I’m lucky enough to be able to fly fish a lot, both around my home in Central Oregon and other world-class locations in Montana, Idaho, British Columbia, and Washington. As I try to finish preparing for a fly fishing road trip with my fishing partner (my wife), I reminisce about previous rivers and the great times we’ve had.
Last year, we completed a Montana road trip, fishing a few of their great rivers. You can read more about our Montana Road Trip in the following posts:
- On the Road to Montana
- Montana Road Trip – Madison River
- Montana Road Trip – DePuy Spring Creek
- Montana Road Trip – Stillwater River
- Montana Road Trip – Lamar and Slough Creek
The sunsets along the Madison River were spectacular and I always enjoy fishing around Raynold’s Pass Bridge and $3 Bridge.
I mentioned above we are fortunate to fish quite a few out-of-state rivers over the years. We really enjoy the adventure, scenery, and challenge of catching fish in every river we fish.
As I prepare for this year’s trip, I thought it may be helpful to share some thoughts on a few year’s worth of experience from prior road trips.
The first question to answer is where to go?
I use fly fishing guide books and magazine articles (like Northwest Fly Fishing) for an initial pass on likely places to fish. These sources might have pictures of the river, information on the best times to fish, access points, hatch charts, useful fly patterns, local fly shops and guides, and lodging ideas. I’ve been known to hire a guide for the first day fishing new water to increase my knowledge and I usually let the guide know I plan to fish in the area for a few days and need tips on other access points and hatches.
Contact these local fly shops to hire a guide or find out other information and then stop by when you pass through and spend a little money as a way to say “thanks”. You shouldn’t expect to receive valuable information without helping support these fly fishing shops. Local and timely information from fly shops close to your fishing destination is worth it’s weight in gold.
You can also use RiverKeeper Flies as a source for locations and fishing experience. My Montana Road trip posts are a good example.
Over the years, we enjoy returning to rivers fished on earlier road trips, but we like to explore new places to fish as well.
So with that caveat, here are a few tips or ideas that work for us and you might consider when planning your fly fishing road trip.
Fish more/travel less
I used to pack too many destinations into each trip and it seemed all I did was drive from one spot to another. We learned to stay a minimum of 3 nights at each location. Here’s why I say that.
Day 1 is spent traveling. Fishing probably isn’t in the cards, because you arrive late and check-in after 4 pm. Unload the rig, get a lay of the land, and it’s almost time for dinner. The best you can hope for is a little fishing before dark. If your better half doesn’t fish that much, you won’t be fishing then either!
Day 2 is for fishing. Get up early and hit the water. Hopefully, the fish gods smile down at you allow a few fish on the end of your line.
Day 3 check-out time is 11 am. More than likely, you won’t fish before that. You may be able to squeeze a little fishing in, but you have to get on the road and arrive at the next stop. How many miles away will that be?
Now you can understand why I suggest the 3 night minimum.
It takes a couple of days for us to figure out access points, hatches, and best times to fish. If you want to shorten the learning curve, hire a guide for every stop (which is fine, but the cost adds up quickly).
Guided vs. self-guided trip
Guides are a very effective method of learning a new river. They almost always get you into fish. If you decide to hire a guide, let them know what you expect. Many start out the day with nymphs under strike indicators. If that isn’t how you want to fish, it could be a long day.
I fish a lot and like to figure things out on my own…and most of the time, I’m successful with that strategy. But I’ve done my homework and asked the local fly shop for information when I arrive (and spend a few dollars as a way to say “thanks”). It’s a Zen thing for me. I can fish or observe my surroundings and perhaps take a few pictures of the scenery. It adds to my total experience.
Guided fly fishing and lodging packages are another option and one I plan to utilize on the Upper Columbia this year with The Evening Hatch fly shop. Guides, lodging, and meals are included in one price and this can be a great way to learn new water and not worry about the details.
Where to stay
Options on where to stay include lodges, motels, Vacation Rental by Owner, or camping. Your budget and fishing location will dictate if all these options are available to you at the river you plan to fish. Sometimes the only viable option is to camp.
We found it very helpful to stay in places where a kitchen is available to use. It helps control what we eat and cuts down on the total trip cost.
The resources I mentioned above will help determine likely flies for your trip. Be sure to check out the RiverKeeper Flies post – Montana Fly Box for flies that worked for me. The flies listed there were effective during our trip and I would’t hesitate to have a well-stocked fly box with those flies in it. Obviously, the timing of your trip will dictate if other flies are expected to be hatching.
2017 fly fishing road trip
This year’s trip starts with fishing the Upper Columbia. We don’t use many guides, but this will be big water. I’ll be totally out of my element, but have always wanted to fish here. We’ll be within 25 miles of the US/Canada border.
One of the intriguing reasons I look forward to fishing the Upper Columbia is a Green Drake and Black Quill hatch. You know I like Green Drakes! Here is one from a week ago on the Metolius River.
The Kettle River is a likely stop as well, because it’s less than an hour away. I’ve heard good things about that river, so I think it will be on the list.
The next stop might be the North Fork Coeur d’Alene River and St Joe River in northern Idaho and I’m doing a little research to see if these two rivers are viable options for us.
Since Montana is right around the corner, the Big Hole River and the Madison River are calling my name! We’ve fished both these rivers before and they hold some good memories.
If these options work out, I’ll have a difficult time driving from one river to another. At times, I have to drive with blinders on because I’m passing good-looking, fishy water. But I have a destination in mind or previously planned and need to get there.
What a problem to have.