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Getting Started  Getting Started
Fly Fishing Getting Started for Beginners

Published by Dave Kile [dkile] on 2014/4/15 (80 reads)
Fly Fishing Getting started


Paflyfish is a popular spot for fly fishing anglers in the region for many good reasons. There are all sorts of great conversations and information shared in the forums on a host of different topics. We are very fortunate to have so many folks not only provide information online in the forums, but help out beginners at clinics and instructional jamborees. Also there are some darn smart anglers on the site coming from all walks of life. The site is filled with thousands of great post and threads that offer any angler any opportunity to expand their fly fishing opportunities. This section will be a dynamic page for beginners to find an index of information to get started with fly fishing. As relevant blog posts and threads are collected they will be added for quick and easy topics.

Take the Journey

Types of Trout

Trout Food
Trout Food Overview
The Mayfly Stages of Life 101
Mayfly Sex Identification 102
The Caddisflies
Stoneflies
Green Drakes: May Madness
Meet the Hendricksons

Gear
What Fly Rod and Fly Reel to get?
A Dozen Top Flies
Knots and the DBK
Trip Packing

Seasonal Information
Getting Ready For Fall Fly Fishing
Conquer the Cold: The theory of bigger being sometimes better
Try Some Winter Fly Fishing

Forums
Beginners Forum
Fly Fishing Locations
Fly Tying
Stream Reports

Additional Online Information
Fly Fishing Hatch Chart
USGS Real-Time Streamflow Data & Mobile
Troutnut.com
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Published by Dave Kile [dkile] on 2014/3/20 (654 reads)

fly rodIf you ask any fly fishing angler out there what is the best first rod and reel setup you need, you will get a different answer from everyone. Picking your second, third, or even seventh rod you will have some very specific purposes in mind and still get a lot of different answers. Your first fly rod and reel should be a good general purpose setup that will be easy to use in most any trout stream in the region.

For the love of Zeus you don't want to look like the dopey guy in the Symbicort commercial that has a crappy M*A*S*H hat, is fishing for brook trout in a creek with a large arbor saltwater 9 wt reel and 15 foot fly rod setup with a real bobber on your line. I'm not saying go spend all your 401k money, quite the opposite. Don't spend a lot, but get something that makes sense to get started with in our region to fly fish for trout.

Fly Rod
If you are just getting started, you will likely want a 5 weight (wt) 8'6" - 9' graphite, medium fast action fly rod. This is an all 'round great fly rod or beginners. I like the four piece rods as they travel better. Make sure whatever setup you get has a good rod tube to keep it protected when it is stored away or while in your vehicle. You can expect to pay about $100 or more to get started.

Fly Reel
To select a fly reel you match the weight of the fly rod to the corresponding reel. If you get a 5 wt rod then you get a 5 wt reel. Nothing fancy needed when you first get going, it's really just a spool to reel in your fly line. A line holder if you will. No need to drop a car payment just yet. Starting at around $100 will get you a good quality machined aluminum reel. While as little as $35-$70 will get you into the game with a stamped steel or synthetic line holder.

Fly Line
Be sure to complete your setup with a weight forward fly line that matches the weight of your fly rod and fly reel. Remember unlike a spinning rod and reel, the fly line is what carries your fly. So stick with the 5 wt again for your fly line and that will run you $29 - $59.

Tapered Leader and tippet
A knotless tapered leader is usually a 9' section of special mono line that connects the end of your fly line to some ~30" of tippet and then your fly. With proper casting the tapered leader and connected tippet provide a natural presentation of the fly onto the water. The different x's and lb test of the leader and tippet should be changed during the season and conditions where you fish.

A 5x trout leader is a middle of the road and good starting point in the early season. You will likely be fishing more streamers and nymphs in March and early April. When dry fly fishing on top or for smaller trout you can get to smaller 6x leader and tippet setups. You will want the presentation of the fly to be a little more delicate and the right tippet can make a huge difference. You should pick up a few leaders that will run you about $3 each and a spool of 30' 5x - 5lb test tippet is about $5. Think five's for now.

fly reelI want you to explore more of the details on these setups and ask others. Just remember when you share with someone the setup I am suggesting 99 of 100 people will say it is wrong and I am and idiot. Hopefully in 30 years you can be an idiot just like me. Check in on the forums to do some research. Get started and then modify your setup as you see fit and what works best for you. I never use knotted leaders for example only crazy people use that crap. Kidding of course...a little.

