If you are a regular RiverKeeper Flies follower, you’ve read about our 2017 fly fishing road trip. Not everything came off without a hitch and I thought is might be helpful to provide a few lessons learned from our fly fishing road trip.

Fishing the Yellowstone River | www.johnkreft.com

If you are like me, the anticipation of fishing new waters is very exciting. I’ve read about the places I plan to fish and think I’ve done a reasonable job preparing to have a great time. 

Here are 8 lessons learned from our fly fishing road trip that may help you to plan your own trip.

1. Every day of fishing will be different than the previous day, even if you fish the same water. I’ve experienced this on my home waters as well. I head back to the water after a great day of fishing only to find no rising fish. Weather’s the same. Water level’s the same. Flies I fish are the same. But the fish decide something is different and they don’t cooperate.

One solution may be to fish at a different time of day. Perhaps mayfly spinners are falling early in the morning or late in the day. Maybe caddis are emerging at dusk. The key is to be flexible.

2. You need to adjust your fly fishing for dropping water and water temperature. Water levels may drop quickly and be different from the previous day, which means fish aren’t in the same spots. A perfect example of this was fishing the Clark Fork. I had great success one day, but the next day the river had dropped several inches and fish were holding in different water. On our 2017 fly fishing road trip, we heard about Hoot Owl restrictions, where fishing closed at 2 pm until midnight. That can certainly affect your fly fishing vacation!

Hoot Owl restrictions are a good thing because it protects fish. Warm water temperatures are the reason for these restrictions because the fish exert so much energy fighting they have a tough time recovering and swimming away. That’s why you’ll hear to stop fishing when water temperatures get to 70 degrees.

If these restrictions are in place, you’ll have to decide if you continue to fish the water planned within the allowable time restrictions or move on and try to find another river to fish. That’s what I call “plan B”.

3. Stay as close as you can to the waters you plan to fish. We don’t own an RV, which means I find places to stay that are close to waters we plan to fish. That doesn’t always happen as many waters are remote and that means driving miles to water. Certainly, owning an RV would allow camping closer to some water, but we’ve found ways to overcome that problem.

Instead of staying in motels, I look for accommodations which have kitchens. We find it cheaper in the long run to cook our own meals and it allows us to control the food we eat. Many times we fish until dark and all the restaurants are closed anyway.

This year I rented cabins and tried VRBO and Airbnb for the first time. They worked out really well and I wouldn’t hesitate using them again.

Sportsman Motel Twins Cabin in Melrose, MT | www.johnkreft.com

4. Always be open to “plan B”. In spite of all the research, low water conditions when we arrived at the Kettle River made that option a terrible idea. I had planned to stay three nights in the area and fish. Since that didn’t pan out, we ended up scrambling trying to find a place to stay on a busy Friday night.

We hatched our “plan B” idea in a downtown Spokane, WA motel. And it turned out really well. We ended up fishing the St Joe and Clark Fork rivers, both places that weren’t in the original plan. I’m glad we did! We were able to catch fish in spite of the crowds.

Clark Fork Cutthroat | www.johnkreft.com

5. When you arrive at your fishing destination, the local fly shop is a good first stop to find out current fishing conditions. You’ll be able to find local access spots, current hatches and flies to match the hatch, and times when fishing might be best. And always…ALWAYS… spend some money as a way to say “thanks”. Even if you don’t need anything. If you are a fly tyer, buy some hooks. Purchase a new leader or two or buy a few flies even if you don’t need them. Maybe they will have some local patterns you don’t have. But spend some money to say “thanks” for the information you receive.

Galloup's Slide Inn Sign | www.johnkreft.com

6. We were fortunate to fish for 25 days. That’s a LONG time, so be sure to pace yourself. That might mean not fishing 12 hours/day. Your casting arm will get tired so pace yourself.

We found fishing early in the morning and late in the afternoon until dark not only allowed us to have some good fishing, but it also meant we didn’t have to battle crowds as much. Sure, others were fishing, but staying close to the river allowed quick arrival at the river and we were able to fish wherever we wanted. I remember leaving $3 Bridge on the Madison between 11 and noon when several fly fishers were just arriving. We had already fished 4 to 5 hours and headed back to rest, eat, and get ready for the afternoon and evening fishing. By the time we returned to the river, many fly fishers were gone. It was time to eat or they had to get back to their non-fishing family.

7. If this is the first time you’ve been to new water, consider taking a guided trip. I do this on some waters. I tell our guide I want to learn the river and will let him know I’d like more information like access points, best time of day to fish, and other flies to use. It’s worked for me. I’ve learned of access points where I can walk and wade. Many times they will tell you spots to fish while drifting the river and you can return to them. Oh, if you tip well you may get better info! 

8. Be prepared to adjust your terminal tackle. In my home waters, I fish a long leader with 6X tippet. On most of the waters of our 2017 fly fishing road trip, I found this was much too light. This is a question you can ask the local fly shop. You might find the fish are not leader shy at all. Always use the strongest leader possible to effectively land fish.

Another question I get a lot is how often to do I change flies. I find when fishing new water, I change flies more often.

And fly selection can be different. You may not fish many terrestrial flies on your home water, but in some rivers beetles and ants can are VERY effective.

So that’s my list. Learning new water is enjoyable but going back to places you’ve had great experiences can be memorable as well.

Madison River Sunset over Water | www.johnkreft.com

I hope these lessons learned from our fly fishing road trip will help you in planning your own fly fishing vacation.

Here are the posts from the 2017 fly fishing road trip:

Upper Columbia River Fly Fishing

Fly Fishing the St. Joe River, ID

Missouri River Fly Fishing

Fly Fishing the Big Hole and Beaverhead Rivers

Fly Fishing the Madison and Yellowstone Rivers

Enjoy…go fish!

Similar Posts


  1. John – I fished the Yellowstone River on July 20th with famous guide Bob Jacklin, the water was high and I caught just one magnificent Cutthroat on a streamer. Catching one on a dry fly must have been quite an experience. I can entirely understand your desire to travel across the Park to catch only a couple on consecutive days!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.