Tips for Fly Fishing Trips to the Greater Yellowstone Area

fly fishing trips to the greater yellowstone area

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.

S3:E28 Living in Fly Fishing Exile

fly fishing podcast safe wading yellowstone runners fly fishing lessons hopper season animal season fishing Rocky Mountain National Park

Fly fishing exile is when you wished you lived closer to the big rivers. Steve moved from Bozeman, Montana, to the Chicago area more than ten years ago. And Dave moved from Colorado to the Chicago area more than 25 years ago. We’ve grieved the loss of close proximity to blue-ribbon waters. Now, we’re not griping. We’re not complaining. Well, maybe a little. In this episode, we reflect a bit on our decision to move to the Midwest and discuss what we love most about our lives today, now that we live with ten million of our closest friends in the Chicago area.

Listen now to “Living in Fly Fishing Exile”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” It’s the last segment of each episode, where Steve reads one of the comments from our listeners or readers. We enjoy hearing from you, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experiences.

How close to you live to great fly fishing waters? How far do you drive to sate your fly fishing thirst? Post your stories below!


By the way, we’d love for you to refer our podcast to a friend, your TU chapter, or fly fishing club. Be sure to pass along our podcast to others.

That is the most simple way to help us grow!

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The Fly Fisher’s Book of Lists

We’ve published a book for regular-Joe-and-Jane fly fishers called The Fly Fisher’s Book of Lists: Life is short. Catch more fish.

We like to say it is a book of bite-sized snacks.

Maybe even like a handful of potato chips. It’s an entire book of lists. The goal is to help you find practical help quickly and in an easily digestible format!

Buy it today on Amazon!

Fly Fishing and Thanksgiving

fly fishing and Thanksgiving

I have much for which to be thankful as Thanksgiving Day nears. My list begins with the love of God, the love of family, good health, good friends, and a job which I love. Yet fly fishing is high on my list of reasons to give thanks. This week, fly fishing and Thanksgiving have given me pause for some reflection.

Here are seven of the fly-fishing-related gifts for which I am thankful.

1. I am thankful for the years I lived within an hour of famous trout waters.

I lived in Montana for over two decades.

One year, I lived in Paradise Valley — just two hundred yards from the Yellowstone River. Then, I moved to Helena where I could drive to some terrific spots on the Missouri River in less than an hour. Five years later, I moved to the Gallatin Valley near Bozeman. The house we built was less than a mile from the East Gallatin River and less than an hour away from the Madison and Yellowstone Rivers. It’s been twelve years since I moved from Montana to the north suburbs of Chicago. But once or twice a year I return to fish those amazing rivers.

I know where to go and how to fish them because I had the privilege of living in fly fishing heaven for so long.

2. I am thankful for the relative affordability of fly fishing.

My favorite outdoor sports are elk hunting, deer hunting, and fly fishing for trout. But I rarely hunt these days because of the cost. Now that I am a nonresident, an annual fishing license in Montana costs me $86. By comparison, the cost of a nonresident Elk Combination license (which includes fishing and upland birds) costs $868. A nonresident Deer Combination license is $602. You will find significant differences between the costs of guide services (if you use them) for fly fishing and big game hunting.

You might be surprised, too, when you compare the costs of fly fishing to other outdoor sports like downhill skiing or golf.

Thankfully, fly fishing is fairly affordable — even if you splurge for a Winston Rod or a pair of Simms waders.

3. I am thankful I can fly fish year round.

When I lived in Montana, the window for big game hunting was roughly Labor Day to Thanksgiving Day weekend. Once you filled your tags, you were done. However, you can fish every month of the year in Montana if you like. I have caught fish in Montana every month of the year. Three of the four seasons—spring, summer, and fall—offer fantastic opportunities.

That is nine months of prime fly fishing!

4. I am thankful for the friendships which have formed around fly fishing.

My podcast partner, Dave, and I have other interests besides fly fishing. But our love of casting a fly on trout streams and rivers has given us a context for our life-long friendship to flourish. I’ve developed several other friendships solely because of fly fishing.

There’s something about it which creates and deepens relational bonds like few other activities do.

