Two Weeks before Your Fly Fishing Trip

before your next fly fishing trip

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 Murky Water

fly fishing murky water

I’m fond of trout fishing because I love crystal-clear rivers and streams. They are simply breath-taking and life-giving. So I can get a bit grumpy when a rainstorm adds a bit of color to make the stream more like chocolate milk.

But I’ve learned not to despair. Here are a few insights about fly fishing a murky river or stream:

1. A bit of color may work to your advantage

Sure, a swollen river gushing with snow runoff is usually not productive. Yet, fish are less spooky when the water is a bit murky. The murkiness prevents them from seeing fly fishers, false casts, and larger tippets.

2. Put on the San Juan Worm

There are a couple reasons why a murky river is a great place to try a San Juan Worm.

First, rainstorms and rising water often loosen up mud along the banks. This dislodges worms and sends them drifting down the current. Second, a pattern like a San Juan Worm is a bit larger than a size #18 Zebra Midge, so it’s easier for trout to spot it when visibility is limited.

3. Slow down your fly

Since visibility is limited, you want to give trout a longer-than-usual view of your fly. If you’re fishing nymphs, add a bit more weight to get your fly into the slower current at the bottom of the river. Remember, if the bubbles on the surface are moving faster than your strike indicator, you’re at the right depth. If you’re stripping a streamer, strip it a bit more slowly.

4. Keep an eye out for risers

I’m always surprised to see trout rising when the water is murky. But it happens more often than you might think. Often, I’ll find risers in slower water—either in the tailwater of a pool or even on the outside of a bend. These are places where the fish have more time to respond since the flies on the surface are not being carried along so quickly.

5. Look for fish in unexpected places

A few years ago, I fished the Lower Madison River in Montana when it had more color than usual. When I approached a familiar run, I was surprised to see a couple trout feeding near a shallow bank. I had never seen trout in that spot before. They were always in a deeper channel about six feet further into the river. But with murky water, they were less visible to predators.

I ended up catching one of them.

So don’t give up on fly fishing when your clear-running river gets a bit murky. You can work around a bit of color. Sometimes, it may even work to your advantage.

S3:E7 Fly Fishing Persistence and When to Quit

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Fly fishing persistence is necessary if you want to catch fish. Wind, rain, cold, snow – fly fishers know the truism that the worst weather is often the best for fishing. There are times to persist. Make another cast. Walk another mile. Change up your rig one more time. And then there are times to call it quits. In this episode, we attempt to ballpark the times when persistence pays off – and when it’s time to go home.

Listen now to “Fly Fishing Persistence and When to Quit”

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.

When did you stick it out – and have a banner day? What principles do you have for making a decision about when to fish and when to go home? We’d love to hear your stories and how you made decisions.

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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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Visit Amazon to get your copy today!

S3:E3 Summer Fly Fishing Joys and Woes

A River Runs Through It

Summer fly fishing can be hit or miss. Summer is here, and in this episode, we list the joys and woes of summer fly fishing. One joy of summer fishing is wet wading – less clothes. One woe is the family vacation. Click now to listen to “Summer Fly Fishing Joys and Woes.”

Listen now to “Summer Fly Fishing Joys and Woes”

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 do you love about summer fly fishing? When have you had the most success during the summer? What tips would you offer summer fly fishing warriors to improve their time on the water?

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

Or you can simply subscribe to the RSS feed here:

Subscribe to 2 Guys and A River2 Guys and A River

To see every episode that we’ve published, click on “Every Episode” on the top navigation.

Other Articles and Podcasts on the Topic

    “Summer Fly Fishing without Losing It”

    “Winter Fly Fishing without Losing It”

    “The Promise of Fall Fly Fishing”

Our Sponsor

For this episode, we are the Sponsor!

We’ve published a book 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!

Visit Amazon to get your copy today!

5 Weather and Water Conditions that Affect Your Fly Fishing

A couple weeks ago, I fished Montana’s Madison River three days in a row. The first day was stellar. The second day was not. The third day was a combination of fantastic and frustrating. All of this was due to the weather and water conditions. Such conditions force fly fishers to make adjustments.

