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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Fly fishing trips to the Greater Yellowstone area in Montana or Wyoming are not cheap. I’ve made not a few fly fishing trips to the Greater Yellowstone area. And I’ve assembled a few tips that come from a decade of making annual trips from the Midwest to the West, as well as from the two decades I lived and fly fished near Bozeman, Montana.
I suspect these tips will apply — at least to some extent – to other regions in United States. But they relate specifically to fly fishing in and around Yellowstone National Park.
1. Go in the Fall or Spring
If summer is your best or only option for a trip, you can have a great time. But there are a couple reasons for planning a fall or spring trip.
First, you will avoid the crush of tourists and crowded rivers which come with summer. Second, you can fish “runners”—the fish headed up-river either to spawn or to wait below spawning beds for eggs which drift down the current. If you’re new to fishing, rainbows spawn in the spring, while brown trout spawn in the fall.
You can even catch the tail end of grasshopper season if you go early in September.
I should also point out that fall flights, vehicle rentals, and hotel rooms or cabins are cheaper during the off-season.
2. Choose a Fly Shop
Fly fishing success depends on knowing where to fish and what fly patterns to use. The best information you will get comes from the staff at a fly shop. I recommend visiting a handful of local fly shops on your first trip. Then pick one and build a relationship with the fly shop owners. The advice is free, yet you may get even more helpful intel if you are a paying customer year after year. So buy your leaders or next pair of waders at the same shop once you find one you like.
3. Book a Guided Trip
I can’t over-emphasize how much you will learn and how much intel you will gather when you hire a guide for the day—or for a half-day. You might be able to go back again and fish the same stretch of river on your own. Some fly fishing guides have even encouraged me to do this. But it’s a courtesy to ask a guide if he or she will take clients on this stretch another day. If so, ask about some other places you might try.
Splitting the coast with a friend always makes sense. Drift boats are set up for two fly fishers anyway. Also, the custom is to tip 15-20%. If you can split the cost with a friend, a day in a drift boat or wading with a guide will be worth every penny.
4. Create a Sustainable Schedule
When Dave, my podcast partner, and I fly to Montana for a 4-day or 5-day trip, we fish every day. However, we’ve learned to pace ourselves. We act like we are in our mid-30s, at least for day one. Then, reality hits. We are both in our mid-50s. So if our Fitbits tell us we have hiked 8 miles during a day of fly fishing, then we might get a later start the next day. Or, we might follow a more strenuous wade trip with a float trip
Also, build in a bit of down-time. If you hit the river at the crack of dawn, take time for a nice mid-day lunch. Or stop early to get dinner at a popular steakhouse before it gets crowded.
Enjoy the drive along the river or through Yellowstone National Park.
5. Keep the Last Day or Two Free
It took us a few years to figure out this tip. We sometimes wished we had an extra day to return to the hotspot we stumbled into on day one. Now we build a “flex day” or two into our schedule to make this possible. Where we go on day four or day five depends on where we had the best success. This means you are better off scheduling your guided trips earlier in the week.
Fly fishing trips cost time and money. So do your best to make the most of them. These simple tips will help.
Stupid is as stupid does. Forest Gump, a fly fisher, said that. At least we assume Gump was a fly fisher, because fly fishers can do a lot of stupid stuff. Well, at least my podcast partner, Dave, and I can. We’ve had a few forgettable fly rod moments.
Here is a list of some of our worst fly rod moments. We’ve discussed these in various episodes. But perhaps a list of them can function as a public service announcement to be more careful with that expensive instrument without which you cannot fly fish.
1. The time Steve left his fly rod on the top of the SUV
Dave and I were hiking into Fan Creek in Yellowstone National Park when we stopped to share the narrow trail with some approaching hikers. At that moment, I noticed my fly rod was not in my hand. I thought I dropped it, then realized I left it on the top of our SUV in the parking lot! I hiked out a half mile and retrieved it (thankfully, it was still there).
Meanwhile, Dave waited patiently (I think) while a fly fisher passed us and took the very spot we were hoping to fish.
2. The time Dave left his fly rod on the top of the SUV
It gets worse.
One spring, we were fishing between Quake Lake and Hebgen Lake on Montana’s Madison River. Halfway back to my house near Belgrade, Montana, Dave realized he forgot to take his fly rod off the top of my Toyota truck and put it in the cab. I pulled into a turnout, and we checked the roof. But the rod was long gone.
