Western Fly Fishing - Things I wish I had known the first time I planned my first trip...

mdbones

Member
Messages
13
Reaction score
13
Location
Newtown, Pa
Over the last five years, I have spent 65 days and driven nearly 13,000 miles while chasing trout across Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. I recently had a work colleague request advice on planning a trip out west. I have cut and pasted that advice below for those who are planning a first-time trip out west. Disclaimer: What follows is strictly the opinion of one average DIY angler, who in no way shape, or form claims to be an expert on either trip planning, fly fishing, proper grammar, or punctuation.

Where to start: determine the where

Buy a state-specific fly fishing guidebook and then using that info, map out the rivers you are considering to fish using the saved maps function in Google Maps to identify key access points to the river. No need to go overboard here, the most important item here is that you understand geographically where the different rivers lie in relation to each other, and where you can park to access those rivers.

As you search do not limit yourself to the big-name blue-ribbon rivers as potential locations. The more I fish out west the more I find myself targeting the lesser hyped tributaries of the big-name rivers. This seems especially true in Colorado and Montana – where crowding can be an issue in July/August. To be clear these are not tiny streams, and by no means are they secrets. Instead, these are the streams that might get a sentence or two in the guidebook, instead of a three-page spread Fly Fishing

Forums – Great place to check-in, but the info does not flow as freely as it did at one time due to pressure concerns. I have found that a polite posting that shares your planned itinerary to a specific area works much better than “I am going XXX where should I fish?”. This approach will usually result in a PM or two where people will share info more freely.

Google Earth/Youtube - Both can be invaluable in determining if a stream is one you would be interested in fishing. For Google Maps, the 3D function allows you to fly along the stream or river and givers a better understanding of canyons, valleys, and access points. YouTube can visually confirm if it's the water type that you prefer to fish. A bit of detective work is required here as if you are looking for the lesser-known streams in many instances they are not named. If you can't find videos on the stream as it relates to fishing, the next search should include the name of the general location plus fishing. Example: NW State/Fishing in the search box. If that fails try including stream/location/hiking/camping in the search field - this is not going to give you fishing-specific info - but it will allow you to see what the stream looks like, and what the hiking trail looks like.

Once you understand where the potential streams are located, then you can build an itinerary that will give you an idea as to the cities that are best to consider securing lodging

Determine how you will get there, how you will get around, and where you will stay

Air Travel. once you know the general area then you can determine what the best airport to fly in will be. If cost is a concern, Denver (Colorado, Wyoming), Salt Lake City (Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming), and Spokane (Montana, Idaho) are generally the best cost options. You can also choose to fly into regional airports, but you will generally pay more for your flight and rental, and have fewer arrival departure options. Clearly, it’s a balance, but if you build your itinerary right it is possible to fish your way to and from your destinations (assuming you love windshield time).

Secure an SUV in advance. I would highly recommend a 4-wheel drive. I will schedule via the rental agency App to secure and then call the locations up to 6 months in advance to request a specific vehicle- see they will list a general category like a luxury SUV – you need to call if you have a specific vehicle in mind (I would like a 4x4 Four runner).

Lodging. We certainly did not start out with this method but, from a lodging perspective, we secure the first night only and then let the direction given from the local fly shop guide us (more on that below). Certainly, you expose yourself to the risk of not securing a room here, but we have never had an issue securing lodging at one of the brand name hotels, regardless of the size of the town as long as we book it in the am of the day we plan to stay.

First stop, fly shop.


When looking at fishing logs that spanned 5 years’ worth of trips one thing became clear; the best days were always preceded by a visit to a fly shop to seek advice. Our itinerary will change by up to 70% based on fly shop guidance (hence why we don’t want to lock down lodging in advance). My approach to generating advice from the fly shop is still a work in progress, but the below has been fairly successful

In many instances, the quality of advice is in direct proportion to your willingness to spend money. You don’t need to drop $900.00 on a new rod, but an offering is required. I find that shopping first, and waiting for a lull-in activity is the prime time to approach the counter.

Be clear on the type of water you are looking for and any other details that they will need to know to give you good advice. Example; “I prefer going non guided, most comfortable with mid-sized to small streams, I’m bear/moose aware and have bear spray, I’m willing to hike 3 miles for good fishing, I have a 4-wheel drive, I despise rafters, and I am geographically familiar with the area”.

Don’t try to squeeze a weeks’ worth of information on locations during that first contact. Assuming that you had a great day, it does not hurt to call the shop on your way home from the river and profusely thank them. Then when you drop by the next morning, reference the call, thank them again, buy more stuff and then ask for more advice. In my experience its once you get to the third contact, the quality of advice increases exponentially. I Would also stress reading the shop as you engage in the discussion, if another customer comes up - back off and let them help that person out. I know it seems like common sense – but if you treat them with courtesy and respect it will pay off.

