S4:E12 Fly Fishing in Snake Country

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Fishing in snake country is pretty much inevitable. Rattlesnakes and copperheads, just to name two venomous snakes, pose a risk to fly fishers, depending on where you live, in late spring, summer, and early fall. In this episode, we recount a harrowing tale of a fly fisher in the eastern United States, bitten by a copperhead, and offer some basic advice for staying alert while on the river.

LISTEN NOW TO Fly Fishing in Snake Country

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.

Have you seen a venomous snake while fishing? Any hacks or techniques that you use to stay alert on the trail?


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The Fly Fisher’s Book of Lists – A “Cliffsnotes for Fly Fishers”

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.

To switch metaphors, perhaps it’s more 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!

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Safety Devices for Fly Fishers

safety devices

Fly fishing is not an extreme sport. But it can be a dangerous one. Every year, fly fishers drown, break bones, and hook themselves. They get lost. Caught in storms. And stung by insects and bitten by snakes.

So the next time you head for the river, consider taking along some of all of these safety devices:

1. A first-aid kit

This is critical if you plan to fish very far up the river. I prefer a first-aid kit the size of a small fly box. You only need the basics—band-aids, antiseptic cream, pain reliever, and a couple larger bandages or gauze dressings.

You might include moleskin for blisters. In fact, this may be the most important element in your first aid kid.

2. Your smartphone

No, you don’t need your smartphone to check email or Twitter.

But you might be surprised at the places you have cell service — like on certain spots on the Yellowstone River in Yellowstone National Park. Well, I should say I do, but Dave (my podcast partner) doesn’t. We use different carriers.

I have a flashlight app on my phone that I’ve used when hiking in or out of my fishing spot in the dark. The GPS might allow someone to track you if you break a leg and simply can’t move.

3. Bear spray

This is an absolute must in grizzly country.

Last fall, a couple was scouting fishing spots on the Lamar River in Yellowstone National Park when they spotted a grizzly feeding on carcass. The bear was in no mood for competition, so it charged. It came within nine feet before their bear spray turned it away. It charged again, but retreated and ran away when it encountered the cloud of bear spray a second time.

Dave and I were fly fishing just a few miles away one week earlier, and we saw grizzly tracks along the river. Yes, we were carrying bear spray.

4. A wading staff

I’m a big believer in wading staffs. Their most obvious use is staying on your feet in the current. A wading can also help you walk if you sprain an ankle. And also serves as a means to ward off a rattlesnake.

5. Two-way radios

These are great for those spots where you don’t have cell phone service.

Dave, my podcast partner, and I regularly carry two-way radios when we’re fishing in the backcountry. Yes, we admit sharing fishing info (“Hey, they’re starting to take Caddis flies over here!”). But we take them along in case one of spots a bear or falls and twists an ankle. Even some of the places we fish in the Driftless (southeastern Minnesota and southwestern Wisconsin) have limited cell coverage.

Must Have vs Nice to Have

The five items above fall into the “must have” category. But there are some “nice to have” items you might want to consider:

    A change of socks can help prevent blisters;

    A rain jacket can provide warmth as well as protection if you get caught in a fierce rainstorm;

    A fire-starter is an extra measure of caution if I’m hiking a few miles up river in the mountains of Wyoming or Montana. I’ll also thrown in a small lighter and some folded newspaper (in a plastic bag); and

    Water purification tablets might even be must-have if your destination is a lake or stream a few miles from the trailhead.

The next time you hit the river, don’t forget the devices that can help you avoid or deal with dangers. And of course, you always need to carry a good amount of water.

The Most Overlooked Fly Fishing Danger

The dangers fly fishers face are well publicized. Drowning. Lightning. Bear attacks. Rattlesnake bites. But little gets said about one of greatest dangers to your well-being when you plan your next fly fishing trip. It’s the most overlooked fly fishing danger.

It’s the same one facing hunters and airline passengers.

This danger comes from the vehicles you drive or pass on the way to your favorite river or hunting spot or airport. Statistically, the drive to the airport poses more danger to you than the airline flight you will board.

So it is with fly fishing:

1. Animal Encounters

It’s not enough to keep your eyes peeled for the rattlesnake on the trail to your favorite run. It’s the bison or the deer or cattle on the highway that can mess up you, your truck, and your trip. (Okay, the likelihood of hitting a bison is small unless you’re mindlessly driving in Yellowstone Park.)

One fall morning, my friend, Harry, and I left before dawn from Montana’s Gallatin Valley to drive to Henry’s Lake. What turned out to be a good trip (several nice trout on streamers) was almost sabotaged by a whitetail buck that jumped between Harry’s pick-up and boat trailer as we were driving down the highway.

Harry was alert for deer, and so he saw the buck getting ready to cross the road. He slowed down enough that there was no damage to the deer or trailer wiring.

A more serious situation occurred a couple summers ago involving Bobby Knight, the legendary college basketball coach.

A day before Dave, my podcast partner, and I fly fished the Wyoming Bighorn near Thermopolis, WY, Bobby Knight fished the same water and drove away in a Ford Expedition. It was dark, and he was driving in an open range area. Suddenly, cattle appeared on the road. He hit one of them and totaled his vehicle.

Fortunately, he escaped without injury. If you’ve ever driven remote highways in Montana or Wyoming at night, you know that this can happen to anyone.

2. Errant Drivers

When I was in high school, my brother, Dave, and I were fishing a little stream near Hallowell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. The stream was below the mountain highway leading up to Bear Lake area. It took us about forty-five minutes to fish upstream to a natural stopping point.

On the way back down, there was a brand new car nose down in the creek—exactly where we had been standing about fifteen minutes earlier!

We learned that an elderly gentleman had fallen asleep because of some medication. He was okay, but we shuddered to think that what would have happened to us if we had been fishing there when the car took a nose dive over the bank.

I rarely fish streams or rivers right off the road. But when I do, I try not to linger too long at spots where errant drivers might land. I know how quickly these kind of accidents can happen—like the time I slid off an icy road and landed upside down in small stream near my home in Montana.

That’s a story for another time.

3. Drifting Vehicles

One day I was fly fishing the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley within sight of my parent’s home. I had walked down to a fishing access that was downriver from the Mill Creek Bridge. Suddenly, I saw a red car floating down the river! I didn’t see anyone in it, so I ran up to my folks house and called the county sheriff. They had already been notified. It turned out that a fly fisher had parked on an incline near the bridge and forgot to set his parking brake.

I now remember to set my parking brake whenever I’m parked on a slope of any kind.

Many are the ways to depart this world while doing what you love. Stay alert. And drive carefully!

Episode 43: 5 Fly Fishing Dangers

fly fishing guides

Fly fishing is no extreme sport. Just look at us. We couldn’t extreme anything. But fly fishing offers a few ways to die (drowning, the most obvious), and many ways to ruin a day on the river. Listen to Episode 43: 5 Fly Fishing Dangers as we identify a few fly fishing dangers. We also make several recommendations so that your next trip isn’t your last.

Listen to Episode 43: 5 Fly Fishing Dangers

We’ve recently introduced a feature to our podcast – “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” At the end of each episode, we read a few of the great comments from the blog or from Facebook. We love the idea of adding your ideas to the creative mix.

What dangers did we miss? Do you have any great stories to tell? We’d love to hear from you.

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