Here are five weather-and-water conditions that affect fly fishing:

1. Water Level and Color

My first day on the Madison consisted of only two-and-a-half hours in the afternoon.

I spent the prime fly fishing hours on a Delta flight to Bozeman. Yet I still caught eight healthy rainbows (and lost several more). The next day, after some good rainbow fishing at dawn on the Missouri River near Helena, I drove back to the same spot I fished on the Madison the previous day. I arrived during a prime time window.

But I noticed that the water level was slightly higher and that the color was a bit murkier. As I feared, the fishing was slow. I caught nothing the first two hours even though I tried different patterns and presentations. The adjustments eventually yielded a couple small rainbows. But nothing like the previous day.

Sometimes, no adjustment with my rig makes a difference on days with higher water levels and more color. Sometimes, though, switching to a San Juan Worm or throwing a big streamer gives me a better chance.

2. Sky

If you’re new to fly fishing, you might be surprised to know that the sky has as much effect on fly fishing as the water conditions.

An old John Denver song says, “Sunshine on the water looks so lovely.” Yes, but not to a fly fisher. A cloudy, gloomy day will often trigger insect hatches, which in turn give trout something to feed on. So whenever I see grey skies, I expect to have some decent dry fly fishing. I look for Blue-Winged Olives or whatever else might be hatching at that time of year on that particular stretch of river.

When the sun shines bright in a cloudless sky, I anticipate nymph fishing. This is exactly what I did on the Madison on day one. I saw a few mayflies on the surface, but there were no trout rising. The trout were happy to take nymphs.

However, dry fly fishing can be productive on a sunny day later in the summer when hoppers are active. A hopper pattern — or even a big attractor like a Red Humpy or a Spruce Moth — may coax a large trout from its lair.

3. Moisture

Related to the sky is the moisture in the air.

The most ideal conditions for fly fishing are not the most ideal conditions for fly fishers. Rain and snow trigger insect hatches. I had light rain throughout my third day on the Madison, and the trout were quite active.

The only adjustment to make here is to invest in a good rain jacket. If you’re new to fly fishing, never quit because it’s a rainy or snowy day! That’s a prime condition for catching trout.

4. Water Temperature

Water temperature matters, too. I used to carry a thermometer in my fly vest to check the temperature of the rivers I fished.

Honestly, it was more interesting than helpful.

But I’m keenly aware that trout are more active in colder water and more sluggish in warmer water. A guide in a fly shop in Ennis told me that the Upper Madison had incredible dry fly fishing the previous year because most of the water released from Hebgen Dam was through the pipeline at the bottom of the dam. The water at the bottom is, of course, colder than the water closer to the surface.

The stretch of the Madison I fished on day one tends to be good in the spring but one to avoid in the summer. Or, if I fish it in the summer, I fish it in the cool of the early morning — before the warmer temperatures make the trout more sluggish (and susceptible to danger if played too long).

Besides, the warmer summer days trigger the “inner tube hatch” (dozens and dozens of people and their coolers floating down the river)!

5. Wind

I can put up with moisture (which makes the fly fishing better). But nothing frustrates me more than a day where the wind whips like it does on Mount Everest. I hate wind.

My third and final day on the Madison was almost thwarted by wind. I was floating the Upper Madison with a couple of buddies, and the oarsman (a veteran rower) struggled to keep us from slamming into the bank.

Still, the fishing was fantastic — between the gusts.

Some adjustments made the difference. While I saw rising fish (due to the clouds and moisture I already mentioned), the wind made it impossible to keep a dry fly from plowing through the surface film. So I switched to nymphs. I also shortened my casts and waited to make them between gusts of wind.

Weather and water conditions are unpredictable. But that’s why it’s called “fishing”!

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.