The dollar amounts I discuss are good starting points and you will do just fine. You can spend more if your budget permits or you just got a good tax return. Maybe your wife just snuck in some new cloths from Anne Taylor with the dry cleaning and it's your turn. Been married 25 years and know a lot of these tricks. Just say there was a great 50% off sale. I hear that one all the time.

So where do you buy this gear? Please look at the sponsors (Allen Fly Fishing, Trident Fly Fishing, Risen Fly, The Sporting Gentlemen and Shadow Fly Fishing) on the site that offer the gear discussed. There are plenty of great brands and choices. But, mainly because I trust them, they have a good range of products and warranties they stand behind. They are available to answers questions for you through email, on the phone or in the Shop Talk Forum. You will find many other members on the site providing feedback about their gear in Gear Talk or the Beginners Forum. If you want some more tradition conversation go to a nearby fly shop and get some answers there too.
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Published by Dave Kile [dkile] on 2014/3/11 (1014 reads)
Streamers and Wooley Buggers
One of the great things about Paflyfish is the tremendous knowledge and sharing that is done especially in the forums. Tom "afishinado" Ciannilli, like many, regularly contributes to answering questions in the Beginners Forums. As the early trout season is about to get started he offered some great advice on A Dozen Top Flies. A very subjective topic, but for anglers just getting started, Tom's picks are are spot on.

Tom's selection is broken into six sinking flies for subsurface fishing and six surface dry flies. For some flies a range of sizes are important to have your fly box. The selection and success of fly and size will always depend on stream and conditions. I would suggest having more than about three of each of these to get started. Nothing worse than having a successful day with a fly and then not to have a backup if you loose it.

For any fly fishing angler starting to fill out their fly boxes these 12 types of flies will get you started on most any water for several months. You can join along with further questions in Tom's thread here in the forum.

A Dozen Top Flies by Tom "afishinado" Ciannilli
(notice I didn't say the dozen top flies...but if I had to select 12 flies, these would be in my box)

Sinking Subsurface Flies:

Wooly Bugger – Size 8 in dark olive w/ a black tail is my go-to. Having some black or white ones and a few a little smaller or bigger would be ideal. Fish anytime / anywhere – drift and/or strip.
Hares Ear Nymph – size 10 – 16 w/ and w/o beads. Natural is my favorite, but a few in olive or black would round it out. Fish anytime / anywhere – dead drift
Pheasant Tail Nymph – Size 12 – 16 w/ and w/o beads. Fish anytime / anywhere – dead drift
Green Weenie – Size 12. Fish anytime / anywhere – dead drift
San Juan Worm – Size 12. Fish anytime / anywhere – dead drift
Soft Hackle – Size 12 – 16. Pheasant tail, Partridge and Orange, Partridge and yellow, peacock to name a few popular ones. Dead drift, swing, hang or strip. All will catch fish.


Floating flies:

Blue Wing Olive (BWO)– Size 14 – 18 (early and late season mayfly hatches)
Adams – Size 10 – 18 (for dark mayflies)
Sulphur – Size 10 – 18 (mid-season light-colored mayfly hatches)
Beetle and/or Ant – Size 14 – 18 (Spring - late summer)
Griffiths Gnat - Size 18 - 22 ( For midges - very small insects - all year round)
Elk Hair Caddis – Size 10 – 18 in Tan, Black and Green for caddis hatches and/or stonefly hatches all season.

Note:
Mayflies have an upright wing and look like sailboats on the water.
Caddis have wings shaped like a tent over their body.
Stoneflies have wings that fold flat over their bodies.






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Published by Dave Kile [dkile] on 2014/3/3 (1113 reads)
One of the first signs of spring is the emergence of the little black stonefly in many streams in the East. A variety of stoneflies (Order Plecoptera) in different sizes and colors follow suit throughout the season. Stoneflies are often overlooked by many Eastern anglers as mayflies and caddis are much more prolific. They rarely show up in any great numbers and their timing is not very predictable. Still, it is an important insect to understand for both nymphing and dry fly fishing.

StoneflyIn the Western states stoneflies are held in high esteem as anglers anxiously anticipate them for their large numbers and size (Video). Generally, stoneflies are the largest of all insects that live in the water.

Like many insects, stoneflies have a successful lifecycle that dates back over 250 million years to the Permian Period and not much about them have changed.

Stoneflies have the characteristic six legs of insects, but four wings that are folded flat on top of the abdomen. Coloration is black, brown, yellow and tan. Despite 200 million years of evolution they are considered awkward fliers.

