Check Yourself Pt. 1 - Planning A Trip To Fly Fish Montana

As I sat at my desk on Tuesday morning feverishly trying to rub the tired out of my eyes, I realized I’d been in the office for almost an hour and had absolutely zero idea what I’d been doing since I got there. Its only then that it hit me. The hangover. I just returned from a five-day trip (my first) to Montana. The fact that I’m in an office instead of making my way down some trail in Yellowstone in search of some blue line on a map makes my head ache worse than any bottle ever has. Over the next couple of posts, I’m going to try and relate the “to do’s” and “what not to do’s” for a first trip to fly fishing Mecca. This first post will focus mainly on pre-trip planning.

My fly fishing history is a relatively short one. I grew up on Cape Cod chasing striped bass, bluefish, and anything else that swam in the salt. My grandfather was a prolific freshwater fly fisherman, but passed away well before I was old enough to hold my own juice box, let alone a fly rod. After staring for too long at all the fly gear I had inherited, I finally decided to give it a go about three years ago. I haven’t looked back since. For me, fly fishing in the salt is relatively easy in comparison to freshwater. Emphasis on relatively. Being out on a boat at the edge of the rips during an albie blitz, or stalking the saltwater flats of Cape Cod bay, there are little to no casting impediments aside from the wind. Fish can run free for hundreds of yards once hooked, with little to snag on other than the occasional abandoned lobster pot. Just make sure you have enough backing.

When I moved to Maine a year and a half ago, I decided to shift my focus to trout. After getting some location and set up advice from a few of the guys at the local fly shop, I realized I had no clue what I was doing. What the hell is mending? How can a trout see these flies when I can barely see the eye of the hook to thread the tippet through it? And every time I try to synch a knot, the tippet breaks. So much for twenty pound fluoro leaders. After spending all spring and summer catching every species of tree and shrub that reside on riverbanks in Maine, I felt I had a pretty good handle on things. For the record, oak trees love a size 18 pheasant tail nymph on the end of a hopper dropper setup.

Then came the day when I returned home from work to find my girlfriend had bought plane tickets and made hotel reservations in Bozeman. After the initial shock wore off, I began working feverishly to make sure I squeezed every spare second I could out of our trip in order to maximize my time on the water. It didn’t hurt that she let me book a full day float with an outfitter, but I figured I might as well try and squeak another couple of minutes on a river whenever I got the chance.

In anticipation of our trip, I began making sure I had everything I needed. Here’s the first couple of tips.

  1. Research Research Research. You’re going to drop some serious coin on a good guided trip. Most full day floats for 1-2 anglers will run from $450-$550, tip not included. Tip is usually another $50-$80. You do not want you hard earned money going to waste. Read blogs, independent outfitter rating sites, and the outfitter’s websites themselves. I usually judge an outfitter by their bad reviews. While the outfitter I chose is tops in Bozeman, I’m usually skeptical of anything that only has positive reviews. I like to read the negatives to see what guides to avoid, and what other problems people have encountered. Bad reviews don’t necessarily mean the outfitter is bad. It just means they’re human.

  2. Call the outfitter and go over what to expect and what you should bring.When I first called to book my trip, I made sure to explain that this was my first time on a guided fishing trip for trout. Any good outfitter worth the money will take the time to go over everything with you and make sure you’re 100% prepared when you step into the driftboat. While the weather and fishing conditions can change almost instantly, the outfitter should have a pretty good idea of everything you need to bring. I called the outfitter again a couple of weeks before the trip to go over everything one more time. You don’t want your trip ruined by something you had several months to take care of.

  3. MAKE A LIST.This part was the most frustrating pre-trip for my girlfriend. We sat down a week before the trip and made a list of absolutely everything we would bring. Shirts, pants, socks, underwear, jackets, rods, tippet, cameras, EVERYTHING. Then when we went to pack, we began to pare down until we had enough to get us through the week. And guess what! Over the course of the five-day trip, we never once said “Shit, I left that at home.”

  4. MAPS. Google Earth might be the single greatest piece of technology a fisherman can use. Once we decided we were going to spend two days in Yellowstone, I spent hours on Google Earth planning our routes to and from the park. It’s not hard to find fishable water in Montana, but I wanted to make sure I highlighted areas I specifically wanted to fish, while also leaving time for places I might see along the way. It’s also a good idea to bring a map with you. After our day with the guide, he was more than happy to circle a bunch of spots on the map where there was easy access to great wade fishing.

The main goal of your trip should be two-fold:

One Enjoy yourself as much as humanly possible. You’re spending some serious money all tolled and you don’t want to return home with bad memories. Remember that its fishing. Things can change instantly. Going in with too lofty of expectations can result in a serious letdown. Just remember that while your guide is working as hard as he can to put you on the fish, he can’t make them eat.

Two Learn as much as humanly possible. This will be a recurring theme in many of my posts. I make a point to take time and observe everything going on around me while I’m fishing. I will routinely go down to the water I plan to fish, whether in Maine or Montana, and sit for at least ten minutes before fishing. While the fish might not be eating the same thing on your trip in October that they are on your return trip in May, observations made on your first trip about access points, water levels, in stream and stream side structure can help you to get on the fish faster next time. Take pictures of runs you would like to fish again. Write notes on the location boulders and other structure in the stream are so when you return to higher water levels, you can effectively fish these spots that may not be visible.

Do everything you can to give yourself the best chance of having a successful day on the water.

Check out part two of this post by clicking this line!!

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