Planning a trip out west for fly fishing can be an exciting adventure. It can also be overwhelming as an undertaking. When I think of western fly fishing I see the fly fishing offering a blend of stunning natural beauty and the thrill of western dry fly fishing. Whether you're a seasoned angler or new to the sport, the western regions of North America are renowned for their abundant fly fishing opportunities. Here are a few tips from me to help you build out an agenda for a memorable trip.
Research the Best Western Locations
The western United States and Canada are teeming with excellent fly fishing spots. Research to find a location that matches your skill level and interests. Some popular destinations include:
- Montana: Known for its legendary rivers like the Madison, Yellowstone, and Missouri.
- Colorado: Offers a mix of mountain streams and large rivers.
- Idaho: Has a ton of waterways big and small to explore.
- British Columbia: Renowned for its remote and pristine fishing spots.
Choose the Right Time of Year
Timing is crucial for fly fishing. The best times are usually during the spring and fall when the water temperatures are ideal for trout to feed actively. However, this can vary depending on the location, so it's important to research the specific area you're planning to visit. For example, in many areas, Spring can mean high water when the snow year is good and melt-off is flooding rivers with additional water.
Another way to research is to look at hatch charts and decide what hatches you may really like. Then contact local fly shops and ask questions. What time of year are you expecting water to be at a normal level, do you think the PMDs or Caddis will be around X time of year? Take notes and ask several questions from several shops. Keep in mind that each river will be different so perhaps speak with shops about the same rivers and different ones.
Get the Necessary Gear
Fly fishing requires specific equipment. You likely have the basics but when coming out to the west you want to consider a few extra items.
Flies: Do you have flies that are specific to the local hatches? Your box is probably full but am to have standard all-around flies that work anywhere and pick up a few for the location. For example, you want your pheasant tails, hairs ears, sow bugs, and golden stones, for nymphs. Dry flies you’ll want ants, basic hoppers, parachute adams, and elk hair caddis. When it comes to streamers you want olive woolly buggers, black as well, and a few confidence streamers you like, and honestly you are all set.
Fishing License: Don't forget to obtain the necessary permits or licenses for the area you're visiting. It is easy to forget to buy the local license and should you get carded it can be an absolute drag on your trip
Plan Your Accommodations
Decide whether you want to camp, rent a western cabin, VRBO, or stay in a lodge. Many fishing locations have nearby lodges that cater specifically to anglers, offering guided tours and equipment rentals. However, if you are a competent angler then renting a VRBO can be a great choice. I do this with a group all the time. We rent a VRBO, rent boats, sometimes we get a guide for the day, etc. However, using the VRBO gives us a ton of time together and keeps us active.
Consider Hiring a Guide
Especially if you're new to the area or fly fishing in general, hiring a guide can enhance your experience. Guides can provide invaluable local knowledge, teach you new techniques, and help you find the best spots. A tactic that I love and use often is hiring a guide. I typically go on a trip with a larger group, a few guys get guides and everyone else splits up and rents boats. At the end of the day, we all compare notes and talk strategy for the remainder of the trip. Usually by day two, we have tons of information and methods that are working quite well.
Prepare for the Western Weather
Western weather can be unpredictable. Pack layers, including waterproof and warm clothing. Don't forget sunscreen and insect repellent. The saying out here is, “If you don’t like the weather, then wait 30 minutes!” It’s true, weather can turn in minutes so preparing is key.
Here is an article I wrote, How to Stay Warm When Winter Fly Fishing, that has details on layering systems.
Practice local Catch and Release, Trespassing Rules, and Etiquette
Many fly fishing areas encourage or require catch and release to maintain healthy fish populations. Familiarize yourself with the best practices for catch and release to ensure the fish's survival.
Trespassing laws change by western state but many follow the rule of staying below the high water mark. This is certainly one you want and need to know. I can recall hearing gunshots and yelling one time I sat on the bank to re-tie a tangled leader and rig. I mean this guy wasn’t having it. Honestly, I broke the law and he had a right but man…take a chill pill it isn’t worth hurting someone.
Etiquette is another big one. The waterways around here are usually uncrowded so it doesn’t come up as often. However, there are rivers that get hammered. Some are classics and you want to visit them so practice good etiquette. I always recommend asking and letting people know what you are intending to do. For example, “I’m going to go up ahead of you but I’m leaving a few holes untouched is that OK?” Common courtesy is what you should be considering.
Always let someone know where you're going and when you plan to return. Carry a basic first aid kit and be aware of wildlife in the area. That said, bear spray should be on your person when fly fishing. In most western places, bears, moose, and wildlife are common. Always remember that you are in their home and most of the time incidents happen it is because you startled them.
Respect the Environment
Be a responsible angler by keeping the waters clean and respecting the natural habitat. Follow local regulations and practice ethical fishing. A big one is pack it in and pack it out mentality. Look leaving trash whether on purpose or on accident is bad. Plan ahead, take items where you have a lower chance of making a mistake, and plain old leave it better than you found it so others can come and have a wonderful experience too.
Enjoy the Western Experience
Remember, fly fishing is as much about the experience and connection with nature as it is about catching fish. Take time to enjoy the western surroundings and the peace that comes with being on the water. Take binoculars, a camera, a notebook, and a good set of sunglasses. Stop and look around you won’t regret it.
Planning a fly fishing trip out west can lead to an unforgettable experience. With the right preparation and respect for the environment, you're in for a trip filled with scenic beauty, exciting fishing, and lasting memories. Whether you're wading into a Rocky Mountain stream or casting on a serene British Columbian lake, the adventure awaits!
Want to see all kinds of fun things you can do out west or wherever fly fishing can take you then follow me on Instagram. I always take photos and share in the hopes that we inspire others. There are two channels to follow @flyfishinginsiderpodcast and @dupeafish.
***Do you want to get deals on equipment, fly fishing trips, and lots of information? Become a member of the Loyalty Club on the Fly Fishing Insider Podcast.