5. I am thankful for the way fly fishing has strengthened family ties.

Fly fishing provided a means of communicating and relating with my sons even during the most difficult seasons of their youth (middle-school years). We’ve had some tremendous memories catching cutthroat trout on hoppers in the Yellowstone and big rainbows on nymphs on the Madison.

The memories we share while fly fishing have drawn us closer to each other.

6. I am thankful for the mentors who have taught me to fly fish.

I have written about this elsewhere, but I am profoundly grateful for the guys who helped me learn to cast, to mend my line, and to tie flies. I am also thankful for mentors who shared their favorite spots with me as well as their wisdom. I am thankful for the patience of all those who got hooked by my backcasts or who had to help me untangle my two-fly combination after an unnecessary false cast.

7. I am thankful for the conservation efforts which make good fly fishing possible.

I am grateful for the foresight of anglers like Bud Lilly and the ongoing efforts of folks like Craig Matthews to protect fish and fisheries. I am thankful for the Skinner brothers—ranchers near Belgrade, Montana who were ahead of their time in implementing practices to protect and even restore sections of the East Gallatin River.

I am appreciative of Trout Unlimited, a conservation organization to which I belong, for all of its initiatives and projects which protect wild trout.

As Thanksgiving Day nears, I hope you’ll take a moment to reflect on all the reasons you have to be thankful for fly fishing. It is an amazing pursuit!

5 “More” Fly Fishing Myths

fly fishing myths

There’s a four-letter word fly fishers should avoid. It’s not what you yell when you snag your fly on the bottom for the umpteenth time or when your back cast lands in a pine branch. Rather, it’s a word that can mislead you and set you up for disappointment. The four-letter word is “more.”

Here are five “more” fly fishing myths that you will do well not to believe. Each myth has the ring of truth. But at the end of the day, each one will mislead you or leave you dissatisfied:

1. The more I fly fish, the better I will become.

The problem is that practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent. It reinforces. If you’re intentionally working to improve, then you’ll improve. Otherwise, your bad habits will become more ingrained.

This is the reason why I watch casting videos, read helpful articles, and fish at least once a season with a guide. These habits help me unlearn some bad habits—like being lazy about keeping my fly line through my finger of my right hand at all times during my retrieve. When I fail to do this, I end up setting the hook on a strike with my left hand. That is much slower.

The truth is, the more you work at the craft of fly fishing, the better you will become. The fly fishing myth that more time on the water will lead to better skills is just that – a myth.

2. The more flies I have in my fly box, the better my odds at catching more fish.

There is some truth to this.

If you’re fishing when Pale Morning Duns (PMDs) start coming off the water, and all you have are darker flies like a Parachute Adams, then you won’t have success.

However, some of the most skilled fly fishers I know say that using fewer patterns has helped them catch more fish. If you have a few dry fly patterns (Parachute Adams, Pale Morning Dun, Elk Hair Caddis), a few nymphs (Beadhead Prince, Copper John, Zebra Midge), and a couple streamers (perhaps a black Woolley Bugger and an olive one), you’ll be fine. This assumes that you have them in a few different sizes.

Of course, I have a lot more patterns than this in my fly box. I like trying new patterns. Yet I find myself returning to the same basic patterns over and over again. The reason is that they work.

The truth is, the more you can simplify your fly selection, the better your chances at catching fish.

3. I will fly fish more if I move to a prime fly-fishing area.

I could write a book on this one. I lived in Montana for two decades and loved it.

But I noticed how life got in the way of my fly fishing. They were high school sporting events to attend, evening board meetings, long hours at work, and all kinds of family responsibilities. I do not begrudge any of these. My point is simply that moving to a prime-fly fishing area sounds romantic. But life will crowd your calendar.

When I lived near Bozeman for fourteen years (and my parents lived on the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley for several of those years), I was able to get away for a couple of hours here and a couple of hours there. Occasionally, I could slip away during the Mother’s Day Caddis hatch or when the Blue-Winged Olives (BWOs) were coming off of the East Gallatin less than a mile from my house.

