7 Big Ideas to Catch More Trout

catch more trout

Three years ago, in our second podcast ever, Dave and I identified “5 Ways to Catch More Trout.” We still stand by what we shared then. Plus, now that we are much wiser and much better fly fishers (insert laugh track or an eye roll emoji here), we have added a couple more ways to help you catch more trout. If you’re new to fly fishing or tired of the same old results, these insights might make all the difference.

1. Learn the art of nymph fishing

We all love to catch fish on the surface with dry flies. That’s the reason many anglers take up fly fishing.

Yet as every expert says – 85% of a trout’s diet is under the surface.

To catch more trout, learn how to drift a nymph (or a two-nymph rig) along the bottom of the river or stream you’re fishing.

2. Fish the banks

I’ve watched a lot of drift boats over the years on the Yellowstone and Madison Rivers in Montana.

Guess where they fish? The bank!

Trout often lurk at the river’s edge — not necessarily in the middle of the river or stream. Savvy fly fishers who are wading will sometimes walk out a ways into the river and cast back towards the bank. To catch more fish, fish the bank.

3. Improve your casting

You don’t have to be a great fly caster to catch fish. But you’ve got to get better. Short casts are more than adequate.

Some of the biggest rainbows I’ve caught in Montana during the spring on the Madison River and during the fall on the East Gallatin have been about 10-15 feet in front of me.

The key is accuracy and presentation. So watch fly fishers who are better than you — whether in person or view their instructional videos (on YouTube).

4. Go where the other fly fishers are not

This means walking a mile further than the next fly fisher.

Dave and I have been doing this for years on the Yellowstone below Tower Fall in Yellowstone National Park. We’ve had some tough scrambling to do in order to get up and over a cliff that stops many fly fishers.

However, going where other fly fishers are not does not always require a longer hike. I’ve learned to fish upstream from fishing accesses in Montana. A lot of fly fishers in drift boats are getting ready to take out, and so they skip some good water as they get close to the access.

5. Hire a guide

There’s some expense here, but every time we’ve fished with a guide, we have learned something new. Good guides help us with our casting skills, fly selection, and reading water. Split the cost of a guided float for a day with a friend, and you’ll be surprised and how much you improve — and how many more fish you catch than usual.

6. Fish with streamers more often

Both Dave and I got so infatuated with fishing nymphs and dry flies that we neglected streamer fishing for a few years. But about the time we started out podcast, we started slinging and stripping streamers more frequently, and the results have been fantastic. We’ve caught more fish and even bigger fish.

There’s nothing like a black or olive Woolly Bugger for getting the attention of a trout.

7. Hang out in your local fly shop more often

In the Age of Amazon and online shopping, it’s easy to order all your gear online.

But while ordering online might be more convenient, a trip to your local fly shop allows you to pick the brains of the fly fishing experts and guides who work behind the counter.

Make sure to buy a few flies and some of your more expensive gear from the shop. It needs your support. And you’ll be surprised at the intel you can pick up and use on your next trip.

Is the 5 Weight Fly Rod the Best All Around?

5 Weight Fly Rod

Kirk Deeter recently posed a question which took me by surprise. On a Trout Unlimited blog, he asked: “Will the 5-weight always rule trout fishing?”

My surprise came from my assumption that the most popular all-around fly rod for trout fishing was a nine-foot, 6-weight.

Whenever Trout Unlimited offered a nine-foot, 5-weight for anglers who purchased a lifetime membership, I figured it was because they got a great deal from Sage or Winston. Surely those companies saw that 6-weights were selling like crazy and that they had a large leftover inventory of 5-weights.

It turns out that I was wrong.

5 Weight Fly Rod of Choice

TU offers nine-foot, 5-weight rods because they are the rods of choice. Deeter wonders if 4-weights might take over if technology can make them “beefier” or if 6-weights might one day rule if it gets “lighter.” Then he says: “For now, I just don’t see the 5-weight ever being supplanted as the world’s No. 1 fly rod.”