Keep in mind the advice you are seeking is for the local area, you can try to expand outside of the shop's range – but the quality of knowledge drops dramatically as you move outside of the geographical area that the fly shop serves. Focus on the area that the shop serves, once you feel like you have hit the rivers, move to the next area that you researched and start the process over with the new fly shop.

Back to Google Maps

After you get the info from the fly shop update your Google maps and then download the area you plan to fish on your iPhone. Don’t skip this step, it’s critical that you download the area you will be driving to while you have service, doing this ensures that you will have access to your maps for navigation regardless of cell coverage or not. Then you simply go top one of your preselected pins and hit navigate – even if it’s a forest road it will take you to that spot, even after you lose cell phone coverage - your GPS location and directions functions will continue to work as long as you download the map.

Trail maps are invaluable (phone, or GPS)

When fishing wilderness areas. We have hiked on multiple horse, cow, mountain goat trails all of which rarely offered easy access to the river, and once you were on the river - you would struggle to get off the river as they are usually brush dense. This also means that as you looked up the side of the hill/cliff/mountain you had no idea where the trail was (or if there even was a trail). A simple glance at the GPS/iPhone map will clearly show where the trail was located in relation to the river and allows for an easier exit from your upstream location (keyword is "easier" as its still a beast to navigate through alders on your way back)

Forest road + Trail head + Hike = Fish.

The more difficult it is to get to, the more productive it tends to be. Not sure if anything has led to more epic days than this – but a 45-minute drive down a forest road, combined with a 2-mile hike has without fault resulted in lights out fishing. We have found these types of opportunities in every state that we have fished - they most likely exist once you hit the defined national, state, and wilderness areas.

Paved or dirt road parallels the river means company.

This is where we started, but we will only now fish these types of rivers if we have no other option. It does not mean that there will not be fish, quite the opposite as fishing is good. What it does mean in the summer is that you will not be alone, and since I generally have all the company that I need when fishing in PA, I have intentionally chosen to not do that out west. It never ceases to amaze me that even on a river where I am the only angler on 20 miles of river road, as soon as another angler who is not familiar with the area, sees a car with rod racks they park 500 yards upstream of where you are fishing, and high hole you.

Whistles & Two Way Radio’s

Purchase a good whistle and a set of two-way radios. We have always used whistles for basic communication (1 whistle = Here is my location, 2 whistles come here, 3 whistles = danger). But two years ago we added clip-on radios as we moved further and further into the backcountry. While I was hesitant at first, they have been really useful as it’s not uncommon for us to get separated, and this allows for us to quickly connect and find common landmarks so that we can find each other.

Flies

From a nymph perspective, what has worked in the Northeast, has also worked in the West. I do tend to use 14’s and 12’s a bit more than I do on my home waters, but the same Stoneflies, Frenchies, Hares ears, and RS2’s that that I use in NE PA have produced across the West. From a dry fly perspective (at least during late summer) Chubby Chernobyl’s, Neversink Caddis, and Parachute Adams have consistently produced regardless of the state or river.


Gear

Rod's: The first two years I primarily fished a 4 weight, but after as we discovered chubby’s migrated to a 5 which has become my primary. Does not hurt to have a 6 for the big rivers, or if you are in a certain range that shall go unnamed which seems to feature Bahamas-type winds from sunup to sundown. Carry those three and you are good to go. Rod storage system - We have tried multiple setups starting with external rod holders which are great while you are fishing, but suck once you head back into town. Last four years we have gone with an internal system that is basically rope that hangs on the hanger's above the doors in the front, attaches via suction cups in the back. We then use the flex ties to secure them so they don't slide around. A bit more of a hassel if you are spot jumping - but your rods are always inside which offers more protection. Waders/Boots - Since our trips are always late July/early August we have quit wearing waders, and have shifted to wearing quick-drying pants, 1MM neoprene socks, and rubber-soled hiking/wading boots. Still have not had the guts to not bring the wader pants and felts boots - but they stayed in the duffel bag last year. Sling pack - Won't go deep here as I am not sure that I have the right solution yet. Needless to say, whatever pack you use, it needs to be big enough for a rainjacket, a couple of fly boxes, tippets, leaders, nippers, a headlamp, power bars, small emergency kit, water and whatever else you need to hike/fish.


Favorite State

I know you asked if I could pick one which would it be. In order for me to do that, I would need to drink another four beers – and I just don’t have the time. So let me put it this way. They are all spectacular and would jump at the opportunity to fish any of them again. A better way might be to just list them based on characteristics - to be clear these are in no particular order...