Yet every cloud has its silver lining. The rod Dave lost was a cheaper one, forcing him to buy a higher end rod. Do you suppose that Dave intentionally … ?
No, let’s not go there.
3. The time Steve broke his fly rod
It was a dark and stormy night.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the sense to turn on the light when I walked into our “mud room” (as Montanans call it) to grab something from my fly tying bench. As I approached the bench, I felt something under my shoe and then heard a sickening crack.
I shuddered as I remembered that I left my fly rod leaning against my bench to dry off after an afternoon of fishing.
Thankfully, the Orvis rod guarantee covers those “stupid is as stupid does” moments, and I got it fixed for a minimal fee.
4. The time Dave broke his fly rod
Do you see a pattern here?
What one does, the other does. Awhile after I broke my Orvis rod, Dave broke his (yes, the one he purchased after losing the first one off the top of my truck). We were scrambling up a cliff above the Yellowstone River in Yellowstone National Park when Dave snapped the tip off of his rod on some brush. I have to say that he did a pretty good job the rest of the day casting hoppers without a rod tip.
In fact, he caught so many cutthroat trout that I suggested he always break off his rod tip for good luck on our way to river. Sadly, Dave hasn’t embraced my suggestion.
5. The time Steve dropped his fly rod tip section in the river
But this one was, well, plain stupid. My son, Luke, and I had just finished a good day on the Owyhee River — an excellent tailwater in eastern Oregon. As Luke waded towards me from the opposite bank, I began taking fly rod apart to put it back in its rod tube. Suddenly, the top half of the fly rod slipped through my fingers and into the river.
No worries, though. The run below the bank was only three feet deep, and surely the rod tip would float. To make a longer search story short, we never found it — even after Luke went into scuba diving mode without a mask or tank.
Once again, Orvis came to my rescue! They honored their rod guarantee and replaced the tip section (actually, it appeared to be a brand new rod).
6. The time Dave broke a guide’s expensive fly rod
Alert readers will notice a break in the pattern. Dave didn’t do anything as stupid as losing part of his fly rod in the river.
No, he only snapped in half a guide’s brand new Orvis H2 (their most expensive rod at the time).
In defense of Dave, he had reeled in a large rainbow to the boat when we were fishing the Lower Madison River. As the guide lowered his net, the trout suddenly darted under the boat. Before Dave could react, the rod snapped in two as the trout bent it over the boat’s starboard sidewall.
The guide coughed slightly, turning his head for a moment, and then proceeded to act as it was all part of a wonderful day on the river.
This would not be a public service announcement without identifying a few lessons we’ve learned about protecting our fly rods. Ready?
Turn on the light and watch your step when you are in fly rod country.
Check the top of your SUV before you leave the parking lot—unless you want to upgrade to a more expensive rod. (Why not avoid placing your fly rod on the top of your SUB or truck altogether? Because it’s a safe spot free from the crunch of car doors and the boots of people who don’t watch where they step.)
Step away from the river when you disassemble your fly rod.
And, for goodness sake, don’t let a trout dart under your drift boat. Or, to be on the safe side, don’t ask to try out the guide’s newest, most expensive fly rod.
What is the best time of day to fish? After fly fishing for more than four decades, I’m rather adamant about my answer. I’ll stand by it no matter what any other fly fisher says.
My answer is: it depends.
Yes, the best time of day to fly fish depends on time of year, weather, water conditions, and the unique characteristics of each local stream or river. The best way to determine the best time to fly fish a particular stream or river on this day under these conditions is to gather intel from a local fly shop or from some successful anglers.
Or, you can experiment yourself.
For years I avoided the early morning.
I loved dry fly fishing so much that I preferred waiting until mid-day (see below). But a couple weeks ago, on a day when I was prepared to spend my early morning hours on the front porch of my cabin on Montana’s Boulder River, my son, Luke, reported that he was catching some nice rainbows on Caddis flies at about 7:30 a.m. — right about the time the sun peeked over the mountain to the east and flooded the river with light.
For nymphs and streamers, early morning typically works well all the time. This is a no-brainer on the Lower Madison River in Montana during the dog days of summer. By mid to late morning, the river temperature creeps into the high 60s, and fighting a fish under such conditions can be lethal (for the fish).
However, early morning also works well on cooler—or downright cold—days in the fall and spring. A couple falls ago, Dave (my podcast partner) and I started catching trout after trout on the Gardner River in the northern reaches of Yellowstone National Park as soon as it was legal to begin fly fishing. (Hours are daily from sunrise to sunset.)