Now, I spend about a week a year fly flshing in Montana. I probably spend as many hours on the water, though, as when I lived there.

If you get a chance to move to Montana or Maine or Oregon, do it. But don’t forget that

The truth is, you will have opportunities and obstacles to fish the great trout waters whether you live twenty miles from them or a thousand miles away. Living near a blue ribbon trout river is a terrific blessing. But it’s not bliss.

4. I will fly fish more at the next stage of my life.

Good luck with that!

I thought it would be easier when my kids were out of diapers and in school. But football, volleyball, soccer, concert choir, band, church youth group, and an endless string of activities took a lot of time. Then, when they moved away from home, I thought I’d have even more time. But now that “extra time” is spent visiting with them.

Of course, I love visiting them! I’m not complaining. I’m just saying that the next stage of life will probably not give you as much time as you want.

I’m not at retirement age, or close to it. But I suspect that my retirement body will not handle quite as much hiking and wading as I do now.

The truth is, you have to be relentless to carve out time at any stage of life to fly fish. Don’t wait for life to slow down. Get out there now because tomorrow will have scheduling issues of its own.

5. The more fish I catch, the more satisfied I will be.

Believe me, I love catching a lot of fish. I’ll take a forty-fish day over a ten-fish day any day! I’ve had a few of these the last two years. But when I do, I find that I have trouble slowing down the moment and savoring the experience when I catch one after another. I find myself almost getting greedy. I hurry to get one trout off the line to hook another one.

Then, I find at the end of the day that I rarely remember one or two specific fish I caught.

Besides, my desire to catch more fish doesn’t diminish at some magic number. I quit at 30 or 40 (if I’m fortunate to have such a great day) because I’m too tired or it’s too late—not because I’m so satisfied that I can stop. Catching trout number 30 makes me want to catch trout number 31 which makes me want to catch trout number 32.

The truth is, I need to savor each fish I catch and to remember that one more fish will not necessarily make the day better. It’s hard to say that, but it’s true. More satisfaction is just another fly fishing myth.

So don’t buy into the fly fishing myths of “more.” Thinking realistically will help you get more enjoyment out of your time on the river.

Double Up for Fly Fishing Success

fly fishing success

Two is better than one when it comes to chocolate brownies, contact lenses, and trout flies. If you’re looking to increase your odds of catching trout, then double up. Use a lead fly and then a second fly, which trails behind it a foot or so.

Here are some double-fly combinations that really work. They include wet-fly combos, dry-fly combos, and dry-wet-fly combos. You never know which fly the trout may prefer on a given day:

1. The Hopper + Terrestrial

This is great for late summer during hopper season. Start with a size 6-10 hopper pattern—or some kind of large attractor pattern (such as a Stimulator). Then, trail either an ant or beetle pattern behind it. This is basically a dry fly combo, although it’s fine if your dropper (the ant or beetle) floats below the surface in the film. Last week, I was fly fishing in Colorado and talked to a fly fisher who used this combo in a high mountain lake and caught fish after fish on size 14 beetle pattern.

2. The Elk Hair Caddis + Caddis Emerger

This is a dry-wet fly combination which works well in the late spring (when the Caddis start to appear) and then into the summer as the Caddis flies continue to emerge.

I like a size 14 or 16 Elk Hair Caddis as my dry fly. Then, I use some kind of an emerger pattern as the dropper. One of my favorite droppers is a size 14 Red Fox Squirrel Nymph. I’ve had great success with this combo on the Yellowstone River in Montana’s Paradise Valley. With this combo, your lead fly acts as a strike indicator. I’ve often tied some synthetic red or white fibers at the top of Elk Hair Caddis so I can distinguish it from all the other Caddis flies on the water.

3. Woolly Bugger + San Juan Worm

My podcast partner, Dave, put me onto this combo. It’s worked well for us in the Driftless region of southeast Minnesota and southwest Wisconsin. This is a wet fly combo. Start with a smaller-sized Woolly Bugger (8-10) and then use a San Juan Worm (tied on a size 8-12 scud hook) as dropper. I use a strike indicator and drift it like a nymphing rig. Then, at the end of the drift, I will swing it and strip it back to me.

