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Getting Started  Getting Started
Fly Fishing Getting Started for Beginners

Published by Dave Kile [dkile] on 2013/11/6 (1931 reads)

By Brian McGeehan

As a Montana fly fishing outfitter – the majority of my time from November through April is spent helping our guests plan trips for the following season. Montana is a very large target with a huge variety of fisheries so it can be a daunting challenge to folks visiting for the first time. When Dave Kile asked me to put together a guide for planning a trip our way I decided to break it into two parts do to the breadth and diversity of what Montana has to offer and what different people want out of their trip.

One of the aspects of trip planning in the Big Sky state is that we have such a huge variety of different rivers, streams, still waters and spring creeks. Each type of fishery has different peak seasons, different character and different tactics that are best used. This post will focus on anglers that want to do the majority of their fishing unguided. Montana is arguably the best state in the west for planning a DIY trip for several reasons. Thanks to the stream access law, anglers in Montana have access to private land along streams and rivers. This means that as long as an angler gets to the river corridor from a bridge or other public access point you can fish on private property without trespassing. Secondly, we have a lot of public land in Montana and surrounding areas like Yellowstone Park so finding water to access legally is pretty easy. Finally, the huge variety of fisheries means that there are a lot of smaller waters that are ideal for wade fishing.

Madison River, Montana
Madison River, Montana


Where to fish?
Pick up any coffee table fly fishing book that showcases famous waters around the world and Montana rivers will be heavily represented. Anglers from around the world are familiar with the Yellowstone, Madison, Missouri, Bighorn, Beaverhead, Gallatin and many others. Where do you begin if you are planning on fishing on your own? DIY anglers need to be cautious about planning their trips around the most famous rivers which are generally also the largest. While the Yellowstone is one of my all time favorite rivers in the world – it is also a huge fishery that is very difficult to wade in most stretches of the river. Even smaller rivers like the Beaverhead can prove frustrating since it is a meadow style river and at higher flows is next to impossible to wade fish without a boat to hop from run to run (but at lower flows is manageable). Some large rivers like the Madison have sections that are wading friendly and other sections that are very challenging to read without prior river knowledge. Other fisheries are very hard to access without permission from ranchers and offer very little private access. Although this is not an exhaustive list, here are a few locations that an angler fishing without a guide should consider. They all offer good public access and manageable wade fishing.

Bighorn River
The Bighorn is a very large river, but at lower flows (spring and late summer) there can be very good wade fishing. This is also a very easy river to float and if you plan in advance you can rent a drift boat for a reasonable price. The Bighorn has astronomical fish counts and the trout are big – most in the 17-19” class. The downside is that it is also relatively crowded (at least by Montana standards) since most of the fishing is done in the section just below the dam at Fort Smith.

Gallatin River
The Gallatin is a small mountain freestone river with high trout counts. It starts just inside of Yellowstone Park and flows for about 30 miles through the Gallatin Canyon which is mostly public forest service land with easy road access. Fishing from boats is not permitted and the river is very easy to “read”. There are numerous pull offs along the canyon section and the fishing isn’t very technical. Most of the trout are less than 15” but the population is very healthy. The only time that wading is difficult is during the run off period in late May and June.

Rock Creek
Rock Creek is located about 45 minutes from Missoula and is similar in size to the Gallatin. Like the Gallatin there is ample National Forest land with public access. Trout are medium sized but the river is beautiful and finding public water is not a problem.


Rock Creek Montana
Rock Creek


Ruby River
The Ruby River near Sheridan is a small mountain stream that turns in to a medium sized meadow river. The Ruby in the National Forest offers lots of public access for smaller trout. Below the reservoir it enters ranch country and the only access is from bridges and a few state owned parcels but fishing can be good for decent sized trout at the lower access areas.

Upper Bitterroot
The Upper Bitterroot and its tributaries offer good public access and a some National Forest fishing but avoid run off.

Upper Madison River
The legendary Madison River has some locations that are best floated but there are a few areas that attract out of state wade anglers. The first is the section between Hebgen and Quake Lake – this is an especially good fishery in the spring and fall. The next section is the wade only area from Quake Lake to Lyons Bridge with good access at Reynolds Pass and Three Dollar Bridge. Finally there is an access point to another wade only area called the Channels at Valley Garden. The Channels can be tough to get around, however, do to dense willow stands along the banks. The Madison from Lyons Bridge to Ennis and then again from Ennis Lake to Three Forks can be non descript and difficult to read and fish without a boat.