Some general lifecycle traits of all species start with the females depositing hundreds of tiny eggs over a stream that quickly find their way to the bottom among the rocks. Nymphs then grown and molt 12-36 time before leaving the water. Some species can require up to three years before they mature into adults. As nymphs they can be found under rocks feeding on algae, mosses and even other aquatic invertebrates.

While Mayflies and caddis flies emerge out of the water, most stoneflies hatch from the shore line. Each species varies, but stoneflies will swim to the banks and crawl out of the water onto rocks or plants to molt into winged adult insects. Stoneflies are regarded as more nocturnal and you will more likely see the molted shucks and not see the actual emergence. Another difference between Mayflies and Stoneflies is that many species will have mouths and can feed during the weeks they live as adults before finally mating and dying.

Seeing active stoneflies and shucks is a good sign to start fishing with a stonefly nymph or a stimulator dry fly.

To learn and discuss more about mayflies on the site head over to the Hatch and Entomology Forum. Beginners can follow along and learn more in the Beginners Forum.

A great online site to follow and get deep into the latin is Troutnut and his Aquatic Insects of our Trout Streams. A must read!! BugGuide has more details as well.





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Published by Dave Kile [dkile] on 2014/2/17 (1653 reads)
Trout enjoy a wide array of food and insects being the more popular. While mayflies (Ephemeroptera) enjoy much of the spotlight, caddisflies (Trichoptera) are incredibly plentiful in waters across the region. Not always the preferred insect of the fly anglers mostly due to lack of familiarity.

caddisflyCaddis are a hardy insect and has thrived in streams that have been decimated with pollution. Streams like the Tulpehocken, Oil Creek and Casselman are are just a few streams known for their abundant caddis fly populations in our region. For many of these streams the caddisfly is so prolific that mayflies are an often afterthought for anglers.

The caddis behavior is a little less predictable and is certainly one of the reasons it is not as popular for many anglers. Many mayflies can be timed to within a few days and hours. The Green Drakes on Penn's Creek are revered by anglers the same way the "Swallows" of Capistrano are anticipated at the Mission San Juan Capistrano. Caddis not so much.

That is not to say great hatches of caddis are not enjoyed by anglers and trout, as there can be wonderful evenings and days with them covering a stream. Just as often there can be sporadic emergers happening with without much fanfare.

There are over 1200 species of caddis flies in the country. They range in size and colors covering the gambit of black, green, tan, cream and white bodies. The more popular Grannom hatch do arrive across much of the region at the end of April and are much anticipated by anglers and trout alike.

To get some understanding of their cycle it is as easy to do as by simply lifting a rock the next time out on the water.

caddisflyMany types of caddis larvae can be found at the bottom of the stream in self-made protected cases or roaming along the bottoms of streams. Some these species create protective cocoons made of small stones or sticks held together with silk like threads. This thread is also used to secure the larvae to the larger rocks or stream bed where they live.

As the caddisflies mature they reach the pupa stage were they hold-up inside their cases and prepare to emerge out as adults above the water. This transformation from water to wing is the most dangerous for all insects. The caddisfly rise from their cases often with the help of a small gas bubble pulling them towards the surface. Once there they emerge with their uniquely folded tent-style of wings they take flight.

The caddis return to lay their eggs either on the surface or by diving to the bottom depending on the species. Like when they emerge, this is the time when they are most susceptible to hungry trout. The cycle of life then returns as these eggs transform into the larvae again.

Like mayflies, caddis flies begin in ernest in April and are big part of many streams. Continued sporadic hatches can be found through the late Fall.

To learn and discuss more about mayflies on the site head over to the Hatch and Entomology Forum. Beginners can follow along and learn more in the Beginners Forum.

A great online site to follow and get deep into the latin is Troutnut and his Aquatic Insects of our Trout Streams. A must read!!
For further reading check out Gary LaFontaine's book Caddisflies.






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Published by Dave Kile [dkile] on 2014/2/10 (2991 reads)
A mayfly hatch is the grand finale in the year long seasonal play that returns annually for trout and anglers.

MayFly StagesThis show begins the previous season with mature female mayflies, called spinners, laying their eggs on the surface of the water(video). The eggs shortly hatch into small larvae and quickly change into nymphs.

The nymph phase of the mayfly is the longest and will last just about one year. Different species of mayflies can be found in different parts of a stream. Some prefer the faster water and rocks, while others are only found at the end of pools in deep mud. During this time a nymph will grow and molt regularly. Molting is when the mayfly breaks out of it's old skin and a larger one is exposed underneath to protect it during the next growth cycle. During the final molting these leftover soft shells are referred to as shucks.