On the swing and strip, it’s the Woolly Bugger that is effective.

4. Egg Pattern + Copper John

When I’m fly fishing during the rainbow spawning season in the spring, I’ll often turn to this wet-fly combination. I’ll begin with a standard-size egg pattern (12-14) and then use a size 18 Copper John as my dropper. I like a Red Copper John. Or, I’ll use a Dave’s Emerger. This fly was developed by Dave Corcoran, then the owner of The River’s Edge Fly Shop in Bozeman, Montana.

Regardless of which dropper I use, this combo has been lethal during the rainbow run on Montana’s Madison River. It can work, too, during the fall when the browns are running. But continue reading for another dynamite wet-fly combo.

5. Stone Fly + Egg Pattern

Dave and I used this last fall in the Gardner River in the north reaches of Yellowstone National Park. We had outstanding results. Start with a Stone Fly nymph pattern (size 8-10). The options are legion.

A Golden Stone Fly or a Rubberlegs Stone Fly (with a brown or tan body) works quite well. Then, use a standard-size egg pattern (12-14) as the dropper. Last fall, I had a 30-fish morning on the Gardner using this combination. The browns were all between 15 and 20 inches. I estimate that I caught half on the Stone Fly and half on the egg pattern.

6. Beadhead Prince + Pheasant Tail

This wet-fly combo, or some variation of it, may be the standard go to pattern when there is no obvious hatch.

Use a Beadhead Prince Nymph in a size 12-14 as your lead fly. Or go with another standard nymph such as a Hare’s Ear. Then, use a size 18 Pheasant Tail as your dropper. Again, your dropper could be any number of nymphs—such as a Copper John or Zebra Midge.

Remember, two are usually better than one. Try one of these combinations or experiment with some of your own. You’ll likely double your chances of catching the trout which are monitoring the food line you’re fishing.

10 Questions to Ask Your Fly Fishing Friends

fly fishing friends

We have assembled ten questions you can ask your fly fishing friends. You can use these as conversation starters. Or, simply post them on Facebook to see if they go viral. Here are the questions as well as our answers.

We’d love to have you post your answers in the “comments” section below:

1. What is your “go to” fly rod—the one you use most?

DAVE: Now that I live in the Midwest, it’s my eight-and-a-half, four-weight Redington. When I’m on bigger rivers, it is my Sage One nine foot six weight.

STEVE: My “go to” is a Winston Boron II-X. It’s a nine-foot, six-weight that’s made in Montana. If I’m on a smaller creek, I’ll switch to my Orvis eight-and-a-half-foot, four weight.

2. What river that you’ve never fished is at the top of your bucket list?

DAVE: There are so many rivers that I’d like to fish – the many in Oregon (including the McKenzie River), Washington State, and British Columbia. I’d love to fish as many rivers as I could in Alaska. I don’t have a yearning to fish a particular one – just all that I haven’t fished. Plus, I’d love to fish all the great rivers in the northeastern United States. Basically, every river I haven’t fished is one I want to fish.

STEVE: I suppose it would be the Bighorn River in Montana. I’ve fished all the other major rivers in Montana. But since I had so many other superb rivers to fish when I lived in the Bozeman, Montana, area, I never ventured east to experience it.

3. What is the oldest piece of gear you use when fly fishing?

DAVE: A pair of Dan Bailey Waders. They are going on 10 years.

STEVE: I have an Orvis fly vest that is twenty-years old. It has a ripped pocket. But it’s like an old friend! I plan to keep using it until it falls apart.

4. What is the newest piece of gear you use when fly fishing?

DAVE: I just bought a pair of Patagonia Foot Tractors (wading boots). It was time. I wore a pair of Simms boots for way too long. The soles were worn, and last fall on the Gardner in Yellowstone National Park, I struggled to wade more than up to my knees.

STEVE: A Fishpond Nomad Emerger net. A friend gave it to me as a gift. It has a slightly longer handle than my Brodin hand net, but it’s not too bulky when it’s clipped on my vest and I’m hiking in a couple of miles to fish. The composite material makes it light, as well as strong.