S2:E6 One Fine Day on the Madison River

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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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Why We Love Fly Fishing Small Creeks

My podcast partner, Dave, and I have had some fantastic days on big rivers. One spring we both had 20-inch rainbows on at the same time in the Madison River.

We’ve both landed big browns in the Lower Madison, and we’ve had a blast catching cutthroats feasting on hoppers in the Yellowstone River.

But it is the small creeks that we find irresistible.

Even on our trips to Montana or Wyoming, we always devote at least one day to fly fishing a small creek. Here are five reasons why we find small creeks so charming—and why you may want to make them part of your fly fishing experience as well.

Small creeks get less pressure

I wonder how many times I have seen the Yellowstone River in Montana’s Paradise Valley look like rush hour in Chicagoland, with all the drift boats making their way down the river.

Yet the little creeks — such as Pine Creek, Mill Creek, and Big Creek — are abandoned.

Recently, Dave and I fished the Driftless in southeast Minnesota. We had plenty of company on the South Fork of the Root River, but we spend most of our time on a little creek that emptied into the river. Canfield Creek turned out to be a gem. We had it all to ourselves, and the browns were happy to rise to our elk hair caddis flies.

Small creeks bring out the hunter in us

Small creeks require us to go into stealth mode.

When I fish my favorite runs in the Yellowstone or Madison Rivers, I rarely need to sneak up to the bank on my hands and knees. But that’s what it takes to fly fish a small creek. The run you want to fish in a small creek is only a couple feet away from where you’re kneeling rather than a dozen feet away as is often the case in a bigger river.

These runs in small creek are typically more shallow than the ones in a river, so a fly fisher is simply more visible to the fish. Maybe all this sneaking through the brush reminds me of bow-hunting elk.

Whatever the case, operating in stealth mode is part of the fun.

Small creeks require more precision

To be honest, this is a reason to hate fly fishing small creeks as well as to love it.

It’s not that big rivers allow you to make sloppy casts. But they are more forgiving.

A river may give you a foot-wide window for placing your fly. But in a small creek, that window often closes to a couple of inches. Short, gentle, target-specific casts are the order of the day when fly fishing a small creek. The challenge is usually fun, although some days it will drive you crazy.

Small creeks are easier to wade

This is the middle-aged man in me speaking.

A day of wade-fishing the Yellowstone leaves me weary. It’s a combination of fighting the swift current while trying to keep from slipping as I step from one slick rock to another.

Recently when Dave and I fished a couple small creeks, the pedometer on his cell phone indicated that we walked about seven miles (full disclosure: some of those steps were to and from a great little café in Preston, Minnesota). I was surprised we had walked that far because my legs and feet were hardly tired at all. That’s the benefit of a day of ankle-deep and calf-deep wading.

Small creeks are home to some large trout

For the most part, the trout are smaller in small creeks, and neither Dave nor I mind a bit.

I get as much joy landing a ten-inch rainbow in a small creek as I do a twenty-inch rainbow in a large river.

Last week I caught an eleven-inch brown on a dry fly in a small creek, and it made my day. But occasionally, you’ll catch a monster in a small creek. Recently, I fly fished the Boulder River in Montana in a mountainous stretch where the “river” is really a small creek. For several years, I had caught mainly eight- to twelve-inch fish. But one afternoon, when it began to rain lightly and the trout went into a feeding frenzy, I caught a fifteen-inch rainbow and then a sixteen-inch rainbow on consecutive casts.

Then the rain stopped, and so did the fishing. This experience reminded me that bigger trout lurk in these small streams. They are harder to catch, but everyone once in a while you’ll hook into one of them.

Enjoy your next trip to a big river. But don’t overlook the smaller streams that flow into it. Your best day of the trip might be on a creek that everyone else has neglected.

The 10 Commandments of Wading

10 commandments of wading

Commandments of wading are many, and for good reason. A couple years ago, I decided to cross a side channel in the Yellowstone River to an island which would give me access to a superb run. Dave, my podcast partner, and I were fly fishing in Yellowstone National Park. The side channel was only about 25 yards wide. But the current turned out to be stronger than I anticipated. The side channel was deeper than it looked.