The emergence stage out of the water can be a quick and dangerous time for these transitional nymphs. Trout can find and aggressively feed on these insects that normally may be hiding or burrowing at the bottom of a stream. Once ready to leave the water the hatch begins. The emerger swims to the surface film molts their skins and expose there wings.

Green Drake Spinner aka Coffin FlyThe cloudy, grayish wings they emerge with give them there name: dun. The duns sit on top of the water and prepare its wings for flight. On top of the film of a stream they ready their wings for flight. This can take seconds or minutes depending how fast the mayfly can take flight. During this phase, mayflies often can been seen in great numbers sailing down the stream with trout striking on an easy food source. Once the dun escapes the water, it will head for the trees for several days.

While maturation occurs during this stage a dun may molt several more times until it becomes a spinner (Green Drake spinner aka Coffin Fly pictured left). As spinners they have no mouths to feed, male and female mayflies will seek each other out only to mate. The females will quickly lay her eggs back at the water starting the cycle over again.

The cycle ends when the dead and dying mayflies drop to the stream. The spent wing spinner is the one final opportunity for tout to feed on the last stage of this great yearlong production provided by the mayfly.

To learn and discuss more about mayflies on the site head over to the Hatch and Entomology Forum. Beginners can follow along and learn more in the Beginners Forum.

A great online site to follow and get deep into the latin is Troutnut and his Aquatic Insects of our Trout Streams. A must read!!







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Published by Dave Kile [dkile] on 2014/1/28 (1143 reads)
There are thousands of streams across the region where wild trout naturally reproduce as a result of ideal water conditions and the availability of food. With countless years of evolution behind them, trout have successfully learned to eat a wide variety of food sources. Even then for the trout, everything from geology to pollution influences what kind of trout food prevails in each stream. Stocked trout are no exception to this and within days when they are placed into streams instincts quickly kick in for them to key in on naturally occurring trout food.

These different types of trout foods may not only be specific to a stream, but seasonal as well. Trout are limited to what is presented to them much like many animals in the wild. Typically spring and summer offer a great abundance of food choices. Winter may only provide limited food supplies. Trout adapt to the cold water by naturally reducing their metabolisms.

Familiarity with the different food sources is one of the fundamentals of successful fly fishing. Let's have an overview of these trout foods.

March Brown Mayfly
March Brown - Maccaffertium vicarium

Aquatic Insects - mayflies (Ephemeroptera), caddisflies (Trichoptera), midges (Diptera), and stoneflies (Plecoptera)
For many, fly fishing is centered around the life cycle of aquatic insects as much as it is the trout's themselves. Many anglers unwittingly become pretty good entomologist in pursuit of fly fishing. These insects are a significant part of any trouts diet throughout the year. For most aquatic insects they live almost 98% of their lives in the water. Trout will feed on these bugs during all times of the insects life cycle. Most notably trout will key in on active or passing nymphs in the water. For a brief period at the end these insect's life they hatch from the water to mate, lay eggs and die.

For many fly fishing anglers, mayflies are the belle of the ball and can be found hatching in significant numbers from April thru July. They are found during all times of the year, but just more sporadically. Under the correct conditions, a few streams even have small occasional hatches of blue-winged olives (BWO) in the dead of winter.

Midges, stoneflies and caddisflies are very common in streams and have similar life cycles. Specific behavior with all these insects can vary greatly beyond the living, molting, emerging, mating and dying cycle. Certain types of caddis live under rocks with little wooden stick homes protecting them, while some mayflies burrow deep in the muddy ends of pools rarely being seen until they emerge. There is a lot of diversity and behavior between these insects that should be understood.

Fish - small trout, minnows and sculpins
A wide variety of small fish can be considered part of a trout's diet. There are many types of smaller fish including young trout, darters, minnows and sculpins that are trout favorites. Habitat and water conditions influence which type of small fish patterns are the most successful.

Terrestrials- ants, beetles, grasshoppers and caterpillars
These are all those bugs that don't live in the water, but can be found by late spring thru the fall landing in the water as trout food. About any insect that can fall off the banks or out of a tree can find itself in trouble with actively feeding trout. I have seen trout gorge themselves on caterpillars falling out of trees in June, but also quietly picking off ants by the edge of a stream in September. Out west grasshoppers are all the action during late July and August.

crayfish
crayfish

Crustaceans (Crustacea)- crayfish , freshwater shrimp and scuds
While crayfish are very common, scuds and shrimp are more often found in nutrient rich streams with abundant plant life in limestone fed waters. Scuds and shrimp need this type of habitat to survive. In limestone streams trout can be seen nosing into the weed beds feeding on these scuds. Crayfish can thrive pretty well in streams with just rocks and modest bottom structure.