5. What is the dumbest thing you’ve ever done on the river?

DAVE: I locked my car keys in the trunk of my 1971 Chevy Nova. Steve and I had to wait for a rancher to drive by. We were on a road that dead-ended at the trail head of a wilderness area. We used the rancher’s hammer and screwdriver to punch a hole through the lock. Sure enough, I had left the keys in my fly fishing vest.

STEVE: I dropped the top two pieces of my four-piece Orvis eight-and-a-half, four-weight rod into the Owyhee River in eastern Oregon. The pieces floated away. Thankfully, the good folks at Orvis treated it like a broken rod and replaced the two missing pieces. Actually, they gave me a new rod.

6. Which brother do you most resemble in the movie A River Runs Through It – Norman or Paul?

DAVE: Definitely Paul. I was not quite the hell-raiser that he was but I always saw myself as a kind of rebel against the system (whatever that meant – authority, status quo, etc.). I was a rebel without a cause, in many ways. Fortunately, I had to grow up (finally and reluctantly). I’m not perfect like Steve!

STEVE: Definitely Norman! I’m the oldest child who is more serious-minded than free-spirit. I’ve worked hard to be a good fly fisher, but I’m not a natural like Paul was.

7. What was your most satisfying moment on the river?

DAVE: Probably last fall catching browns, cutts, and rainbows on the Gardner River in Yellowstone National Park. It was an unbelievable two days of unlimited catching (and releasing). The second best may be the year previously on 16 Mile Creek in Montana when Steve and I had a banner day fishing hoppers.

STEVE: It was either catching rainbows on the Yellowstone with an elk hair caddis fly I tied with elk hair from a bull elk I shot during archer season or else watching my boys land trout after trout one spring day on Montana’s Madison River.

8. What is your most embarrassing moment on the river?

DAVE: Snapping a rod while on a guided fishing trip down the Lower Madison. I had just grabbed the guide’s rod to give it a try. It was an Orvis H2 (an expensive rod!). I had hooked a large rainbow, and it darted under the boat because of my poor ability to reel it in.

STEVE: It’s probably the time when a friend told me to be ready to fish a great run as we floated by it in his drift boat. He emphasized that I’d only get one chance, so I needed to make a solid cast. Well, I promptly cast my fly into a bush on the bank above the run. He just shook his head.

9. What is your favorite book about fly fishing (besides A River Runs Through It and The Fly Fisher’s Book of Lists)?

DAVE: Probably Gary Borger’s book Nymphing which I picked up in the 1990s.

STEVE: This one is easy for me. It’s Bud Lilly’s Guide to Fly Fishing the New West by Bud Lilly and Paul Schullery. It has great stories and a lot of helpful information.

10. Who convinced you to take up fly fishing?

DAVE: It was Steve, back when we were 18. Another friend inspired me to try nymph fishing and that took my fly fishing to an entirely different level.

STEVE: It was Jerry Williams, a seasonal Ranger-Naturalist in Rocky Mountain National Park. I was in high school at the time, and he led a weekly fly fishing demonstration in Moraine Park. He was an enthusiastic teacher who had a knack for simplifying and teaching what can be a complex sport.

Alright, it’s your turn to answer these questions! Ask your fly fishing friends to do the same.

Fly Fishing Crowded Waters

A few months ago I introduced my brother-in-law to the Owyhee River in eastern Oregon. We had a summer afternoon to fly fish. I warned him that we might run into a couple of other anglers in my favorite spot.

I was wrong. The number was much higher. I counted seven pairs of waders—filled with bodies — in the run I like to fly fish (pictured above). So what is a fly fisher to do?

Here are seven tips for fly fishing crowded waters.

1. Remain calm.

When I’m feeling annoyed, I have to remind myself that other anglers have every bit as much right to fish in my spot as I do. I am as responsible for the crowded conditions as they are. My kids’ advice is good in these moments: “Take a chill pill.”

What ruins a good day are not the fly fishers who beat me to my spot. It’s my response. If I relax, I can usually figure out a solution.