Montana - Great stream access laws, endless numbers of streams, multiple gifted Zymurgists in every town, fly shops on every corner, Wife friendly. Negatives: That Southwest corner gets crowded as hell in July and August.

Wyoming – Cool small western towns, at least one talented Zymurgist’s in every town, and in at least one instance in his parent’s barn, top-notch hiking available to find low-pressure fishing, added bonus if the wife is joining it would be hard to find a better town for the spouse than Jackson. Negatives; shitty stream access laws

Utah – Easy to get to, easy to avoid pressure, streams are underrated IMO with solid fish density, fantastic Indian reservation fishing. Negatives; Stream access laws and convenience store beer look exactly like regular beer, but only 3.2 % alcohol – Fraud!!!

Colorado – Easy to get to, and best airfares and rentals, High density of quality streams. Great fly shops and Brewpubs. Negatives; It can get crowded on the front range rivers and streams (but to be fair even the high-pressure front range streams are ridiculously productive), Stream access laws not so good.

Idaho – Great Stream access laws, low pressure (outside of the northeast area), sun valley is wife friendly. Negatives; If Sun Valley/Ketchum is your base it can be a bitch to get to, and good brewpubs in small towns are tough to find.
 

fly25

Active member
Messages
39
Reaction score
10
Great info here. Myself and a friend are planning an extended western fishing trip in a couple years when we're both retired. We'll be driving out and will bring our pontoon boats for the right opportunities. Looking forward to a few months of fishing and adventure.

Sent from my SM-G965U using Tapatalk
 

68camaro

Active member
Messages
41
Reaction score
46
Location
Virginia
Good post, I concentrate on NE waters since I am in VA but contemplating a solo trip to Colorado for high alpine cutthroats this summer....
 

darkshadow

Well-known member
Messages
1,033
Reaction score
118
Location
City of Angels, CA
Great primer!

Pretty much similar things I took into consideration for my first DIY YNP trips. Lots of people thought it would be best to hire a guide, but I figured a little bit of research would go a long way, and I had some amazing days in and around the park.
 

JoJer

Well-known member
Messages
2,855
Reaction score
272
Location
Boise, Idaho
Idaho F&G has a trip planner area on it's web site.
Areas close to but outside of Boise have become more heavily posted and enforced. The road through one popular area was closed last year because it was trashed so badly. I'm also sure that stupid behavior through the the last few tinder-dry summer/fall seasons made private property owners worry and the orange squares went up. I'm sure you were checking fishing regs as a planning step, so pay close attention to the trespassing laws listed there-they've changed in the last year or two.
 

coug

Well-known member
Messages
806
Reaction score
121
Location
Snake, Clearwater and tribs
Only thing I would add is that the fishing within a days drive of spokane does not compare to what you will find in Colorado and Utah. All we have up here are grizzlies, wolves, and rednecks with sidearms. Hard to tell which one of these are meaner.:cool:
 

Ard

Administrator
Messages
20,544
Reaction score
2,481
Location
Wasilla / Skwentna, Alaska
That's quite a helpful post.

I know you younger people don't like hearing it but you really have it made. I made my first trip in 198, no internet, no google maps / earth, just books you had read that had river names and a Rand McNally Road Atlas.

For all of you who are gonna go after you retire I have advice. When I first went I was 27 and I took a 6 week leave of absence from my work so I could go. I liked the travel so much that I went four more times just to fish, many weeks, many rivers and creeks, thousands of miles, get it done while you are young!

I have been telling people for a long time to go fishing Now because this isn't like a bottle of red wine, it isn't getting better with age.
 

LePetomane

Well-known member
Messages
659
Reaction score
801
Location
Wyoming
Another thing to keep in mind is that you will be doing a lot of driving and just because a town is on the map doesn't mean they have services, namely food, fuel and drink. And there are long distances between towns with nothing in between. Friends of ours from NYC called us a few summers ago. It was about 3PM and they were in Jackson, WY and wondering if we'd like to meet up with them for dinner. People don't realize how vast it is out here. There are towns here that are so small that the signs that you are entering and the ones that say you are leaving are on the same post.

Regarding your third point First stop, fly shop, I have my opinions on that. Based on personal experience I don't put much if any faith in the commonly held belief that if you buy a tee shirt, cap or a dozen flies they will send you to the primo waters and their access areas. They will not. Those waters are for their guided clients, no matter how much you spend on gear, licenses, clothing, etc. They are under no obligation to get you into fish because you just purchased an overpriced sweatshirt or 12 Parachute Adams. We were sent on a wild goose chase last year by a shop after making a significant purchase. When I confronted them later, they could have cared less. I received a wiseguy response from the same jerk who sent me there. They already got money out of me and figured I wasn't coming back. Most free advice is worth exactly what you paid for it.
 