Mammals - mice and other small rodents.
Trout can be pretty aggressive predators. On some streams, larger trout can key in on a mouse swimming across a stream that they can easily prey on. Anglers will typically try this approach in the evening since rodents are generally nocturnal creatures.

Fish eggs
Trout and other fish deposit eggs during their spawning seasons. Trout will commonly follow up behind these spawning fish and take advantage of this opportunity to get an easy meal. Sucker fish spawn in late winter and very early spring. Rainbow trout spawn in the spring, with brook and brown trout spawning in the fall.

Beginners can follow along and learn more in the Beginners Forum.



Online Resources
FlyFisherman - What trout eat

Other Suggested Books
Handbook Of Hatches: Introductory Guide to the Foods Trout Eat & the Most Effective Flies to Match Them by Dave Hughes

Trout and Their Food: A Compact Guide for Fly Fishers by Dave Whitlock







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Published by Dave Kile [dkile] on 2014/1/21 (830 reads)
Fly fishing anglers can pursue many types of freshwater fish in the region including bass, carp and sunfish. Undoubtedly, fly fishing for trout is by far the most popular. Millions of brook trout, brown trout and rainbow trout are stocked in the Northeast every year. Aside from state and local club stocking efforts, all three species can be found naturally reproducing with varying degrees of success as well.

Trout flourish in waters that sustain fertile, cooler conditions year-round. Pollution has had an obvious negative impact on the success of wild trout populations. Many streams with high acidity or low levels of pH in mining regions have had a difficult time sustaining trout populations. Brook trout especially are the most tolerant of these conditions however their presence was greatly diminished during the twentieth century by deforestation and subsequent warmer water temperatures. Pollution spills that wiped out the insect life have been equally as devastating to trout populations. With improved conservation efforts and time, wild trout are making a strong comeback.

Better water conditions provide improved fertility in a stream so that young trout can feed on plankton, small crustaceans and insects. Mature trout will eat insects, fish, salamanders, crustaceans and even small mammals. Fly fishing for trout requires a keen knowledge of habitat, trout food and the fish. There are differences on how to fly fish for wild vs stocked trout.

Let's take a look at some of the general characteristics you’ll find with the three most common trout found in the northeast region for fly fishing.


Brook Trout - Salvelinus fontinalis
Brook Trout photo by 3wt7X

Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis)
Brook Trout are the only stream trout native to the region. Generally brook trout are found from northern Georgia along the Appalachian Mountains and then north into Maine. They are also found in the Great Lakes–Saint Lawrence system over to Hudson Bay region. During the 19th century brook trout were first introduced throughout the western US. They are the official state fish for New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Michigan, New Hampshire, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia.

A typical wild brook trout can be 6"-18" inches dependent on habitat, nutrition and age. They are typically the smaller of the three commonly found trout. Brook trout spawn during the fall starting in late September thru November. Of the annual stocking in Pennsylvania by the PFBC less than 20% of the annual stocked trout are brookies. Fly fishing for wild brook trout in small mountainous streams is it’s own pursuit by many.

Habitat: Brook trout generally live in small to moderate-sized streams, lakes, and ponds. They thrive in cool temps (34-72 degrees), clean and well-oxygenated water conditions.

Identification: body coloring is generally dark brown-green, the upper body and top have a wavy or a marbling pattern called vermiculation that extends onto the dorsal fin, the sides and belly shade is lighter, body is marked with light colored or yellow spots with smaller red spots surrounded by a blue halo and white leading edge on pelvic and anal fins.


Brown Trout - Salmo trutta
Brown Trout photo by 3wt7X

Brown Trout (Salmo trutta)
Brown trout are not a native species to the United States and they were introduced from Europe during the 19th century. They have become very successful across the country in many streams and lakes. Wild brown trout are typically larger than the native brook trout and are commonly found 12"-18". Larger brown trout can be found up to 30 inches and some can live well past 15 years. In Pennsylvania, about 1/3 of all streams stocking by the PFBC is with brown trout.

Habitat: Brown trout can be found in a wider range of water conditions. They prefer water temps from 50-60 degrees but can sustain themselves into the lower 70's. They are typically a little less tolerant of low pH conditions as compared to native brook trout.

Identification: body color is surprisingly not brown in color with black and often red spots on the sides, the lower belly section is yellowish, the tail fin typically has no spots.


