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!

S2:E51 Fly Fishing Lies and Half Truths

A River Runs Through It

Fly fishing lies are everywhere. Well, maybe not downright lies. Maybe half truths. And maybe they’re not everywhere. In this episode, we identify five fly fishing lies (or half truths) and then wax eloquently about what we think the real truth is. One of the fly fishing categories that we discuss is “Biggest Gear Lie.” Another is “Biggest Fly Pattern Lie.” This is a fun episode. Click on this link to listen now!

Listen now to “Fly Fishing Lies and Half Truths”

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 portion 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 experience.

What are some of the fly fishing lies or half truths that you’ve identified? We’d love to hear them! Please post your comments below.

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We’ve published a book called, The Fly Fisher’s Book of Lists: Life is short. Catch more fish.

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Making the Most of Your Next Fly Fishing Trip

next fly fishing trip

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.

Have Fly Rod, Will Time Travel

I fly fish for one reason: to catch fish. Of course, I love the opportunity to be outdoors and experience nature. But I could accomplish that without fly fishing. I could simply hike or camp or take up outdoor photography.

I fly fish because I love the thrill of catching trout.

However, this does not mean that I’m unappreciative of the side benefits that come with fly fishing. One of them is the opportunity to do some time travel. Yes, the fly rod in your hand also serves as a time machine, transporting you to some places in the past.

Brookies on the Au Sable

Recently, my son, Luke, and I drove to Grayling, Michigan, to fish for trout on the Au Sable River. We spent a day on the North Branch of the Au Sable and caught our share of brookies.

What stands out to me most, though, was the opportunity to drift the river in an Au Sauble River boat. These beauties look and feel much different than the drift boats from which I’ve fished the Yellowstone and Madison Rivers in Montana. They typically run 23- or 24-feet long and only two-and-a-half feet wide, resembling the shape of a dugout canoe.

The Au Sable River boat has been used on the Au Sable and Manistee Rivers in northern Michigan since the early 1870s. Lumber companies used this flat-bottomed craft to move tools and supplies to their logging camps. Loggers used them to maneuver between the logs as they floated down the rivers and to separate the inevitable log jams.

In the early 1880s, someone got the idea to modify the design a bit to use this craft for fishing.

Drifting the North Branch of the Au Sable with my son, Luke (pictured above to the left), and our guide, Justin, took me back in time to the days when the Grayling thrived in these rivers and the camp cooks used these boats to shuttle staples to their camps to feed hungry lumberjacks.

Fly Rod under the Trestle

I had a similar feeling of nostalgia last summer when I fished 16 Mile Creek in the north reaches of Montana’s Gallatin Valley. I caught a couple of nice browns under a railroad trestle on an old railroad grade used by the Ringling Brothers. Every off-season, they used to ship their circus equipment to their ranch.

More recently, a scene from A River Runs Through It was filmed on the same trestle—the scene where Jessie Burns drives wide-eyed Norman Maclean onto the tracks, over the trestle, and into a tunnel. What struck me was how this remote mountain valley had remained untouched and undeveloped. There were no power lines, roads, or highway sounds to remind me that I was fishing in the twenty-first century.

More than a decade ago, I remember the chill I felt when fishing the East Gallatin River about a mile from my where my house. I had read enough of Lewis and Clark’s journals to know that Captain William Clark and his Indian guide, Sacagawea, walked somewhere nearby the spot where I fished as they traveled east from the Three Forks of the Missouri to meet up with the Yellowstone River.

More recently, local resident Jim Doig was killed when thrown from his saddle horse in a pasture adjacent to the stretch of the East Gallatin I fished. His nephew, Ivan, tells the story in his memoir, This House of Sky.

Something stirs me about the history that swirls around the places I fish. To be sure, it cannot make up for a lack of catching fish. But when the fish are sipping my flies off the surface, the historical dimension of the waters I fly fish enriches my experience.

So what happened a hundred years ago in and around the rivers you are fly fishing?

Knowing the history may not make a bad day on the river good. But it is sure to make a good day even more meaningful.