Backcountry Streams and Lakes
For those that like to backpack – there can be terrific alpine lake fishing in remote wilderness areas. The most expansive area for hiking and fishing is the Beartooth Plateau near Red Lodge that offers thousands of mountain lakes and a few good streams. Other smaller ranges also offer good fishing for the adventurous angler. Most alpine lakes are stocked periodically by air but all streams and rivers in Montana are wild trout by law.


Montana Backcountry
Montana Backcountry Stream



Yellowstone National Park
Although only a small portion of Yellowstone Park is in Montana, the Big Sky state is the main entrance to the park at locations like West Yellowstone, Gardiner and Cook City. Yellowstone is wade fishing only by regulation and offers lots of great streams and rivers. Generally spring and fall fishing is best in the West and South side of the Park and summer fishing is best in the Northeast section (with numerous exceptions). Although there is ample road access – anglers that are willing to hike will be rewarded with lightly pressured trout.

Livingston Spring Creeks
The legendary spring creeks near Livingston include DePuy, Nelson and Armstrong. These are on private ranches and require advanced reservations. Rod fees are $100 in peak season and $75 in shoulder seasons. These technical waters are easy to wade and have thick hatches. They are similar to Pennsylvania limestone streams in many ways. Plan on booking rods a year in advance (or more) for dates in mid June to July for the PMD hatch. DePuy has the most rods per day and is the last to fill up. You need to reserve a year in advance or more for Armstrong or Nelson for mid summer dates.

When to Come
This is one of the most commonly asked questions that we receive from anglers planning trips to Montana. If you are planning on fishing on your own it is probably a good idea to avoid run off when the snowpack is bringing levels up. This is a great time to book a guided trip but fishing on your own is much tougher in late May and mid June if you don’t have a boat and don’t have intimate knowledge of the rivers or access to private water. DIY anglers can have great luck in the spring before run off in late April to Mid May. Another nice window is just after runoff in late June and early July. Mid August is tougher on the public waters because the fish have seen a lot of flies but is a great time to target the back country if you like to hike. Late September and October is also great for fishing on your own since the waters are lower and you can fish some of the public waters in Yellowstone and outside the park for fall run browns.

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. Brian will follow up with some more advice in a follow up post “Part 2: Planning a Guided Fishing Trip to Montana”. Here is a quick map to some of the streams.






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Published by Dave Kile [dkile] on 2013/8/21 (3480 reads)
fall fly fishing


Fall fly fishing in the the region offers plenty of great opportunities. The cooler weather offers anglers some solitude of fly fishing while many are caught up with other fall activities. A little bit of preparation can be a rewarding opportunity for those who can make the time.

Reproduction plays an important part of the trout lifecycle during the fall months for both brook and brown trout. Brook trout, native to the US, usually begin to spawn during late September through October. Brown trout typically start spawning in October through late November. I have seen this go later too.

During the spawn coloring on the trout will intensify especially in the males. Females will often create gravel beds for the fertilized eggs called redds. It very important to be careful of these sections on streams when you see redds and not to kick them up when walking. Probably best even to leave trout overtop redds alone and give them a chance to protect the eggs.

fall fly fishingOften the water in the fall is low and gin clear. Spotting trout on a redd is pretty easy to see as in the photo to the left. The trout will sit over top of a small group of rocks that they have knocked around and they often will have a little more cleaned up look as if someone kicked up the spot. Take a little time before marching into the stream to check on the conditions. Good advice for any day.

As the trout begin to change so does the entomology or insect life in the stream. Activity will be different from region to region, stream size, earlier summer water temperatures, and geology. The fall provides a more limited selection of insects and often anglers enjoy bringing a more modest selection of flies and imitations. Some of the more popular collections include: Slate Drakes, BWO, Caddis, midges and terrestrials. Typical nymphs and streamers are very successful smart choice as well.