All of this makes me wonder: is the best all-around fly rod for trout fishing a nine-foot, 5 weight? Or a nine-foot, 6-weight?

I really don’t feel like arguing about this until I’m blue or red in the face. It reminds me a bit of those arguments over whether a .270 or a 30.06 is the best caliber for a deer rifle. One is more flat-shooting, the other packs more wallop. In the end, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is a hunter’s ability to shoot steady and straight.

So whether a 5-weight or a 6-weight is the “best” all-around fly rod depends on you. Which one feels best and works best for you?

What Are You Slinging?

Jerry Siem, a rod designer for Sage, says that the choice is all about the size of flies you intend to fish. Kirk Deeter concludes: “Nothing really compares to the 5-weight when it comes to throwing either size 18 BWO dry flies or size 10 woolly buggers.”

However, after years of fly fishing big western rivers like the Yellowstone and the Missouri, I’m partial to a 6-weight. I suspect that’s why a lot of fly shops in the west suggest them to first-time buyers.

I follow the reasoning of the late Tom Morgan, the owner of the Winston Rod Company from 1973 to 1991. He preferred the 6-weight for handling wind (plenty of that in the west) and for making longer casts. He liked the delicacy of the 5-weight, but felt it was too delicate to be the right choice for an all-around rod—especially on the big rivers in Montana.

Personally, if I want more delicate, I drop down to a 4-weight.

This introduces another consideration: If you use multiple rods, do you want to go with even sizes (4, 6, 8) or odd sizes (3, 5, 7)? I like to go on the heavier side. By the way, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to own both a 5-weight and a 6-weight unless you have an abundance of disposable income or you are that good to appreciate the fine shade of difference.

How, then, should you determine what is the right size for your all-around, go-to fly rod?

Waters and Wind

First, consider what size of water you will be fishing and how much wind you will encounter. Trying to decide based on fly size is, in my opinion, a bit more difficult.

Second, get some help from the guides at a fly shop. You might want to talk to more than one guide to listen for recurring themes in their advice.

Third, and perhaps most important, try casting both a 5-weight and a 6-weight. Choose the one that feels best to you.

My brother, Dave, recently invested in a high-quality fly rod for his “go-to, all-around” rod. He asked me my recommendation. I strongly suggested he get a nine-foot, 6-weight. But instead of listening to his older (and wiser!) brother, he dissed my advice! He tried both a 5-weight and a 6-weight. The 5-weight felt better to him.

I am happy to report that my brother and I still speak to each other. Do we argue about whether a 5-weight or a 6-weight is best? No. We are too busy catching fish.

Unless you’re one of those people who has to be right about everything, get used to the idea that ideal rod-weight is in the eye of the beholder—or actually, in the feel of the fly-caster. Anglers — from novice state to expert stage — will continue to debate the merits of 5-weight versus a 6-weight.

The good news is that you won’t go wrong with either one.

Make Your Dry Fly Irresistible

dry fly irresistible

It happened again last week. I felt that familiar rush of adrenalin. The mild shock happened again and again as trout after trout attacked the Parachute Adams I drifted down a little stream. I had made my dry fly irresistible.

Dry fly fishing can be unpredictable. When it’s hot, it’s not. When it’s not, well, it’s not. But there are some tactics you can use to make your dry fly irresistible to the trout lurking beneath it:

Dry it

Dry flies, uh, get wet.

Even the heartiest among them (think: Elk Hair Caddis) can get water-logged. Never mind that I always put some kind of fly dressing on my dry flies before I cast them into the current.

Sure, I’ve had trout strike my submerged fly. But dry flies perform best when riding the surface.

A few false casts will help dry out your dry fly. Yet it’s not enough.

Over the years, I’ve grown fond of water-removing powder or crystals. I always keep a small bottle in my fly vest. I like both Orvis Hy-Flote (Shake-N-Flote Renew) or Umpqua Bug Dust. Simply open the bottle lid, put your soggy fly inside (still attached to your leader), and shake the bottle a couple of times.

