Planning a Guided Fly fishing Vacation to Western Montana
So you’ve finally decided. You’ve socked away your cash and you’re going to do it! You’re going to take that dream vacation of a lifetime! You’re heading out to Montana, the mecca of fly fishing, and your dream vacation. You’ve decided to hire a guide and fish such legendary streams as the the Blackfoot, Bitterroot, and Clark Fork! Streams whose very names illicit images of red sided rainbows leaping from the water; huge carnivorous browns lurking under a cut-bank waiting to devour a hopper, caddis or stonefly; and golden cutthroats stacked like cord-wood below the foam line of some crystal clear Rocky Mountain river sipping on March Browns or Mahogany Duns. You’ve done the research, decided upon your outfitter and a place to stay… hopefully Backdoor Outfitters in the Bitterroot Valley… now, all you have to do is sit back, count the days, and experience the trip of a lifetime! Whoa, just a minute! There are a couple things to consider before you lay the money down and head out to the great state of Montana!
First, take a moment and be real honest with yourself. What are your goals on this trip? Is it to see some beautiful country; learn a little about fly fishing; and catch a few fish? Or, would you like to do the aforementioned and also stick as many fish as possible? If your answer is the later, there are a few questions you must answer honestly before you venture out west, or book that vacation of a lifetime.
First, what is your actual skill level! Not what you’d like it to be… rather what it truly is. An honest assessment would include such things as ‘can I make a curve cast; do I know how to do a reach cast; can I cast 50 feet of line into a wind; can I pick my fly up without disturbing the water; can I perform a squiggle cast; can I place my casts into a hula hoop at 40 feet; can I present my fly without piling up the line; do I know how to shake line; can I present my fly without disturbing the water; can I make my fly drift naturally; can I read water a little’?
If you can honestly answer yes to most of these questions, you would probably rate yourself as an advanced fly fisherman. Conversely, if you can not answer yes to any of them, you are in all likelihood a beginner. An intermediate would be able to accomplish about ½ of the list.
Now, you’re probably asking yourself, why is this so important? That’s why I’m taking a guided trip, isn’t it? Well, that’s only partially true. A guide can put you over the fish, suggest what fly to use, read the water for you, and even show… or explain… how to perform the various skills. But, a guide can not fish for you! That you must do yourself. And, if your desire is to catch fish on your trip… not go home totally exasperated and telling yourself you at least saw some beautiful country and learned a few things about fly fishing… you must begin by answering these questions honestly. Then, you must let your outfitter know your skill level. An honest outfitter will attempt to put you into a time slot where you have the best chance of catching fish… whatever your skill level. AND, BELIEVE ME. THERE ARE TIMES OF THE YEAR FOR EVERY SKILL LEVEL!
As an example. Out here, we have some of the best fly fishing possible during the fall months. Perhaps my favorite time of the year. The leaves have turned their various shades of red and orange, and pods of large fish can regularly be seen sipping on small mayflies from about 10 in the morning until dark! The best time for beginners to fish, right? Wrong! If you want to fish these pods, you have to have a gentle presentation, drag free drift, and a gentle pickup. Even then, sometimes the fish are finicky and the slightest micro-drag can put them down. Fall fishing can be down right humbling for even advanced fishermen. For beginners, it’s like trying to golf Augusta your first time on a course! Fall fishing is best left to the upper intermediate or advanced fishermen!
So, when is a good time for a beginner to catch fish? My suggestion would be to look at the times of the year when stone-flies dominate the hatches. Why? Because with these big bugs, gentle presentation is actually a disadvantage, and drag free drifts are not nearly so important. In short, with a few basic skills, fish… and nice ones… can be taken during a stonefly hatch by almost anyone. This is a definite advantage to those just taking up the sport, and immensely fun to even the most experienced fly fisherman!
Now, I realize there are probably times when a person is unable to match their schedule to that of the fish. When vacation plans are dictated by a supervisors approval or an allocated block of time. In such cases, one must take what they can get. But, for those of you who are not so encumbered by time slots, why not make the most of your vacation? Talk to your outfitter, let him… or her… know what your actual skill level is, what your goals for your vacation are, and then decide what the best time to fish would be. Having guided for more than twenty years… and witnessed all sorts of skill levels… I truly believe that this simple mechanism will greatly improve your chances of experiencing that trip of a lifetime.
Have fun fishing, and MAY YOUR FLY ALWAYS MATCH THE HATCH!
By: John Cook