In fact, one of the best days I’ve ever had on Montana’s Madison River (I landed 25 browns on the last day of March) was the result of finding every one of my favorite spots on the Gallatin River filled with fly fishers. I’m glad I calmed down enough to formulate Plan B and drive to the Madison.

2. Arrive early (or late).

I’m fishing with a friend in a few days on the Missouri River near Helena, Montana. My friend has a favorite spot where he catches large rainbows in the spring. But he gets there at dawn.

Last week, he landed seven big trout in an hour and a half of fishing. Then he left as the crowds started rolling in about 9 a.m. The evening can be productive, too. I’ve found great solitude (and fishing!) on the Yellowstone River in Montana’s Paradise Valley in the spring and summer after 5 p.m.

3. Avoid the weekend.

Yes, I know that you may only have weekends to fly fish. But if you have any flexibility in your schedule, try Tuesday or Wednesday, and then work on Saturday. Or leave work early if you live near a river.

Dave, my podcast partner, and I like to fly from Chicago to Bozeman, Montana, on Sunday night or Monday morning. Then, we fly home on Friday as the weekend frenzy begins. It’s worth our vacation days to fish mid week.

4. Wait for your spot.

Don’t crowd the fly fishers in the run you want to fish. That is simply bad fly fishing etiquette.

But you can hover (at a distance) in the run below them. You’ll find out soon if they are moving or planning on staying put. The twenty minutes you think you are wasting, waiting for them, might turn out to be a good investment of time. You may be using a different pattern or approach, so don’t assume that the run needs to rest for two hours before you fish it.

5. Look for an opening.

Sometime we give up too quickly and assume the river is too crowded when there are spots open.

My youngest son, Luke, is working in Madison, Wisconsin, at the moment. He had day off on a Friday, so I suggested he try the Blue River about an hour west of him. I told him to get there early, and he did. But he saw cars parked in both access spots. So he called me and asked where else he could fish. I told him to try to find an open spot on the river (well, it’s really a small spring creek). It turned out that a couple guys were leaving, and there was a long stretch of open stream to fish. He ended up catching several nice brown trout.

6. Walk the extra mile.

Dave and I have talked about this before. If you’re willing to walk farther than the other fly fishers on the river, you might get into some fine fishing. I realize this doesn’t work everywhere. You may walk a ways only to come to another fishing access with more fly fishers! I had this happen last year on the Provo River in Utah. But if you keep walking, you may find a golden spot.

7. Research other options.

If you keep encountering crowds on your favorite stretch of river, start exploring some other options.

A couple years ago, we noticed more fly fishers on a lesser known stream in southwest Wisconsin. So Dave did some research and found a beautiful creek a couple hours west in southeast Minnesota. We rarely see crowds (as long as we avoid weekends), and it fishes well. It reminded me that there are other fine waters out there waiting to be discovered.

Fun Facts about the Movie “A River Runs Through It”

A River Runs Through It

A River Runs Through It premiered on October 9, 1992 – more than 25 years ago. Based on the novella by Norman Maclean, “A River Runs Through It” launched the career of Brad Pitt and boosted interest in fly fishing. Even as it celebrates its 25-year anniversary, the movie continues to captivate viewers who resonate with its story of tragedy, family, the American West, and fishing.

The movie is set in Missoula, Montana, though most fans know that it was filmed 200-plus miles east of Missoula in Livingston, Montana. Livingston served as Missoula, and the Gallatin River served as the Big Blackfoot River.

But there are some fun facts about its filming which you won’t find in most reviews or articles. This information comes from two primary sources. First, I lived in the very area where the filming took place. I could take you to the exact spots on the Gallatin and Boulder Rivers (and Mill Creek in Paradise Valley) where the scenes were shot.

Second, my podcast partner, Dave, and I had an extensive conversation with Gary Borger about his role as a consultant. Even Gary’s son Jason was part of the movie.

So if you’re curious about some of the details, keep reading.

The House

The “Maclean house” is across the road from the Springhill Presbyterian church, fourteen miles north of downtown Bozeman, Montana. The porch was built specifically for the scene where the Maclean brothers climb out of their bedroom window.

