It’s officially spring. That means daylight savings time, NCAA hoops brackets, and the toughest decision of the week: Do you call in sick and head to the river, or ski a few runs and then enjoy a sunny terrace?
The snow is still quite good and fishing now is a pleasure, especially with the warmer weather this winter. If you decide to fish, choosing where to go is not always easy.
For those of us fortunate to be on the water more than we’re not, deciding where to fish is predicated more on personal experience than seeking up-to-date intel and taking a leap of faith.
However, there are times when even the “fly fishing regulars” need a helping hand. When I’m at a loss for accurate, “been-there-yesterday” knowledge, I get to work. And by work, I mean pre-planning and information gathering. Here’s what to do:
Find accurate fishing reports. Information is all around us and deciphering what beta to use or discard is key. Create a list of fly shops that post daily fishing reports. Make note of how often they’re updated, and if you notice a lack of updates, keep searching until you find the most recent report.
Call your local fly shop. Local shops build and keep their reputations by providing accurate information. Online reports and Facebook posts are good resources, but if you truly want today’s skinny, pick up the phone and call. It’s always a good idea to ask the staff, “If you were going fishing today, where would you go?”
Check multiple weather reports. As I’m preparing for a guided trip, I check the weather in at least four locations: Ennis, Emigrant, Livingston, Big Sky and sometimes Bozeman. Montana’s geography creates many microclimates. The forecast for Livingston might be calling for 50 F and southwest winds of 20 mph, but 20 miles south near Emigrant the forecast could predict calm winds and 60 F. Smartphones make it easy to check the weather before you venture out.
Talk to friends. People live in southwest Montana because of the lifestyle it allows. If you haven’t been fishing in a while, chances are you know someone who has. Call them and pick their brain. Be sure to invite them along, offer to drive and be prepared if they say, “Yes, I’d love to come.”
Social network. If you’re struggling to find a friend who’s been out recently, hit the digital highway. Your local fly shops are still your best source for free and honest information, but with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and myriad blogs out there, you’ll always find people who are happy to “kiss and tell.” But be sure to get out there and fish, and don’t get caught surfing the Internet all day.
How do you want to fish? This may ultimately determine where you go. If you want the best shot at the brown trout of a lifetime, and don’t care about casting to rising fish, then you should hook up the boat and head to the Yellowstone River, downstream of Livingston. If you want to find some fish eating midges – or even better, Blue Winged Olives – consider the Lower Madison or Gallatin rivers. If you want to get away from the crowds – oh yeah, it’s spring. There are no crowds.
Join your local Trout Unlimited chapter and attend monthly meetings. This is a win-win for all. Your membership dollars help preserve cold-water fisheries in our area, and you’re guaranteed to meet some new fishing friends happy to share information. I met one of my lifelong angling companions at a Trout Unlimited meeting. We learned neither of us had anything going on the next day, and have been fishing pals for nearly 20 years.
I sometimes feel for the clients in my boat – they’re getting a guide who’s juggling two fly-fishing businesses, two kids at home, and most nights doing so on minimal sleep.
Fortunately, I’ve been doing this long enough that most days I can draw from personal experience. If the wads of tip cash I’m given at the end of the day are proof, then I must be doing OK. It’s a good thing, because Pampers ain’t cheap and college funds don’t save themselves.
Pat Straub is the author of six books, including “The Frugal Fly Fisher,” “Montana On The Fly,” and “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing.” He and his wife own Gallatin River Guides in Big Sky and with a partner, owns a guide service on the Missouri River.