget them?!

T-minus two weeks. What will you do to get ready for your next trip?