We were using nymphs. These trout were feisty, not sluggish, even at 7:30 a.m. The following spring, we tied into big rainbows on the Missouri River near Helena, Montana as soon as it was light enough to see and to sling and strip streamers.
Lesson: Get up early if you’re fishing with nymphs or streamers. But don’t take the early morning for granted when it comes to dry fly fishing. Check a fly fishing report for your river online. Or, better yet, visit the river in person to see if there are any early morning insect hatches.
The prime window for dry fly fishing is 10 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Or 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Or 11:00 to 1:00 p.m.
Or even 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.
You get the idea. There is a prime window for dry fly hatches. The time will vary, though, from region to region — and even river to river.
For example, Tricos on the East Gallatin River north of Bozeman can start as early as 9:00 a.m. and finish by 11:00 a.m. But Blue-Winged Olives (BWOs) and Pale Morning Duns (PMDs) will wait to appear on the East Gallatin until about 11:00 a.m. regardless of the season. At least that was the case more than a decade ago.
Recently, a listener posted a comment about a fly shop near Big Sky, Montana, told him to focus on “bankers’ hours” — 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. — rather than early or late in the day. Yet a few more miles to the south, the best chance for summer anglers to catch trout on the Madison River just inside Yellowstone National Park is late in the evening when a final wave of Caddis flies show up.
I’ve typically had good success with nymphs or streamers during the middle of the day — particularly if nothing is happening on the surface. Yet, I’ve also had some summer days when the middle of the day is best spent taking a nap because that’s what the trout seem to be doing.
Lesson: Think mid-day, but find out from a fly shop or the local experts exactly when to expect a particular hatch to begin and end.
Late Afternoon and Early Evening
Fly fishers often speak glowingly about the “evening rise.”
I remember a terrific late afternoon and early evening on a little stream in the Black Hills of South Dakota many moons ago. The water seemed to boil as trout slurped insects off of the surface.
One of my best days on a little stream in the Wisconsin Driftless (near Timber Coulee) happened when the day was about done. A half hour before sunset, both Crane flies and Blue Winged Olives (BWOs) started emerging, and the trout did too.
Yet I’ve had mixed success during evenings on the same stretch of the Yellowstone River south of Livingston, Montana. Some evenings were gold; others were coal.
Lesson: Keep the evening rise in mind, but remember that it might be hit or miss. Again, you’ll need good intel — whether you get that from your own “trial and error” or pick it up at a fly shop.
It is common knowledge that the best time to catch large browns is after dark. Stripping streamers or “mousing” (stripping a large mouse pattern on the surface) can lead to a violent-but-satisfying strike. I’ve even caught brown trout in the Colorado high country on a size #20 Parachute Adams when it was so dark I could not even see the fly’s white post. In northern Michigan, fly fishers float the Au Sauble River and catch some of their largest trout between 10:00 p.m. and midnight.
Lesson: If you really want to have some fun, plan an after-dark night of fly fishing. But make sure you know what you’re doing! Dangers seem to be magnified after dark.
Too bad trout are not brand-savvy; I’d have more reasons to buy more gear and a pair of Simms pants. No, it’s not about the brand. Dressing for success on the river is all about staying comfortable and healthy.
So here are some essentials to wear to the river:
1. A long-sleeved polyester shirt
I always start with this, whether the air temperature is 40 degrees or 90 degrees.
Why polyester (or some other kind of micro-fiber)?
I want a shirt that wicks moisture away from my body and offers sun protection. I wear long sleeves even on a hot day. I want to avoid the short-term (sunburn) and long-term (skin cancer) effects of the sun’s rays. A long-sleeved shirt also offers protection against mosquitoes.
Now what about a fly-fishing shirt?
Sure, these shirts look cool (and they are cool in the summer). I often wear one over my long-sleeved polyester shirt. A fly fishing shirt is the next layer you want to add to your upper body.
Of course, if you like pockets, a fly-fishing shirt is a fine alternative to a long-sleeved polyester shirt—even on a warm summer day. Simply wear it over a short-sleeved tee-shirt, preferably a polyester one which wicks away moisture.
However, a fly fishing shirt is not indispensable. I sometimes wear a cotton-polyester blend dress shirt that feels as comfortable as any of the fly fishing shirts I own. It’s light-weight, stretchy, and it cost me less than my fly-fishing shirts.