Last edited:

benglish

Well-known member
Messages
99
Reaction score
32
Location
Colo/Wyo
"Another thing to keep in mind is that you will be doing a lot of driving and just because a town is on the map doesn't mean they have services"

CANNOT stress this enough and a fantastic point. I pretty much "live here" and have plied so many great waters in Co, WY, and many in UT and NM as well. I get to do this trip every summer. Sometimes twice. I also recommend 4-wheel drive vehicle and light camping gear. If you are risking a flat tire or bearing going out on some unnamed dirt road and sleeping in the cab of your vehicle a night or two, you are doing it right and will likely have a great trip.
 

el jefe

Well-known member
Messages
2,860
Reaction score
551
Location
Albuquerque, NM
To the above advice I would add "hydrate." If you are coming from the eastern U.S., the western states are higher and dryer. The altitude alone demands that you hydrate, and you will be losing water faster than you realize because you won't have sweat lingering on your skin. Take water with you on the water, and drink water while you are en route to your fishing destination.

And good Heavens, I don't know why people come out here to fish. There are no trout in this part of the country. It started in Wyoming, and now it has spread to other states. You're wasting your time and money. You've been warned.
 

mdbones

Member
Messages
13
Reaction score
13
Location
Newtown, Pa
Another thing to keep in mind is that you will be doing a lot of driving and just because a town is on the map doesn't mean they have services, namely food, fuel and drink. And there are long distances between towns with nothing in between. Friends of ours from NYC called us a few summers ago. It was about 3PM and they were in Jackson, WY and wondering if we'd like to meet up with them for dinner. People don't realize how vast it is out here. There are towns here that are so small that the signs that you are entering and the ones that say you are leaving are on the same post.

Regarding your third point First stop, fly shop, I have my opinions on that. Based on personal experience I don't put much if any faith in the commonly held belief that if you buy a tee shirt, cap or a dozen flies they will send you to the primo waters and their access areas. They will not. Those waters are for their guided clients, no matter how much you spend on gear, licenses, clothing, etc. They are under no obligation to get you into fish because you just purhased an overpriced sweatshirt or 12 Parachute Adams. We were sent on a wild goose chase last year by a shop after making a significant purchase. When I confronted them later, they could have cared less. I received a wiseguy response from the same jerk who sent me there. They already got money out of me and figured I wasn't coming back. Most free advice is worth exactly what you paid for it.
gas wyo.jpg
Don't disagree on gas - outside of the births of my daughters, the happiest day of my life was coasting into this "Gas Station" on fumes somewhere in the heart of Wyoming.

In regards to First stop. Fly shop. I can only speak from my experience, However, as an out of stater who is unfamiliar with the area, it has proven invaluable. Once we started relying on this, the results were exponential and not incremental. Agree with your point that they are not giving the prime shop guide locations, but that's, not the intent. The real value here is on which water is fishing well - for whatever reason they also seem to be more inclined to give locations that involve descending into canyons, or have a two-plus mile hike associated with them.

Sorry to hear of your experience with the fly shop mentioned above as well, and to that point, while the overwhelming majority of the shops have been lights out, we have run into a couple of shops - one near the Big Hole, and one in the Wind River Range both of whom either just did not care, or intentionally steered us away from locations that had been recommended by others. To be fair I think the Wind River example was probably due in part to a fly fishing personality publishing a video on the area three months before we arrived, and it was indeed pressured. We went anyway - and after a good mile and half hike in from the end of the road had a spectacular day.
 

flav

Well-known member
Messages
995
Reaction score
176
Location
oregon
Good stuff. You need to add to be aware that runoff can last into July, snow in the high country can be a problem till August, and that it can be cold enough to snow any time. Also elevation can be major problem, causing issues such as headaches, fatigue, inflatables expanding, sunburns, and much lower alcohol tolerance. Then there's fires. Have a backup plan, wildfire or smoke will often close or make areas unfishable or downright dangerous. And please be careful with fire, a fire left unattended, or even a cigarette butt tossed out a car window can easily start a wildfire. Folks from the east have no idea how dangerous and destructive fire can be in the west.
 

LePetomane

Well-known member
Messages
659
Reaction score
801
Location
Wyoming
One more thing is regardless of the time of year, take a warm coat. I've fished in the Bighorns in late August and had snow. The locals here say that the only month of the year when it is guaranteed not to snow is July.
 

gbrooker

Active member
Messages
28
Reaction score
37
Location
MN
Don't assume that campsites will be available where you want to fish. Do a little research on if sites are reserve-able, how popular the campground is generally and if there are alternatives that are close by. Also, in grizzly country there are a number of campgrounds that don't allow tent camping.
 
Top