Presto! Your fly is dry.

The white powder makes it look like a ghost. But a couple of false casts will remove the dust. There are some liquid products available too. These are quite effective, but I generally find them messy and sticky. So go with the powder!

Twitch it

Another effective tactic is to give your dry fly a twitch. This works especially well with Caddis.

I talked to a guide in a fly shop last week who was having luck in the evenings when he skated his Caddis fly across the surface. I used this technique many times when float-tubing Hyalite Reservoir in the mountains south of Bozeman, Montana. I skated a Madam X pattern on the lake’s surface and got a positive response from several large cutthroat trout.

Of course, twitching or skating a hopper pattern is always a good bet.

The art of twitching or skating is rather simple. For a twitch, pretend the fly rod in your hand is a hammer and that you’re tapping in a small nail into soft wood. For the skating effect, I simply strip line like I would with a streamer—only more gently.

Don’t overdo your twitch or skate. If the current is fairly fast, don’t bother. But if it’s slow, a little twitch or skating motion might make your fly irresistible.

Re-size it

My brother, Dave, was fly fishing a stream in the high country of Colorado last week. He tried the standard patterns and even an emerger or two. The fishing was slow until he tied on a large stimulator. I’m pretty sure that it was the larger size rather than the color (orange) that mattered.

As Bob Granger, one of my fly fishing mentors often said, “When the trout aren’t rising for your fly, try a different size before you try a different pattern.”

In general, if I’m fishing a Blue-Winged Olive (BWO) hatch and not having success, I’ll go smaller. I can’t remember how many times the switch from a size #18 to a size #20 Parachute Adams made all the difference. If I’m struggling to get strikes with attractor patterns when there is no hatch, I’ll typically go larger.

I’ll switch from a size #18 to a size #14. Often it works.

Reverse it

Another tactic is to reverse the direction of your cast.

Obviously, you can’t reverse the direction of your fly. It’s never going to float upstream—always downstream! Typically, fly fishers work their way upstream. This keeps us behind the trout. The idea is that we will be less visible to the trout when we cast. However, there are times when it’s advisable to approach the trout from upstream. This might be due to the current or to an overhanging branch.

More stealth is required when we are in front of the trout and casting downstream. But if that gets a better drift, or if it’s the only possible way to drift a fly through a promising run, then do it.

Crowd it

There’s a good reason not to crowd your fly against an undercut bank. You’re likely to snag it on the brush on the side of the bank. It’s safer to aim for a foot or two short of the bank. It’s also less effective.

If you want to catch trout, however, you have to get close to an undercut bank. That’s where the trout hide. So take the risk.

Last weekend, I fished a run and drifted my fly about eight inches from an undercut bank. It was a decent cast. But nothing happened. On the next cast, I crowded the bank. You guessed it, my cast was about six inches too long, and it ended up in the grass on the bank. I gently tugged at it, and my fly landed in the current, about one inch from the bank.

A few seconds later, a plump brown trout darted out from under the bank and attacked my fly.

To make your dry fly irresistible, cast it as tight

Free it

Finally, keep your dry fly free of drag.

Drag happens when the center of your fly line moves through the current more quickly than your fly does. This results in your fly line pulling or dragging your fly through the current. As a result, your fly will resemble a water skier. It will leave a cool-looking wake.

But is not cool if you’re trying to catch trout!

The trick is to create a bend in your line do that the center of the line on the water is upstream from your fly. In other words, you want the fly to lead the rest of the line. You can do this either by mending your line (flipping the center section upstream after it lands) or by quickly “writing” the letter “C” with your rod tip shortly before your fly lands on the surface.

If the current is moving from right to left, you’ll “write” a backwards “C.” If it’s moving from left, you’ll write a normal “C.” This gets the center of the line upstream from your fly.

Drag will not make your dry fly irresistible!