I like Dave Weavers suggestions for even looking for rainbows behind the redds feeding on eggs. Some small simple egg patterns can produce some pretty good results for these rainbows. The most common color for natural trout eggs are cream, pale orange and pink.

The full and fast spring streams can take a new characteristic once September arrives. Low clear water can create a challenge for some anglers, but stealth and patience can provide many rewards.

With summer holder over trout and newly stocked trout in many streams there should be ample opportunity for solitude and fish in autumn. Check out the PaFlyFish forums and stream reports to learn more about what is happening in your area.






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Published by Dave Kile [dkile] on 2013/4/8 (3803 reads)
As the longer April days warm the waters in the region this provides incentive for the caddisflies (Order Trichoptera) to begin their annual cycle. Not always the preferred insect of the fly anglers, but without a doubt the caddisfly is found in most all the waters in the region.

caddisflyIt is the one insect that has succeeded and 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 after thought for anglers.

The caddisflies 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 flies not so much.

That is not to say great hatches of caddisflies 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.

For more on this popular order of insects check out Gary LaFontaine's book Caddisflies.
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Published by Dave Kile [dkile] on 2012/8/27 (2601 reads)
I can’t remember who taught me how to tie my shoelaces, but I can remember my Dad teaching me how to tie a hook to my line with an Improved Clinch Knot. Something that has stuck with me for a long time and still one of the most frequently tied knots used in fly-fishing.

My least favorite knot is the Damn Blood Knot (DBK) among it’s many names I have given it and the least offensive I can put in the blog. I have tied more Improved Clinch Knots, but have spent more time with the DBK. Used for joining two similar sized lines it provides a strong low profile knot for attaching tippet. Being all thumbs, the DBK is for someone with more fingers. So I am not sure why I ever got started using the DBK. I would normally blame my friend Ron for that kind of pain, but since he just sent me about six-dozen flies he is the smartest guy I know right!

Beginning with our reel the Arbor Knot is the best way to secure your backing line to the reel. The Albright Knot is most commonly used to secure your backing line to the fly line. Connecting your fly line to leader the Nail Knot provides strong low profile knot between the two different size materials. Now we are at the back to the DBK when joining the leader and tippet. At this point you can also use a Surgeons Knot, which is also good when joining different size monofilaments.

Which brings us back to attaching our fly to the tippet and our Improved Clinch Knot. The Improved Clinch Knot is fast and secure especially for smaller flies. For a little more security the Trilene Knots could be good for larger streamers.

The best site to learn how to tie all the fun up is Animated Knots by Grog™. All the knots on his site are shown in an easy to learn step by step visualization.
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Published by Dave Kile [dkile] on 2012/4/23 (2331 reads)
Green Drake

Recently going through my mayfly photographs I found a nice set of pictures from the Paflyfish Spring Jam in 2010. The Green Drake (Ephemera guttulata ) hatch was in full swing that year and photographs of these mayflies was easy and plentiful. Most of the weekend was overcast and rain as normally forecasted for the Spring Jam. Emergers (subimigo) and spinners (imago) were not so much active during the day, but lined the sides of the streams in the hundred's of thousands. I am always torn between fishing and photography on days like this but glad put down my fly rod for a while and captured a lot of great shots.

With so many mayflies and photos it was easy to get so nice shots of the Green Drake spinners, which are referred to as Coffin Flies because of their white extended body. I wanted to demonstrate the differences between spinner (imago) male and female. These two Coffin Flies attached show these differences. Most notably the male has longer extended fore legs and claspers at the rear of the body. Females as seen do not have these body characteristics.

Male (left photo)
Long fore legs
Rear claspers or forceps at rear of body
Eyes on a male tend to be larger

Female (right photo)
Short fore leg
Forceps do not exist
Smaller flatter eyes






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Published by Dave Kile [dkile] on 2011/11/20 (2987 reads)
by Guest: George Daniel

