Until a decade ago, I never took a fly fishing trip. It wasn’t necessary. I lived in the northern reaches of Montana’s Gallatin Valley. My favorite spot on the East Gallatin River was a half mile from my house. My favorite spots on the Yellowstone and Madison Rivers were less than an hour away.
Then I moved to the north suburbs of Chicago. Suddenly, the East Gallatin was 1,450 miles from my house. Even the spring creeks in the Driftless – southwest Wisconsin and southeast Minnesota – take three to six hours to reach. So now I do trips—from two to five days.
Over the past decade, I’ve learned what it takes to have a fantastic experience. Here are four best practices for making the most of your next fly fishing trip.
1. Plan for Prime Time
If your schedule allows, plan your trips during “prime time.”
In the Driftless, this is April and May. The creeks are full of water, and the dry fly fishing can be terrific. When I plan for a trip to Montana or Wyoming, I set my sights on April (when the rainbows are spawning), August (when trout feed on hoppers), or on October (when the browns are spawning).
I love July. But so does everybody else.
Also, as much as possible, I like to fish during the week rather than the weekend. This requires me to use some vacation days. But this allows me to avoid the weekends when the rivers get pounded.
2. Hire a Guide for a Day
Go ahead and splurge. Find ways to set aside the cash you need to make this happen.
My podcast partner, Dave, and I split the cost to make it more affordable. The benefits really outweigh the cost. You’ll sharpen your fly fishing skills, but you’ll also gain “intel.” We’ve often returned a couple days later to wade stretches we’ve floated or waded with a guide. Last fall, we hired a guide to take us on a small river in Wyoming we had never fished. Dave and I each caught twenty plus fish in a half a day. Two days later, we went back on our own and each caught thirty plus fish in the same amount of time.
Besides, unless you have access to a drift boat (and have the skills needed to row one), it’s the only way to float some of the notable stretches of the blue ribbon waters in the western states.
3. Build in Margins
I learned this one the hard way. On some of my early trips, I treated every day like the remaining drops of a chocolate milkshake. I needed to suck out and savor every last bit. But the more I tried to squeeze the most out of every day, the more I felt drained by day four or five.
Now, I’ll plan for a lighter day after a long day of driving and/or hiking. Whenever Dave and I make a six-mile round trip to a remote spot of the Yellowstone River, we try to get a later start the following day. Or we will quit earlier.
The point is, take time for a nice meal, or an afternoon nap, or browsing in a fly shop, or a visit to a historic site. Sometimes, fishing a little bit less results in more satisfaction.
4. Create Backup Options
The windows for superb fishing open and close without much advance notice. You can have great fishing one day, and then the barometric pressure drops overnight or the river rises or a heavy spring storm dumps a foot of snow.
You never know when you need another option.
Last fall, we weren’t sure we were going to be able to fish a fine river in Wyoming. The river had been a bit off-color. But it was crystal clear the day we wanted to fly fish. Still, we had a backup plan — a high mountain lake nearby that had been fishing well. We were ready to go with “Plan B” if our original plans were thwarted by weather or crowded conditions.