Dry Fly Irresistible

I came across a beautiful undercut bank and made a perfect cast. My dry fly was riding high a couple inches from the bank, and there was no drag. It was the perfect presentation, and then … nothing happened.

The lesson is that you can do everything perfectly and still fail to get a trout to rise. There are no guarantees when it comes to dry fly fishing. But using one or more of these tactics just might make your dry fly irresistible to that big rainbow around the next bend.

S3:E2 7 Tips for Better Fly Casting

fly fishing

Fly casting is the first skill that newbies learn. Every Trout Unlimited chapter and every fly shop offers classes. Yet, until a fly fisher hits the river, it’s all academic. There it gets messy. There may be precious little room for one’s back cast or the only approach to the run is at an awkward angle. In this episode on fly casting, we scare up seven tips to help fly fishers improve their cast.

Listen now to “7 Tips for Better Fly Casting”

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.

Do you have a quick tip to help aspiring and beginner fly fishers with their casting? We’d love to hear it. Please post your comments below.

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Other Articles and Podcasts on the Topic

    “Trouble with the Cast”

    “Casting Upstream or Downstream?”

    “Fly Fishing Physics 101”

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7 Spots to Cast Your Dry Fly

You’re standing at the river’s edge. The guys or gals at the fly shop have said that the dry fly fishing has been fabulous. So you’ve tied on the size #14 elk hair caddis they recommended. But where should you cast your fly?

If you are new to fly fishing, here are the best spots to cast your dry fly:

Where the trout are rising

This tip is not meant to insult your intelligence.

Rather, it reflects how easy it is to miss rising fish. Sure, the ones that jump halfway out of the water are obvious. But the largest trout often make the smallest ripple. Their snouts barely break the surface.

Spend a minute or two scanning the surface for the subtle rises that are easy to miss.

Where you are about to wade

Fly fishing legend Gary Borger says, “Fish it before you wade it.”

This is good advice. The trout are not always where you think they should be. The best spot might be the water through which you need to wade to get to the next best spot.

Where the drift boats fish

Fly fishers in drift boats do not cast to the middle of the river.

They typically cast to the banks — right where you are standing. If you’re fishing a large river, think of the first eight to ten feet from the bank as a small stream. You probably don’t need to make a twenty-yard cast. You’ve hit the jackpot if you see deeper water along the bank. This is where trout find shelter from predators and easy access to food.

The head of a pool or run

This is where fast moving water (a riffle) rushes into a slower, deeper section of current.

Sometimes, the riffle empties into a pool. I remember an afternoon on the Yellowstone River south of Livingston, Montana where I fished nothing but a riffle. That’s where the rainbows were feeding on blue-winged olives.

In the foam line of a run

Sometimes, the trout are below the riffle in the current itself. These runs can be short or long. Watch for a moving foam and bubbles. This is the food line! I especially rely on the foam line when fishing in slower moving rivers like the East Gallatin in Montana or the Owyhee in eastern Oregon.

The shallow water at the side or the tail end of run

You won’t always find trout in these places, because they offer minimal protection from predators.

But these are great feeding spots for trout when the insect hatches are in full force. Often, the more gentle side of a “seam” (the imaginary dividing line between fast moving current and slow water) is a great place to cast a dry fly. Trout will sip flies there, knowing they can quickly retreat to a riffle if they see the shadow of a bird swooping down on them.

Near a rock

Some rivers – or stretches of rivers — do not have pronounced runs.

Rather, they have a steady flow and depth from one bank to another. If this is the case, look for big rocks. I’ve caught trout in front of, behind, and beside big rocks. Some of these rocks stick above the surface, others do not. One of my favorite stretches on the Gallatin River south of Big Sky, Montana, works like this.

When I find a decent-sized rock, I know I’ll find trout.

Three People to Trust When Buying Fly Fishing Products

fly rod hacks

In the (supposed) good old days, there was a wall between church and state. There was advertising. And there was content. And the lines between the two were clear.

An ad was an ad. And a rod review was a rod review.