Then, when they drive away in the dark with their cronies, the church is visible, and it looks as much like a schoolhouse as it does a church.

Fly “Pole”

In the scene where the father teaches his young sons the art of fly casting, Tom Skerritt (the actor who played the role of Rev. Maclean) originally said: “Go get the fly poles.”

This happened to be Gary Borger’s first day on the set, and he told the line producer that a fly fisher never would have referred to a fly rod as a “fly pole.” So the line producer got producer Robert Redford’s attention.

“Go get the book,” Redford said.

He found the passage that says that “it is always supposed to be called a rod” — not a pole. And rod it was.

Fly Casting

Most of the fly fishing scenes were filmed on the Gallatin River in the Gallatin Canyon south of Bozeman.

In these scenes, Gary Borger’s son, Jason, did almost all the fly casting for the actors in the movie. This includes the memorable “shadow-casting” that Paul Maclean performed while standing on a big rock in the middle of the river. When Jason did that particular cast, an elderly, long-time friend of the Maclean brothers was on the set. After the scene was filmed, he approached Jason and said, “You are Paul.” The friend was stunned that Jason had captured the essence of Paul’s artistry with a fly rod.

While Jason did most of the fly casting in the movie, the actors picked it up rather quickly. Tom Skerritt (the elder Maclean) had done some fly fishing previously. Both Craig Sheffer (Norman) and Brad Pitt (Paul) were quite athletic. Jason made sure that Skerritt and Sheffer used the traditional forearm style, while Pitt used the more open freearm style that Paul Maclean would have used.

Fighting Trout

The “trout” the Maclean brothers hooked into and fought were mostly non-fish.

In several scenes, the fish on the end of their line was actually a half gallon milk jug with rocks in it. In the scene where Paul fights a fish hidden from view behind a large boulder, the fish is actually John Bailey of Dan Bailey’s Fly Shop in Livingston, Montana. John was behind the rock, pulling on the line!

In the final scene of “A River Runs Through It,” when Paul is fighting a monster trout, the producers filmed the water flying off of his fly reel in a city park rather than in the river. The city park was Lindley Park in Livingston, Montana, and the producers created this effect by dipping the fly reel in a bucket of water. Then, after an actor lifted it out of the bucket, someone on the end of the line immediately started pulling it to get the spool spinning and flinging off beads of water.

Riding the Rails

The scene where Norman’s girlfriend, Jesse, pulls her car onto the railroad tracks and drives through a tunnel was filmed on the CA Ranch forty miles or so north of Bozeman. The exact location is the Eagle’s Nest tunnel on an old railroad grade that the Ringling brothers used to haul their circus equipment to Ringling, Montana, for off-season storage. The railroad trestle leading into the tunnel towers over Sixteen Mile Creek. There is a brief view of the creek in the movie.

My podcast partner, Dave, and I have both caught trout underneath that trestle (pictured above – Dave, in fact, took the picture). In the movie, Jesse and Norman actually enter and exit the same end of the tunnel. Today, there are no railroad tracks; it’s a one-lane gravel-and-dirt road.

A Final Thought

Sometimes, knowing insider information on how a movie was filmed can spoil it. But both the cinematography and the story itself prevent his from happening. If you’ve never watched the move “A River Runs Through It,” you simply must. Even if you watched it years ago, it’s worth revisiting. I’m convinced that after watching it, you, too, will be haunted by waters. And haunted by one of the underlying themes: sometimes it’s the ones you love most that are hardest to understand.

If you want to listen to our podcast episode with Gary Borger on the movie, visit Gary Borger on the Making of “A River Runs Through It”

5 Questions to Determine If You Should Tie Your Own Flies

Tie your own flies – that idea might seem far-fetched to a beginner fly fisher. If you’re new to the sport, you might wonder if fly tying is something to pursue.

To tie or not to tie? That is the question. To help you answer the question, here are a few more questions to consider:

Can I tie flies even if I’m not an artistic type?

Absolutely! I am living proof of this.

I do not have an artistic bone in my body. Or perhaps I do, and it is badly broken. While I can color between the lines, I cannot draw anything more complex than a stick figure. Yet I can tie the basic patterns and catch trout on them.