There are no absolutes in fly fishing and that’s why I refer to this approach as a theory. While this “theory” produces good results, there will be times you will have to adjust your way of thinking as there are no absolutes in fly fishing. What I’m referring to is trying to get inside the mind of a wintertime feeding trout. Think about it, wintertime is a period when these cold blooded critter’s feeding habits slow down as water temperatures drop. In many river systems, trout begin to drop back into the slower moving bodies of water in an effort to expend less energy. Although their metabolisms may slow down, feeding is still on their mind and the wintertime can be the right time for the angler to venture out to the river. Often the most popular sections are void of anglers and I’ve had several days where the action would rival a May sulphur hatch. A wintertime feeding trout may not always mirror its springtime foraging behavior, but trout still need to eat and a larger presentation may be the ticket. Sometimes all trout need is a little encouragement so I often call upon larger patterns to create that desire.

winter troutBy larger, I’m referring to nymph patterns as large as #4 and small as a #10. Yes that big-even on spring and limestone streams. Think about this, trout feel sluggish and less motivated to continuously chase small food items down during these cold winter months. Instead, it seems logical that trout would be willing to spend less energy chasing down larger food items. Move less and obtain more calories! Large stonefly, caddis, egg and worm patterns are my usual wintertime suspects. Nymphing is normally my first choice as I can slowly present the flies. Streamer tactics also work well but only when trout are feeling up to the chase. The idea is to present a pattern that can fulfill a trout’s hunger with only one energy surge. In many ways, this relates to human wintertime eating behaviors.

During the warmer months I find myself constantly snacking throughout the day-mostly due to my high level of physical activity (Fishing, playing with my kids, my daily workout regiment and so on). However, I snack far less during the colder winter months as I expend less physical energy (less daylight=less playtime). This theory also plays out well for me when targeting trout during extreme cold weather conditions. Trout may indeed feed less during the winter but I believe they become more opportunistic foragers. Many of the live bait fishers I stay in contact with have their greatest results fishing larger baits (sculpins, night crawlers, and live crayfish) in the slower moving waters during the winter months.

The moral of the story is you still need to be dynamic-change when necessary but don’t be afraid to present larger than average patterns during the wintertime. I think you will be pleasantly surprised with the results.


George DanielsGeorge Daniel is assistant manager at TCO Fly Shop, in State College, PA. He travels the country conducting fly-fishing clinics for various groups and organizations. George is a former member and current Head Coach of Fly Fishing Team USA. Some of his accomplishments include being a two time national fly fishing champion, won The Fly Fishing Masters, and ranked as high as fifth in the World along with other competitive achievements. George is currently working on his first book with Stackpole Book and will be available January 2012. The title of the book will be “Dynamic Nymphing.” He lives near Lamar, Pennsylvania. If you want to keep up with George in the Internet you can follow him on his Facebook page here.





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Published by Dave Kile [dkile] on 2011/2/28 (1507 reads)
Paflyfish
The 2011 Instructional Mini-Jam is in the books, and was a huge success.

A BIG "Thank You" to the instructors - you guys did a great job, as I knew you would. Sorry I had to cut each of you short - this showed everyone just how well versed you guys were. Most impressive!

Here's a list of our instructors:
jdaddy - Gear and TU membership.
JayL - What trout eat, and flies to immitate them.
pcray - techniques used to fish those flies.
skiltonian - Indicator fishing techniques.
fly_flinger - common knots.
JasonS - On Stream Instruction.
Old Lefty - Fly Casting.

I'd also like to point out the generosity of our senior members in attendance. Andy (surveyor06) sorted and distributed flies that were donated for our new/non-tying members. They received several dozen each!

Lastly, I'd like to thank all of our senior and newer members, friends, and family members that showed up, and braved the bone chilling wind in the morning. I counted 36 people in attendance at the time of the group photo, and several more showed up during the day. Some had driven close to 3 hours to attend - that's hard core!

Judging from how well this event was received, I'd like to see this become an annual event. Hopefully, it was a learning experience for all. Please post anything you think that would help make this event better for next year - there's always room for improvement. Link to the thread in the Forum.

It was really nice to see old friends, and make new ones as well. - Heritage Angler

A special note of thanks goes out to Heritage Angler for his effort int bringing this event together. Heritage Angler really demonstrates what the sport is all about. -dkile
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Published by Dave Kile [dkile] on 2010/7/7 (3852 reads)
The USGS has been sharing a very cool and useful online database for many years that provides real-time stream flow conditions for many years. This web-based system provides timely details for many streams across the country with almost hourly updates being sent from radio and satellite transmissions to the USGS Water Watch web site.

rtextA truly invaluable tool for me and has helped determined many a trip especially during heavy spring rains.