I made it halfway across before I decided to turn around. Even then, I wasn’t sure if I would make it back safe and dry. But I did, thanks to obeying a handful of the “10 commandments of wading” which I was tempted to break that day.

The lawgiver who delivered these to me was not Moses, but Duane Dunham – a veteran fly fisher and friend who used to teach fly fishing at a community college in Oregon. Dave and I have obeyed (most of) these commands over the years because we have no interest in drowning or taking a bath on a 40-degree day in March.

Or, if that unwelcome bath happens (it hasn’t yet), we want to survive it.

1. The faster the river is flowing, the lower the depth level you can wade.

This means wading only mid-thigh in swift water. I’ll go deeper than that in some slower stretches of the Lower Madison or the Wyoming Bighorn. But I stick to shallow stretches when I’m on a stretch of raging river.

2. Keep your strides short.

Panic leads to larger strides which can result in getting “stuck” in the current with your feet about a yard apart. This makes balance difficult. Besides, when you try to take a step, the current assaults the one leg on which you are standing and raises the odds that you will end up making a splash.

3. Make sure you have the right soles.

Felt soles, though controversial, are still the best, especially in fast-moving rivers with smooth-rock bottoms, like the Yellowstone River. They are controversial because for years, it was thought that fly fishers who didn’t fully dry out their soles and then fished in a different stream contributed to the spread of invasive species.

If you take the time to wash your felt soles and to let them dry before going to another river, you eliminate almost any chance of spreading an invasive species. Metal studs work well too – either as an alternative to or (better) in addition to your felt soles.

4. Use a wading staff.

For years, I’ve simply used whatever stout branches I could find along the river’s edge. Finally, last fall, I purchased an Orvis wading staff. Simms make a good wading staff, too. But you can assemble the Orvis in much less time.

5. Angle downstream when crossing a river.

This enables you to work with the current, not against it. The current will actually push you along. Remember command #2 and take short strides.

6. Don’t try to turn around in fast current!

This is where a lot of anglers get into trouble. Either use a sidestep. Or back up carefully. Remember to take short strides and to angle downstream as you back up towards the bank.

7. Wear a wading belt with your chest waders.

Seatbelts save lives (like the time I rolled my truck and landed upside down in a small creek). So do wading belts. They keep your chest waders from filling up with water if you slip and take an unexpected bath.

If you forget your wading belt, forget about wading for the day. I’m serious!

8. If you fall in, don’t try to stand up too quickly.

And keep your feet down river. Stay in a sitting position and wait until you reach knee deep water before you try to stand up.

9. Let your fly rod go.

If you need to use your hands to stroke to shore, give it up. Better to lose your fly rod than your life. You might even recover your fly rod downstream. If not, you now have an excuse to buy the latest and best fly rod you’ve been drooling over in your local fly shop.

10. Don’t wade fish alone!

It’s not worth the risk. At least avoid certain rivers or stretches or runs.

If you’ve rolled your eyes at any of the ten commandments of wading, let me I remind you how shocked your body will be by the cold temperatures of the big freestone rivers in the West.

Let me remind you, too, that one slip can lead to a broken arm or (worse) a head injury that can limit or incapacitate you. So when you break these commandments, you put yourself at risk. Keeping them will protect your life.

Wade safely, my friend. Wade safely.

Episode 39: Wade Fishing vs Floating

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Wade fishing vs floating – it’s not either-or, of course. There is a time for each. But if you plan to take a fly fishing trip to the American West or some other area with bigger rivers, you’ll have a choice to make: should I use one or all of my days on a drift boat? Listen to this podcast, in which we help newbie fly fishers with the pluses and minuses of wade fishing vs floating. We also have thrown in some recommendations for your next float trip.

Listen to Episode 39: Wade Fishing vs Floating Now

How often do you float the big rivers? What do you prefer? Let us know your thoughts on this episode by posting your comments below.

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