Rainbow Trout - Oncorhynchus mykiss
Rainbow Trout photo by 3wt7X

Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)
Rainbow Trout are native to the Pacific coast of California to Alaska. Pennsylvania and other east coast states introduced rainbows during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The average size range for rainbow trout is 10"-14" inches, with some individuals reach 20+ inches. Opposite of brown and brook trout, wild rainbow trout spawn in the spring time. There are only a few naturally reproducing populations of rainbow trout on the east coast, but the species does very well in hatcheries and is the predominate species used in stream stocking. In Pennsylvania over 50% of the stocked trout are rainbows.

Habitat: Rainbows, much like brown trout, are a little less tolerant of low ph conditions. It is even suggested they can tolerate temps up to 75 degrees.

Identification: dark-greenish to silver back, red-pink stripe along lateral line, blackish spots on sides, head, dorsal fin and tail

Beginners can follow along and learn more in the Beginners Forum.

Additional Online Resources
http://www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries/fishfacts/
http://www.fish.state.pa.us/pafish/fishhtms/chap15trout.htm
http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7016.html
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Published by Dave Kile [dkile] on 2014/1/16 (593 reads)
Paflyfish is a popular spot for fly fishing anglers in the region for a lot of good reasons. There are all sorts of great conversations and information shared in the forums on a host of different topics. We are very fortunate to have so many folks not only provide information online in the forums, but help out beginners at clinics and instructional jamborees. Also there are some darn smart anglers on the site coming from all walks of life.

wild brown troutI am hoping to expand on that information this spring with a new and updated series of content on the site that is targeted for beginners getting started with fly fishing. From my own experience, it took me many years to really grasp a strong understanding of the sport, let alone having any confidence that I knew what I was doing on a stream. I still question myself after 30 years, so not much has changed. After my last few years, revisiting the fundamentals of the sport would be a good lesson for me as well. I have found myself in a rut with some old habits and anxious to hone my skills again.

Specifically, I will be adding a weekly blog post to the site that will be aimed at beginners for several months. I will cover many of the fundamentals of the sport including topics on trout, streams, hatches, flies, gear and more. As we move into April and May we will cover specific techniques and strategy based on the time of year. These blog posts will be great for anyone just trying to get their head around the sport. There are plenty of great books and Internet resources for anglers to explore as well. The posts are intended to be an introduction to a topic. I will be making sure to include that information as well so folks dig a little deeper on their own. Part of the fun of the sport is the exploration.

Fly fishing getting startedI plan on updating some of the existing static content on the site as well. It has been a while since the Hatch Charts and Where to Fly Fish sections have been improved. I look forward to enhancing those sections and adding some new ones including a Fly Fishing Terminology Page. Subsequent posts in the Fly Fishing Getting Started section will be organized and likely made into their own menu on the site.

Those beginners that want to follow along can join in the conversation at the Beginners Forum. A great spot to ask any questions and get a lot of good answers. No hassles or trolls guaranteed!

I would then suggest you participate and share your success in the Stream Reports forum. This forum is as much about sharing your fly fishing success as it is sharing stream conditions around the region. We all benefit from knowing water conditions and the timing of hatches. Good chance to get some more help about what you experienced on the stream too.

Finally Beginners might want to stay up with the Events Forum. Plenty of activities and events Paflyfish and from from other organizations posted here for you to get involved with as well.

Tight Lines,

Dave








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Published by Dave Kile [dkile] on 2013/11/18 (3417 reads)

By Brian McGeehan at Montana Angler Fly Fishing

As the 2013 season winds down many of us put our fishing ambitions on pause until the thaw arrives in spring. For those folks that enjoy blending their travels with their favorite pasting, fall is also a great time to start planning a destination fishing trip for 2014. When Dave Kile asked me to put together a post for planning a Western fly fishing trip I realized it was a pretty broad task so I decided to limit the advice to my home state of Montana (although a lot of these tips can apply to other states as well). Since planning a trip where you are fishing unguided is very different than going with an outfitter part 1 focused on DIY anglers. I make my living helping anglers plan their Montana fishing trips so hopefully this post won’t come across as too much of a sales pitch, but rather a useful guide for planning a guided fishing adventure to the big sky state. Montana is a huge state and there is also a much larger diversity of types of rivers and streams than encountered in the East so teaming up with an experienced outfitter can definitely streamline your trip. Quality Montana fly fishing lodges and outfitters can offer several advantages to out of state anglers: local river knowledge and timing, float fishing access for the larger rivers, private access on ranches and assistance with lodging.