Whatever else you wear over it, start with a long-sleeved polyester shirt. It won’t let you down.
2. Nylon pants
Nylon pants are light-weight, so they dry out more quickly when than jeans and feel less waterlogged. They fit better under waders, too. If the weather turns cold, I’ll wear a pair of long johns under them. Layering is the key rather than a bulky pair of jeans or heavy pants.
Even when I wet-wade, I prefer long pants to a pair of nylon shorts. You can probably guess why — skin protection from the sun and from mosquitoes. The only time I opt for nylon shorts is when I plan to wear my chest-waders or waist-waders on a warm day. You can also purchase nylon pants with removable pant legs. This lets you choose instantly between long pants or shorts. But I don’t like these because the zippers tend to irritate my legs.
I’m not as picky about brand or quality as I am about a long-sleeved shirt. Don’t be fooled by descriptors like “guide pants” or “insect-shield pants.” Nylon pants are nylon pants. I buy the marked-down pair or the off-brand pair at the big box outdoor stores (Bass Pro, Cabela’s, REI, etc.).
3. Neck gaiter
Don’t overlook this little item!
A neck gaiter provides your neck with the same protection from the sun and insects that a shirt does for your arms. Besides, I’ve used one on cool, windy days to keep my face warm.
My neck gaiter is rather bland with its light-tan color. But a lot of fly shops sell these with more colorful fabric which has the same patterns as the body of your favorite species of trout.
Studies have shown that neck gaiters which look like the trout you’re trying to catch — cutthroat, for example — will increase your catch rate by about 23%.
Alight, I’m just kidding. But studies have shown (I think) that you’ll pay more for a neck gaiter in your local fly shop than at an outlet store.
Remember, trout don’t give you style points when it comes to what you wear — although your fly-fishing companions might. Whether it’s bland or colorful, don’t leave home without a neck gaiter.
4. Moisture-shedding hat
I used to wear a blue St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap (the kind the Redbirds used for away games). It was comfortable, but it was made out of cotton. Whenever it rained, it got water-logged. I did have the sense, though, to wear a wool cap (made by Woolrich) on cooler, rainy days. It handled the moisture fine.
Now, I wear either a Simms GORE-TEX lightweight cap on summer days or a Simms GORE-TEX fleece-insulated hat with flaps to cover my ears on colder days. I hope more fly fishing cap manufacturers will offer some with GORE-TEX. The stuff is amazing.
There are other features in a hat you might consider, too. Some fly fishers like hats with a bill all around them (such as a cowboy hat or a sombrero hat) for more sun protection. Others prefer a cap with a long brim and a cape to cover one’s neck and ears (an alternative to a neck gaiter).
There are a lot of options. The key is to choose a hat which is comfortable, sheds moisture, keeps you warm or cool (depending on the conditions), and provides ample protection from the sun. Plus, it shouldn’t cost as much as your fly reel.
5. Lightweight rain jacket
Prepare to spend the money you save on your hat or neck gaiter on a rain jacket. This is an essential, although I don’t wear it unless it’s cool or rainy. Instead, I stuff it into my fly fishing vest.
I have an older, no-frills Simms lightweight rain jacket that is no bulkier than a fly fishing shirt. It has been a life-saver on sunny days when a rain-shower seems to come out of nowhere. It also provides an extra layer of warmth on a cool morning or evening.
Successful fly fishers dress for success. You don’t need to spend a lot of money. Nor do you need to look like a model on a fly fishing website. Just make sure you dress for comfort and protection.
I like to travel light. For a long hike into the river, I’ve always preferred my small Brodin net. It’s so light I hardly know it’s attached to my fly vest. Besides, it’s compact enough that it rarely gets caught in brush and snaps back at me.
Yet, I’m gradually changing my mind and carrying my Fishpond Nomad Emerger. It’s a larger net with a bigger basket and a longer handle. There are three reasons why bigger may be better when it comes to nets:
1. A bigger basket makes it easier to land a larger fish
The principle here can be illustrated by shooting a basketball into a regulation-sized hoop and one with the circumference of a bushel basket.
Bigger makes easier.
If you’re trying to land a trout quickly, it will still have a lot of energy when you bring it to the net. It will likely dart one way or another. So a larger net increases the odds that you’ll scoop it up the first time. With a smaller net, there is less margin of error—especially when you’re trying to land a 20-inch trout!
