I’ve been reviewing some of my previous blog posts and found one entitled Lessons Learned from our Fly Fishing Road Trip (from 2017). Since we recently returned from our last trip, I thought it was timely to update the list and provide a little more information from our most recent trip to Idaho and Montana.
First off, not everything went perfectly.
I had to replace a windshield in Missoula on our RAM Promaster van. We caught a rock along a little traveled road headed out of Enterprise, OR on the way to Lewiston, ID.
Here is an early image of the crack. It started under the passenger windshield wiper and headed up. Well, actually two lines. Eventually, it crossed to the driver’s side and almost to the top of the windshield.
The other glass I broke was on my Olympus TG-4 camera. I dropped it out of my waders onto a gravel parking lot. It isn’t the first time I’ve dropped this camera. It hit just right on a rock and the back viewing panel broke. The camera still works just fine, but I think I’m done with underwater photos for a while until I decide to replace it.
Even with these two little missteps, we had a terrific trip.
As a reminder, here is where we fished:
- Fly Fishing Idaho’s Kelly Creek and North Fork Clearwater River
- Fly Fishing the Bitterroot River
- Fly Fishing the Big Hole River
- Fly Fishing the Madison River
If you missed these posts, I invite you to take a quick look and check out the beautiful fish and gorgeous scenery during our 3 weeks.
Here are 10 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. Be observant. Hopefully, the river will speak to you and tell you what’s going on.
2. Adjust your fly fishing for changing water levels and temperature.
In the height of summer, water levels may drop quickly and be different from the previous day, which means fish aren’t in the same spots. We didn’t find this problem on our most recent trip, but during the 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.
I listened to my own advice on this point and we purchased our RAM Promaster one year ago, so our last trip found us camping very close to the water we planned to fish.
If you don’t own an RV, I highly recommend finding places to stay that are close to waters you plan to fish. That doesn’t always happen as many waters are remote and that means driving miles to the river. Before the van, I looked 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.
4. Whenever possible, the first stop you should make in a new location is the local fly shop.
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.
5. Pace yourself!
If you plan on multiple days of fishing, your casting arm might not be used to fishing that long. That might mean not fishing 12 hours/day during July when daylight hours are at their longest.
Our strategy is to fish early in the morning and late in the afternoon until dark. We found fishing the best at these times and 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.
6. 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!
7. 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 fly fishing road trip, I found this was much too light. We settled on 4X for most of our fishing. 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.
8. Manage fly boxes
This tip falls under the category of “do what I say, not what I do”. I’ve tried to limit the number of fly boxes I carry. But I seem to end up with a few of these fly cups. Two of them are my flies and the other were a few flies I picked up along our trip. I never know what to do with them, so they end up in a zippered pouch in my waders. Perhaps I need to take an empty fly box with me and put these flies and others I collect along the way into it. Who am I kidding? I probably can’t change…
9. Always be open to “plan B”.
In spite of all the research, low or high water conditions can really mess up your fishing plans. Be open to try other waters nearby or move to the next river earlier than planned. This might not be possible if you’ve made accommodations in advance, but it’s something to consider.
10. Carry bear spray!
Much of the waters we fish are located in bear country. Need I say more? Be on the lookout for one of these.
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.
We’ll be seeing $3 Bridge again in the very near future.
Oh, I almost forgot.
As a bonus, we stopped and fished the Lochsa River, ID on our way home as we drove from Missoula, MT over Lolo Pass towards Lewiston, ID.
It had been several years since we fished the Lochsa.
The first place we stopped, I tied Beetle Betty on my line and cast it into a likely looking seam. All of a sudden, two fish rose and bounced off of each other, neither hooking up. I couldn’t believe what I had seen and laughed out loud. My wife witnessed this as well. A couple of casts later, one of the fish rose and I landed a beautiful 14″ Cutthroat.
We ended up catching a few fish in most of the spots we stopped. Beautiful Cutthroat Trout!
We returned home safe and sound after driving 2,742 miles on this trip.