Montana Fly Fishing
Montana Fly Fishing


Most of the folks that email and call us about a trip to Montana don’t know where to begin. The first thing we try to do when someone approaches us bout a possible trip to Montana is to determine what type of trip they are looking for. I generally start by asking about fishing priorities, budget, trip duration, flexibility in dates, lodging preferences, and experience level. The dream trip for one angler can be a frustrating disaster for another so we invest a lot of time into communicating with future clients to try to come up with the best possible plan that will meet all of their expectations. Here are some tips that can help you narrow down your selections of guides and lodges and ensure that the trip you set up has the best chance of meeting your goals and being a success.

Be as specific as you can about your trip constraints
Before you begin surfing the web or contacting different outfitters and lodges take some time to think about your budget, trip length and how much flexibility you have in the time of year you come. For trip duration we think of trips in terms of number of nights and days – for example 6 nights and 5 days. It is also helpful to know if every day is spent with a guide or if some days will be either self guided or left open for other activities such as sight seeing. Even though most lodge trips are presented as packages – they can almost always be customized to modify the number of fishing days. Time of year is also important – some locations are outstanding in spring and fall but are too warm in mid summer and others are best fished in mid summer. Finally, have a rough number of your target budget excluding airfare. Remember that most trips will have some extras that are not included in the package price. These may include shuttles, guide gratuities, meals, alcohol, etc. When communicating with lodges and outfitters make sure to have them provide an estimate of both the costs paid before the trip (most guides and outfitters require full payment before arrival).

Arrange your fishing priorities
Most outfitters in Montana operate on multiple rivers and streams. Time of year also has a great impact on fishing conditions. One of the most important aspects of a successful trip with a guide is to determine what your goals are when fishing. Examples include lots of action, big fish, dry fly fishing, variety in fishing condition, all float fishing, all wade fishing, etc. There is so much variety in the fishing in that it is very helpful for an outfitter to know what you are hoping to achieve on your days on the water. For example mid June can be a great time to flat out catch lots of fish but in some areas the dry fly fishing is not great (except for the spring creeks) because of the higher flows but the nymphing and streamer fishing can be epic. Late summer and early fall can produce great dry fly fishing but it is more technical since flows are lower than early summer so it might be a terrific time for an experience angler but more challenging for a beginner.

Montana Fly Fishing
Guided Montana Fly Fishing

Select a time of year
This is a difficult topic and could really take up an entire post. Different fisheries perform better at different times of the year and how you prefer to fish also factors into the equation. Here is a down and dirty guide to different time windows:
April to Mid May – This is an incredible time for both beginners and expert anglers. There are lots of early season hatches and potential for explosive dry fly fishing. Catch rates tend to be high nymphing as well. The only caveat is that weather and river flows are very dynamic and sometimes can spoil dry fly fishing and you always need to be prepared for a late season “winter” weather event (usually still fishable if you are prepared for weather).

Mid May to mid June – Tailwaters below dams like the Bighorn, Missouri and Beaverhed are popular then and besides these fisheries most out of state anglers avoid the “run off” season. We have come to really love this window and I would make a strong argument that it might actually be the best window for high catch rates and very few anglers as long as you avoid the tailwaters. The Missoula area and Northern Montana are tough during run off with few options but the area Southwest of Montana from the Bighole to the Yellowstone Valley can be amazing with a mix of lesser known tailwaters, private ranches and spring creeks. The only catch is this is not the best time to dry fly fish – but if you want lots of action and big fish it is outstanding.

Mid June to Mid July – This is another amazing time to fish and arguably the best for the most diversity. The tailwaters are still fishing well, spring creeks are at their best with the PMD hatch and the tailwaters are clearing producing great action. This is another great time to catch aquatic hatches like PMDs, Caddis, Salmonflies, Golden Stones and Yellow Sallies (to name a few). This is also the beginning of the busy season but there are still a lot of “off the beaten path” locations that are either permitted, private or just tough spots to get to that can yield amazing fishing with few other anglers but expect to see other boats on some of the famous blue ribbon rivers you see in the books (although not really crowded by Eastern standards with a handful of exceptions). All in all this is very safe window to plan a trip with good weather and great fishing.

Mid July to Early August – Although trout on the big public rivers have seen some flies, this is still a great time to fish and also a good time to target if you really want to throw dries. Mid June to Early July can still have pretty heavy flows if it is a big snow year and you might need to toss big ugly nymphs (with exceptions like spring creeks) on those years but even on a big water year dry fly fishing is always an option by mid July. This is also a great time to wade fish smaller ranch streams and the backcountry.