If your goal is to win a “most beautiful fly” contests, then a lack of artistic talent is an issue. If your goal is to catch trout, then being artistically challenged is not a concern. To tie your own flies has little to do with your artistic gene.

How do I learn?

The best approach is to sign up for a fly-tying class at your local fly shop. I learned to tie flies two decades ago in an eight-week class that met Saturday mornings at a fly shop in Bozeman, Montana.

The second best approach is to watch fly-tying videos. There are some great instructional videos that you can access for free. I like the “Beginner Fly Fishing Tips” series on YouTube by scflytying. You might also check the videos by Tightline Productions that Orvis shares on its website.

In my experience, books have limited value. I need to watch someone tying a fly in order to make sense of it. I simply can’t visualize the process when reading a book — even if it contains clear instructions and sharp diagrams. Having a live person to help you figure out what you’re doing wrong is the best way to learn.

What do I need to get started?

To tie your own flies, you need tools and materials.

The first tool you need is a vise. Any fly vise that holds a hook tight will do. Don’t overthink this.

Next, you need fly tying scissors. I recommend two pairs. Spend more on one that you reserve for hair and thread. Buy a cheaper pair to cut thicker items, which tend to dull the scissor blades more quickly. You’ll also need a bobbin (for your spool of thread) and a pair of hackle pliers. Neither item will break the bank.

I’d suggest two or three bobbins so you don’t have to re-thread your bobbin every time you switch spools of thread. Finally, get a whip finisher. Save yourself the hassle of a cheaper one and buy the one sold by Orvis.

The materials you need depend on what flies you plan to tie. Typically, the minimum materials include hackle capes, thread, dubbing material, head cement, and wire. A good fly shop or an online video can help you figure out exactly what you need for the flies you plan to tie.

Will the first fly I tie be worth fishing?

Yes! Sometimes, a clumsy looking fly might look a bit more “buggy” to the trout than something that looks perfect.

Besides, I suspect that a lot of flies are designed to catch fly fishers rather than fish. I’ve caught trout on some gnarly looking patterns. Of course, I’ve gotten better over the years. But trout key in on size and color more than on perfect proportions (though the exceptions increase as the fly size gets smaller!).

Sure, some patterns require more precision than others. But if your first fly is a San Juan Worm or a Brassie or a Woolly Bugger, it does not need to be perfect. To tie your own flies does not require flawless wonders.

What is the financial payoff for learning to tie flies?

The expected answer is, “You will save money.” After all, the materials for a $2 fly may amount to 20 cents.

But that math is too simplistic.

The initial investment in tools will likely reach $100. Then there are the materials themselves. A good hackle cape or neck may cost $50. Even the inexpensive materials – spools of thread, various kinds of feathers, peacock herl, etc – add up. You may not begin saving money until you tie your three-hundredth fly!

So, unless you tie a high volume of flies, it might be as cost effective to buy flies at your local fly shop.

In my opinion, the real benefit of fly tying is becoming a better fly fisher. When I started tying, I learned a lot about the feeding habits of trout, which insects my flies were trying to imitate, and when certain patterns worked (and when they didn’t).

It’s Your Decision

If you decide not to tie your own flies, fine. There are other ways to accomplish what fly tying will do for you.

My podcast partner, Dave, is proof of this. He doesn’t tie his flies. Contrary to my ribbing, he is every bit as good a fly fisher as I am.

But if you’re leaning towards trying, go for it. Like playing the saxophone, fly tying is easy to do poorly. But even a poor imitation can catch a trout.

S2:E6 One Fine Day on the Madison River

fly fishing guides

Montana’s Madison River is one of our favorite western rivers. There’s both the Upper Madison River and the Lower Madison River, two distinct sections. In this episode, we go into story-telling mode, narrating a terrific day of fishing while floating the Lower Madison in late summer.

Listen to our latest episode:”One Fine Day on the Madison River”

At the end of each episode, we have a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience. Please add your ideas to the creative mix.

Do you have a great memory of a day on the river? We’d love to hear about it! Post your story in the comments section.

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