For example, my smaller hand net has a basket that is 13.5 inches long and 8 inches wide. By contrast, the basket on my Fishpond Nomad Emerger is 19 inches long and 9.5 inches wide. This gives me a significant advantage when trying to net a fish.
2. A longer handle makes it easier to reach a larger fish
The larger the fish, the longer the reach you need.
It’s tough to maneuver a trout close enough to scoop it up with a short-handled net. But a longer handled-net makes the job easier. For comparison, my small hand-held net has an 7-inch handle, while my larger one has an 13-inch handle.
A longer handle also gives me more space when I’m trying to land a trout on the end of my buddy’s line. I hate crowding my fly fishing friends when trying to land their fish.
I still remember the time my son was fighting a 20-inch (or so) brown, and it circled around me, wrapping the line around my leg and snapping it off when I moved in to net it. A longer handled net would have given me more distance and time to prevent that from happening.
3. The weight of a bigger net is negligible due to technology
The frame of newer nets consists of composite materials like carbon fiber and fiberglass. That’s the case with my Fishpond Nomad Emerger. The composite materials make the frame both lightweight and durable.
But what about bulk?
Surprisingly, I don’t snag it that often on brush and tree branches when I’m walking along the river. Its design is still fairly sleek.
Also, I suspect that a larger net makes me pay closer attention to potential snags, which I tend to forget when I’m carrying a smaller net. Whatever the case, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the feel of my larger net.
When it’s clipped to the back of my fly fishing vest, I don’t notice any it any more than my smaller one. Bigger may really be better.
We have talked ad nauseam about some of the obvious dangers while on the river on our podcast: lightning, venomous snakes, drowning, and grizzly bears. But there are other hidden dangers for summer fly fishers to consider:
1. Livestock and (big) game on the road
Perhaps the most dangerous part of your fishing trip is the drive to and from the river. This is especially true if you’re driving early in the morning or late in the evening.
A few years ago, legendary basketball coach Bobby Knight totaled his SUV when he hit a cow while driving at night after fly fishing a Wyoming river. Dave, my podcast partner and I fished the same river the next day. On our drive to the river, we noticed that it was open range. We saw several mule deer, too, at dusk.
Just the other day while in Rocky Mountain National Park, Dave came up on a five-point bull elk as he rounded a curve from the Fall River to Estes Park. Fortunately, Dave wasn’t on his phone, or its velvet-covered antlers may have adorned the small truck he was driving.
Stay alert even while you’re driving and dreaming about the fish you’re going to catch – or fretting over the strikes you missed.
One of our listeners just informed us about a fly fisher in Wisconsin who ended up with Lyme Disease as a result of a tick. According to the CDC, Lyme disease is “transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans.”
Our listener suggested we reconsider our habit of wet wading on a hot summer day. Perhaps chest waders are the way to go for protection against ticks.
At the very least, use insect repellent, and wear long sleeves and pants. Some of the light Dri-Fit products make long sleeves and long pants bearable even when the temperatures creep into the 90s. Whatever you wear, check yourself carefully at the end of the day for ticks.
3. Sun burn and dehydradation
The sun is your friend. But it is also your enemy if you don’t take the proper precautions. Skin cancer is a serious concern. So, either use sun screen or cover up. I prefer the latter. As suggested above, go with long sleeves and long pants. Use a neck gator or a hat which provides more coverage than a ball-cap does. You might try a cowboy hat. Yes, you’re allowed to wear a cowboy hat even if you don’t own spurs and wouldn’t know what to do on a good cutting horse!
Also, summer heat means you need to drink more water than you think you do. According to Mayo Clinic, “Dehydration occurs when you use or lose more fluid than you take in, and your body doesn’t have enough water and other fluids to carry out its normal functions. If you don’t replace lost fluids, you will get dehydrated.”
So it’s worth the extra weight in your fly vest or pack to include an extra bottle of water. That weight will disappear soon enough. For longer hikes to the river, you might consider water purification tablets or a bottle with a built-in water purification system.
I also drink as much water as I can before starting out on the hike.
4. Food poisoning
Huh? Yes, think twice before packing a chicken salad sandwich or anything else with mayonnaise. By the time you pull out your sandwich for lunch, the heat may have spoiled it.
If you can’t eat a turkey or beef sandwich without mayo, then include some packets of mayo (from a fast food restaurant) in your lunch. Your stomach will be glad you waited to smear on the mayo.