You could trust that the opinion of the writer wasn’t tainted by the fact that he or she was being paid by the product under review.

When buying fly fishing products today, however, it’s hard to know which is church (helpful and truthful content) and which is state (ads or sponsorships). The lines are blurred, thanks to an explosion of fly fishing brands, and, of course, the Internet.

Whom can you trust when buying fly fishing products?

Just recently I saw two rod reviews in the Trout Unlimited magazine. One was for a Sage rod, the other was a rod-reel combination from Cabela’s.

I wondered, “Why those two rods? Why not a Loomis or a Winston or an Orvis? Does TU have a promotion agreement with Sage and Cabela’s?”

Granted, a print magazine has limited space, so TU can’t possibly publish reviews of all the rods in one edition. But when you read a review of a rod in an online magazine or web site, can you really trust that the reviewer is not being paid by the rod manufacturer? Or receiving a cut from all sales tracked from the review (affiliate sales)?

In today’s cluttered world of unlimited fly fishing products, it’s hard to trust that the information you are getting is authentic and truly unbiased. Of course, that begs the question, “What does it mean to be unbiased?” Nothing is truly free from bias. I know that.

But we fly fishers want truly helpful advice when buying fly fishing products. Consider who I think are the only three people you can trust:

The Gals/Guys at the Local Fly Shop

This includes, of course, the guides at the shop. Yes, if you are flying into an area that you have never fished before and you don’t know the fly shop personnel, then you may need to be more wary. I hate to admit this, but the more “corporate” the fly shop, the less I trust the advice from its staff.

But I love buying at local fly shops. They deserve our business. They are the experts in local waters. And it’s hard to go wrong when you get advice from the folks at the shop.

With rare exception, I’ve found the guides and owners at local fly shops to be a trusted source for product recommendations.

Of course, each shop carries certain brands and may be, for example, the exclusive Orvis or Patagonia dealer in the area. That’s especially true in a place like Bozeman, Montana, with a seemingly endless number of fly shops. So it makes sense that fly shop owners and guides will push their brands. But I’ve generally been impressed at their objectivity. Actually, I’m looking less for objectivity and more for someone who will say, “Given your level of experience, I recommend this. And for this reason.”

Last year, I was looking at a new pair of waders. I was discussing my options with a fly shop owner, and he steered me towards a better brand that was on sale – and that was less than the brand I was looking at.

Of course, my trust-o-meter just went up 10 points.

Your Fly Fishing Buddy

Referrals are how I buy most big ticket items in my life, including cars, fly rods, waders, and shotguns.

I am not like my brother-in-law, who makes my eyes bleed when I think about how much time he spends researching his future purchases. I don’t have the patience. When he conducted a thorough investigation of mini-vans back in 2004 – and purchased a Honda Odyssey – I purchased one as well a few years later.

Why re-invent the research wheel?

It seems next to impossible to conduct a thorough investigation of every product. There’s too many products in the market. Take fly rods, example. Unless you have a year-and-a-half to fish a full day with each rod, how could you possibly select the right rod that works for you?

And even if I were to fly fish one day with every possible rod, I would never be able to make a fully informed, rational selection, much less remember how the first rod felt after trying out the other twenty rods.

If you fly fish with some folks, then ask for their recommendations. See if they will let you try out one of their rods (a risky request, I realize). At minimum, you should try out the rod you plan to purchase at the local fly shop. However, I have not found taking only a few casts at a fly shop all that helpful. I really need to fish with the rod for a couple hours.

That’s not always possible, though.

You. Yourself. Yes, You.

Don’t get caught up in the branding hype of fly fishing brands. Just because a piece of equipment or tackle is not the “top of the line” (as declared by some fly fishing personality or brand) doesn’t mean it’s not the best for you. The stories that brands tell about their products are silly. It’s just a product. It won’t save your soul or help you catch bigger fish. Truly.

The question is, “So does it truly work for you with the budget you have?”