The U.S. Geological Survey WaterAlert service now can send e-mail or text messages from the system. The WaterAlert system is supported through the USGS Cooperative Water Program, the USGS National Streamflow Information Program, and by USGS data-collection partners.

Real-time data from USGS gages are transmitted via satellite or other ways to USGS offices at various intervals; in most cases, once every 1 or 4 hours. Emergency transmissions, such as during floods, may be more frequent. Notifications will be based on the data received at these site-dependent intervals.

Thanks Bruno for the scoop.
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Published by Dave Kile [dkile] on 2010/5/18 (1580 reads)
"Numnutz," I figure that is what my dog, Bogey, is saying whenever she sees me rushing around packing for a trip. Lying there wagging her tail she somehow knows I will forget something.

fly fishing fliesSo as I gear up for the Paflyfish Jamboree this weekend I have decided to take stock in what I really need to bring on my fly-fishing trips.  Normally as I head out on a fishing weekend it looks like I am loaded up and heading out on some a family vacation to Florida. You know the trip were the station wagon is stuff with crap and you all you have to eat is warm chicken and mayo sandwiches as you looked longingly at South of the Border in SC because your parents would never stop.  My wife won't let me stop now as any an adult, but I'm not bitter.

Lately I haven gotten lazy packing for my trips.  I create some lame-ass list that is scribbled on an envelope and I can't even read the damn thing after 30 minutes because it was written in such haste.  My mental state is weakened by a litany of sideline questions from my family. I soon find a new sense of urgency to quickly escape before broken door handles and printer problems set me back even further.  I must leave as it would be wrong of me to impeded what could be wonderful lessons in self-reliance for my family.

Between my weakened mental state and crappy notes I toss anything that resembles my fly-fishing gear into the truck.  Thirty minutes into my trip I remember the first thing I forgot and then in my head I hear Bogey chuckling,"numnutz."  

So I am resolved to make a decent list that I can take with me on all my trips and not have my dog laugh at me or so I think.

Gear
Rods, Reel, boots, waders, hat, wading belt, gravel guards, and vest/chestpack

Gear in my chestpack:
Flies (seasonal), tippet, extra leader, strike indicator, split shot, thermometer, polarizing sun glasses, forceps, nippers, Gink floatant, Gore tex rain jacket, headlamp, knife, granola bar, insect repellent, 2x glasses, fishing license, TP in ziplock bag, sunblock and water-proof camera

Things I keep in the my car:
Maps, GPS, cooler with cold beer and food, extra flies, rod carrier, folding chair, iPod player, fleece jacket, wool socks, extra rod, extra reel, change of cloths, fly-fishing books from Landis and Meck.

Some options: 
cigars (keep even more bugs away), matches, wading staff and net

Fly-fishing Packing List PDF

_
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Published by Dave Kile [dkile] on 2010/4/5 (1278 reads)
Recently I starting working with my son on how to fly-fish. He was a little apprehensive about going out with me our first time. I was pleased to learn that his concern was not because of my wonderful "bark and nag" approach to learning, but rather he was a little intimidated with the thought of have to cast a dry fly right away.

Since we were going out in March I explained that we were going to be using a lot of weighted wooly buggers that first day. We talked about how a roll cast was type of casting we were going to focus on his first day and not anything more complicated like an forward cast. Once understood he was put at ease and really did a good job just working on the roll cast his first day out.

The roll cast is pretty easy and frequently used casting method for subsurface weighted flies and streamers. It is also very good when there is very little room to back cast. The video explains the basic roll cast.



Getting line to carry a traditional dry fly involves the the forward cast. The basics for fly fishing the forward cast involves good timing as you stroke and halt your cast until it is released. In principle energy is built up into the rod and transferred to the line as it moves back and forth. Your fly at the end of your line is just a tourist as the line gets tossed out onto the water. Another video shows good form and practice for the forward cast.



I really encourage that you take some time and practice this out of the water first. Watch the videos so you can visualize the proper method for success in doing this first. Find a nice open field with little wind and give it a go for 30 minutes.
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