August – The big blue ribbon rivers on most years start to get tougher in August – fish have just seen a lot of flies by then. They can still be good and shouldn’t be discounted but it isn’t always peak catch rates then. This is a great time to target back country streams, private ranch waters and any other areas that see less pressure. Hopper fishing is at its peak in the late summer but you just have to work harder to get away from more popular floats. When planning a trip in August definitely make sure to ask the outfitter what the options are and how much pressure are on these rivers then. If they are just planning on fishing big public waters with you every day you might ask about other options.

September – Fishing pressure drops dramatically once kids go back to school in late August. September weather is ideal and hopper fishing is still very good. Several rivers like the Lower Madison, Lower Gallatin, Upper Missouri, Jefferson and a few others that were too warm to fish successfully in the mid summer months (they are lower elevation) wake back up to produce some very good fishing to trout that haven’t seen flies in several months. Other rivers also pick back up as soon as the pressure drops off and fishing can be really good. The flows are now at base line so the fishing is a little more technical and the trout are a touch spookier so having at least some fishing experience is more important than spring and early summer.

October – This is a favorite time for our guides. Pressure is almost non existent on most waters and the fishing really gets good. Dry fly fishing can be outstanding on cloudy days over the fall baetis hatch both on big rivers and spring creeks. Huge brown trout move out of lakes and into the rivers and streams that feed them and this is probably the best time of year to catch trophy fish over 23”. Weather is generally dry and very nice in October but you do have to be prepared for the possibility of an early cold front that can push temps down.

Fly Fishing Madison River
Fly Fishing on the Madison River

Decide what type of lodging you want
Once we decide the best time of year for our guests based on fishing priorities and their available windows for a vacation we spend a lot of time reviewing lodging options with folks. Most days you are only on the water for about 8 hours or so which leaves a lot of time spent at your accommodations so planning where you will stay is a big part of your vacation.
Fishing Lodges – Lodges typically offer an all inclusive or mostly inclusive package that includes meals and rooms with a lot of character in beautiful locations along rivers. Lodges are also the most expensive way to go but many folks enjoy the idea of “fish, eat, relax”. Not all lodges are the same so you need to make sure you find the right match. Some lodges aren’t truly “fishing lodges” even if they market themselves that way so ask if all of the guests are fisherman. If you are planning a mixed trip with other activities like riding horses or touring Yellowstone a general lodge might be just right but if you are fishing every day I think it is nice to go to a lodge where all of the other guests are anglers. Also ask about the fishing variety – do you fish just one river or a variety. Finally ask about the “extras” – often shuttles, taxes, lodge gratuities, staff gratuities and sometimes alcohol can all be extra but most lodge managers can give you an estimate of those.

Hotels – Usually you can access the same fisheries from a hotel that you can from a lodge. If you have a tight budget it is hard to beat a hotel package. Hotels also give you some freedom to experience local towns and go out to different restaurants in the evening.

Vacation Rentals – There are lots of nice vacation homes and cabins that can be rented so this can be a great option if you like to prepare your own meals. Some of the nicest rentals go very early so plan to book as soon as you can (early winter at the latest) – especially if you have a big group and need a larger house.

Camping – A few outfitters offer river camping trips and there are also several outfitters that offer backcountry pack trips. The guides on river camping trips are usually the same guides that you would get on day trips – highly professional and experienced. On river camping trips your camp is moved each day while you fish and you roll into camp with everything set up and dinner already cooking. On pack trips make sure to ask about the “fishing experience” of the guides. Many pack outfitters higher younger guides and the pay is much, much less than river guides that are usually career guides. Many back country guides are young guys in their early 20s that are amazing with horses but their idea of guiding is pointing and saying “there are fish in that crick”. If you are an accomplished angler you probably don’t need to much on stream coaching but if you have some novices in your group make sure you carefully select an outfitter that has “real” fishing guides.

Fly Fishing Madison River


Book early
The quality of your guide can make a huge difference in your enjoyment level of your trip. Top guides often book their return clients a year in advance and by early winter are mostly booked for the season. There are always younger and less experienced guides open even a week in advance but to get the crème de la crème you should book as soon as you can nail down dates. Fall is a great time to plan and usually there are still good guides and lodge options even into February but for peak season dates things go very fast.

This is part 2 in the Brain's post Where to Fly Fish in Montana? Part one - A DIY Trip Guide can be found here.

Brian McGeehan is a Pennsylvania native and has been guiding Western rivers in Montana, Wyoming and Colorado for 19 seasons. He is a licensed Montana outfitter and owner of Montana Angler Fly Fishing based in Bozeman, MT.








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