I tend to buy higher-end fly fishing products when it comes to wading boots and fly rods. I start with more expensive products.

But not other gear. For other gear, I tend to look for value – best quality at the lowest price.

I recently selected a Sage One fly rod because the line was being discontinued, and the price was right. I like a good sale. I have now fly fished with the rod for several months, and I feel great about my decision. Somehow, I still seem to catch fish, even though I don’t have one of the more expensive brands.

Buying Fly Fishing Products

No person has unlimited time to research and try out every brand when purchasing equipment. And if you do, you truly have too much time on your hands. I’d rather spend my time fly fishing. You may have the personality for eternally investigating products, but I don’t.

In the final analysis, if you are agonizing between this brand of waders or the next, give it a rest. Ask around, take into account your budget, and then just buy the waders!

And head out to the river as fast as you can.

Before You Buy Your First Fly Rod

If you’re new to fly fishing, purchasing your first fly rod can be as bewildering as buying a car. There are so many variables to consider.

Besides, if you ask five friends for advice, you may get eight different opinions. It’s easy to get frustrated. Or even to feel stupid. Don’t. Selecting a fly rod should not resemble choosing a health care plan.

This should be fun!

Making some key decisions before you start shopping, though, will help you make an informed, confident purchase. It will also keep the fun in the process. So here are the decisions you need to make.

Price Range

How much do you want to spend?

If you’ve never fly fished before, a starter rod in the $100-150 range will serve you well. Less is more.

If you’ve fly fished enough to know that you really want to pursue this, then I’d suggest spending a bit more — perhaps in the $300-600 range. Buy a fly rod you will still enjoy using in two or three decades.

I purchased a Winston rod (see below) a few years ago, intending to use it for life. I paid good money for it (although the price I paid then looks quite reasonable now). I don’t regret the decision. At some point, you’ll want to buy your “fly rod for life” (unless, of course, there is a significant breakthrough in technology). If you’re ready to do so, then get a higher-end rod which fits your budget. But if you’re still experimenting, spend less.

Note: The mid- to high-end rods typically have a 25-year or lifetime guarantee. This means you can get your rod repaired for about 10% of its cost if you step on it in the dark and snap it in two (which I’ve done).

Brand Preference

I apologize in advance for leaving out some fine manufacturers. But here are some options:

On the lower end of the price range, some good options include Redington, Temple Fork Outfitters (TFO), St. Croix, and Cabela’s. For mid-range to high-end rods (in quality and price), I’m a big fan of Orvis. Sage makes a fine rod, too, and I was all set to purchase one until I picked up a Winston Boron IIx which was made in Montana. Loomis is another fine choice, as is Scott.

Don’t fret over the difference between a high-end Orvis or Sage or Winston. Choose the one that feels right.

Rod Size

If you’re fly fishing for trout in the big western rivers like the Yellowstone or Bighorn, a nine-foot, six-weight will be a good all-around rod. It’s big enough to handle streamers and make long casts in windy conditions. Some swear by a nine-foot, five-weight. That’s fine.

To me, it’s like the difference between using a 30.06 or a .280 Remington for deer. Either will do the job. If you’re fly fishing the spring creeks of Wisconsin or Pennsylvania, an eight and a half foot, four weight will be more appropriate. It’s a bit lighter and more delicate for those smaller streams which require more gentle casts.

Some fly fishers swear by an eight-foot rod for smaller stream fishing. One question to ask is, “Where will I be fishing most often?” If “smaller spring creeks” is the answer, then go with a smaller rod size.

Type of Action

A mid-flex or a medium action is the place to start.

This designation means that the rod flexes or bends in the middle when you cast your line. This makes it versatile (good in most conditions) and forgiving (not too temperamental). A tip-flex or fast action rod bends closer to the tip. The stiffness of this action gives you more power — especially on windy days. It is better for longer casts, but beginners sometimes struggle to get a feel for it. A full flex, or slow action rod, is easy to cast. But it’s better for short distances. You’ll have to work harder to get the line out on long casts. It’s like pedaling in gear 3 on a ten-speed bike as opposed to gear 9.

