I believe Fishing locally is the easiest and most consistent way to be successful fishing. I have my favorite local lake that I know well and is easy to access. I can get out on the water in less than thirty minutes. I know there are never any guarantees with fishing, but with local experience and knowledge I believe there is an increased chance of catching fish. We all need these places to fish, but most of us also like to find new waters and explore new places. One great benefit of being a fishing show host is experiencing new fisheries, but there are challenges to it as well. Being successful in new waters can be difficult but over the years I have honed the process and have gotten better about planning fishing trips. Here are a few secrets I have learned.
A.I Decide what I want the experience to be like before I sit down and seriously plan a trip in the next two weeks. Thinking about what my goals are. •Do I want company or an isolated experience? •Is catching lots of fish the most important or is the experience the most important? •Big fish or lots of fish? •What kind of fly fishing do I want to do? Dry Fly? Streamers? Nymphing OK? •Is beautiful scenery essential or just a bonus?
My priorities in planning a fishing trip are usually: catching the most fish possible, catching as many of the biggest fish possible, making sure the weather is conducive to priorities one and two and filming a show, enjoying beautiful scenery, and cost of the trip.
B.I then Decide on the radius of traveling I am willing to do. This usually depends on how many days I have off. If I have one day, I stay within a two- or three-hour drive. If I have a weekend, I will travel four to six hours maximum. If I have an extended three- or four-day weekend, I will travel more than six hours but rarely go farther than nine hours away. I drive most of the time, but certainly I could get farther if I could afford to fly. C.Once I know the area, I am willing to travel to fish, the next three steps I usually complete together as much as possible; researching weather forecasts, online fishing report research, and water conditions research. 1.Weather makes a huge difference in planning a short notice do it yourself trips. I tend to plan short notice trips Fall through Spring because the weather in the Northwest is so variable it makes it difficult to plan any further out. There have been many times over the years a trip never got off the ground because the forecasted weather within the range I could fish was all bad and it was just not worth going. (It can be anything from too much rain to too much wind to too much heat etc..). I like to use websites like weather underground and the national weather service as they seem to be the most detailed, up to date, and accurate. I look at the travel days as well as the fishing days to make sure it is reasonable safe and good for fishing. Sometimes the forecast is all good all around and the options are open. Sometimes it is better in one area than others and that is where I will focus my online fishing report research. 2.Online fishing report research is sometimes easy and other times very difficult. It’s easy when there is a reliable fly shop that posts fishing reports available. I will read as many of these as possible. The more good fishing options in that area the better. I am looking for positive detailed reports that should hold through the time I will be there. Here is an example of a Google search I will do, “Beaverhead River Fishing Reports”. Usually, I’ll read fly shop reports first, but if there are none available, I look further and try to find either blogs or forums with trip reports. I’ll see if I can find ones that are at least in the same time of year I am going. If there are good reports I will dig deeper, but if there aren’t, I will look at another fishery.
When researching, I try to avoid YouTube videos. They are great for motivation and maybe to see what size and kind of fish are present in the fishery but not usually great for details of fishing the specific time of year you are fishing. Reading a generalized website about a fishing area such as Big Sky Fishing.Com is something I avoid for short notice planning. Websites like these will tell you a lot of good information, general seasons, maybe hatches, but again they generally lack the specific information you need to have confidence going to that fishery in the next two weeks.
3.Water conditions can be a huge issue particularly if you are fishing a river. I Check the streamflow for the river by doing searches like “Montana Stream flows”. Then I search the page for the rivers I am planning to fish. It can be difficult to use these streamflow websites sometimes, but I am mostly looking for flows that are average or below average for that time of year. Also, making sure they are not spiking due to recent rain or snowmelt. Sometimes, average flows are still way to high for fishing, so I combine this with online fishing report research and personal contact by making sure they are river flows that are fish-able.
I like to research several different possible fisheries with these three steps before making personal contacts. I mentally rank them according to the most positives for my priorities. If there are two or three that all seems to be equal then I will start factoring in the next priorities like scenery, expense, driving distance and so forth. I Narrow it down to two or three options. Sometimes though, there is only one.
D.Now (About a week or less out) it’s time to call local fly shops in the area I want to fish. Most of the time there is at least one fly shop I can call. Before I call, I have a list of questions to ask and have something ready to take down the information. I call when it is best for the fly shop. I Don’t call for the first couple of hours after they open in the morning as this is often the busiest time for them getting clients going with guides. Lunch can be another busy time. My favorite times to call are 11 am or the last couple hours they are open in case they have gotten fresh reports throughout the day.
Here are some questions I like to ask.
•Do you have a few minutes to talk about fishing in your area? •How has fishing been, and how do you think the fishing will be next weekend? •Any suggestions for areas to fish? •Any suggestions for flies to use? •What time do you open on weekends, so we can come in a buy flies and other materials? •Do you have any other suggestions for other places to fish in your area? •Any concerns or hazards? •I do not ask them to give me a weather forecast.
After the calls, I make the final decision where to go. If I am going with someone, I like to talk this all through with them and come to a decision together.
E.If I have time after this, I will do some more detailed research on the fishery. Looking for specific fisherman’s reports or blogs. I will also find maps of the fishery and study those for ideas on where to fish and best access points. If I am lake fishing, I will also look at bathymetric maps of the lake looking for likely fishing areas such as drop offs, shoals and points. Sometimes you can find specific fishing or drifting maps for a fishery.
With river fishing I really like to look at Google.com/maps. I Google the name of the river or a town close to the river and then Click Maps. I Find the river area I am planning to fish and start studying. Studying the maps can help me find access points where roads or trails come close to the river or where accessible lands is. There is a “Terrain” mode that will show contour lines and can really help me see what the terrain is like. If I switch to “Satellite” view and zoom way in on the river, I can usually search for good fishing areas. I look for bends in the river and then see if it looks like there is good water. I like to get as much information as I can before heading out. I also make sure to check back on all factors in the days coming up to leaving to make sure conditions have not changed.
Finally, when I get to the fishing area, I really like to go to the fly shop I talked to and at least buy something from them. I don’t want to be a cheap-wad. If I received good information from a fly shop, I reward them with my business. Often fly shop owners and workers are the guardians of their local fisheries and I think keeping them in business is good for all of us.
Also, I make sure to ask again at the shop for last minute ideas for fishing that day. I have gone into a fly shop many times anticipating fishing a certain fishery but have changed at the last minute with good advice from the fly shop and have had incredible days. Nothing beats local, current information when fishing a new area.
With fishing there are never any guarantees, but with good research and preparations you can increase your odds of a successful fly fishing trip. I have made a lot of mistakes and learned much over the years traveling and fishing all over the Northwest. There have been whole trips with barely a fish caught, but more and more often the trips have been very successful, and I believe it is more due to advanced research and preparation than fishing prowess. It is incredibly satisfying, for me anyway, to plan and pull off a good fishing trip.
In the coming months I will be producing follow up articles about planning short notice trips that are specific examples of trips I have successfully planned and executed. I will also be producing an article about planning a successful trip: long notice (Several months).