The pedaling is easier, but it takes a lot more effort.

If you can make (or at least think about) these decisions ahead of time, you’ll be in a better position to make a choice when you enter your local fly shop.

Yes, unless you’re an expert, buy your rod at a local shop.

You can often try casting different rods to see which one works best — and you’ll get a little bit of help with your casting, too. The guys and gals at your local fly shop will also help you choose the right reel and the right line to go with your rod (yes, more decisions).

Whatever you do, make sure you enjoy the purchase. I guarantee that buying your first fly rod will be more fun than buying a garbage disposal or a pair of dress shoes.

The Baseball Phenom Who Became a Fly Fishing Legend

The kid dug into the batter’s box, checked the trademark on his bat, and got set for the pitch. It was the biggest moment of his life. At fifteen, this future fly fishing legend was the second baseman for a team of Montana farmers.

Staring at him from the pitcher’s mound was legendary pitcher, Satchel Paige. In the 1930s and 1940s, many of the Negro Leagues teams did a lot of barnstorming. They traveled through small towns all over the country and tried to schedule as many games as they could. It was a way to pick up a little money.

Satchel Paige was the star attraction wherever he went.

Crowds flocked to see him pitch. He had a larger-than-life personality to match his ability to throw a sweeping curve ball. Now peering at the fifteen-year old in the batter’s box, Satch wound up and threw a big roundhouse curve. The kid almost fell on his face trying to get out of the way of the pitch before it broke over the plate for a strike. But after toying with the kid, Satch game him a pitch to hit. That would play well with the home crowd. The kid hit a ground ball single. It was a moment he would never forget.

Reputation on the Rise

The kid’s name was Walen, and his reputation continued to rise.

His team kept winning against other teams in Montana and even against the barnstorming teams. One Sunday, two men showed up to see the team. Walen didn’t know it, but they were scouts from the Cincinnati Reds. Walen’s dad asked him to take them fishing the next day. By this time, Walen was as much a prodigy with a fly rod as he was with a baseball glove. These scouts were also fly fishermen, and they were more impressed with his fly fishing skills than his baseball playing. But two years later, just as World War II was starting, they came back and signed Walen to a contract with the Cincinnati Reds.

The Diverging Road

However, the war beckoned. When Walen returned from his military service, he had lost interest in baseball. He was a slick fielder, but he was a little gun-shy against the better pitchers. Walen ended up graduating from Montana State University and teaching high school science in a couple small Montana towns, Roundup and Deer Lodge.

One summer, a teacher-friend suggested that they supplement their teachers’ salaries by putting up a little car wash in West Yellowstone, Montana. They worked from dawn to dark and made good money. But then another opportunity presented itself. A local fly shop was on the market, and Walen scraped together the money to buy it.

The fly shop was more of a hobby at first. But when Walen retired from teaching at Bozeman Junior High School in 1970, the fly shop was primed to develop into a year-round business. And it did. The fly shop thrived, and so did Walen. He eventually sold the shop in 1982.

The Walen Legacy

A long-time advocate of catch-and-release, he spend countless hours on conservation efforts. He testified and lobbied frequently before state congressional committees in Helena. He even helped establish a fly fishing museum in West Yellowstone. It’s through the efforts of fly fishers like Walen that we have such tremendous fly fishing today. In an interview in July 2015, shortly before his ninetieth birthday, Walen said that he led the movement towards catch-and-release fishing because it simply made sense.

Yes, it did. And it still does.

It’s been years since Walen sold his fly shop in West Yellowstone. But if you drive through town, you can visit the shop which still bears his name. Keep in mind that nobody called him Walen. Since his birth, Walen Lilly Jr. has been affectionately known as Bud.

So look for Bud Lilly’s Trout Shop. And remember that Bud Lilly has had a lot to do with the good fishing you’re about to enjoy the next time you cast your fly upon the water.