Monday, November 19, 2012


I know it isn’t even December yet but we need to start thinking about our fishing trip(s) for 2013 if we want to have the best trip possible.  Here are a few simple tips that I think will help you have a great 2013 fishing season.

Be as flexible in scheduling your trip as you can possibly be.  For many people last year’s trip was a complete bust.  Nearly every area of the west was in drought conditions.  Rivers were too low to float and the water was too warm to fish. It is much too early to be deciding on when you are going to make a summer trip out west.  It will still be too early in the middle of January to mark your calendar.  I generally hold off until mid-April.  By then the maximum amount of snow has fallen.  If you don’t have scheduling flexibility and have to determine your dates soon, you can make an “educated” guess by checking USGS gauging stations in the area you are interested in and seeing what the long-term runoff hydrograph looks like.  Remember that long-term value is the median values for many many years of record.  The last two years are perfect examples of variability in stream flow.  2011 was an extremely heavy snow year.  In the mountains there were still patches of snow into August. 
With all the snow, both the volume of runoff and the duration of the runoff season, was greatly extended.  For the Encampment River the optimum fishing flows were not reached until almost the 1st of August.   

2012 was the opposite of 2011 for both snow fall and runoff.  This past summer with the winters 

exceeding low snow falls the Encampment's optimum fishing time was weeks earlier than normal. 

All the folks that made their plans based on what they knew or expected from previous years were very disappointed.    
Information on snow levels throughout the west are readily available for the US Department of Agriculture’s SNOTEL system.    

First click on the state you are interested in, say Wyoming.  On the state map you can click on the SNOTEL stations in the area you are planning to fish to see what the snow levels are.  Start doing this now and return every few weeks to see how the snowpac is progressing.   

 Start doing this now and return to the sites every few weeks to see how the snowpac is progressing.  Generally by early April you will know what the runoff potential will be and be able to mark you summer fishing calendar. 

Define your trip objectives and set realistic expectations.   If your trip is taking you to a new location, on your own, an expectation of lots of fish and lots of big fish will likely be a recipe for disappointment.   In a new area, on your own, you can often “figure” the area out.  But if you are going on a family vacation and expect to be able to get enough stream time in to learn the area, you are likely to be disappointed.  If finances permit hire a guide.  Guides know the area and the subtle nuances that make a day on the stream more rewarding.  But don’t expect you guide to give everything up to you.  There is a sixth sense that lets us know when clients are just trying to find your locations.  I learned this hard way in Chile.

Getting the information you need.  There are a lot of book out there about where to fish and even more magazine and online articles about specific regions or rivers.  They have a place in the trip planning process but should not be the considered the definitive word.  A couple of years ago there was an article in Southwest Fly Fishing about the Encampment River.  A longtime client told me about it.  I’ve been fishing and guiding on the Encampment River for 25 years.  The Encampment is one of the wests best if you know it well.  But if I had based my trip – timing, locations and techniques – on that article I would have been very disappointing.   How can someone who may never have fished a river system be able to provide reliable information.

Fly Shops are often cited as a great source of local information.  And, to some extent, they are.  But fly shops see crowds of people during the season and often don’t have the time to offer you valuable advice.  Don’t forget that most fly shops also run guided trips.  You can be pretty sure that they are not going to be sending people to locations where paying clients will be going.  Your best bet for getting valuable information is to establish a relationship with the shop.  Call them during the offseason and ask about the best times to be there, what are the predominate hatches and the like.  Stay in contact with them.  If there is a local special pattern buy a few from them to use as models.  When you show up during your trip, remind them about your previous contacts.  There is a very good chance that you will get information that someone without any history with them will.

A couple of years ago Duane, my friend and fishing buddy, set off on a fly fishing quest to not just complete the California Heritage Trout Challenge but to catch all the catchable species.  We did it with a 10 day 2,800 mile road trip.  We were able to do it so quickly for one reason: We had insider information.  By that I mean we talked to the fisheries management professional for the areas where the different species occur.  They were more than happy to tell us exactly where to go in their area to find the trout we were looking for.  Often times the local manager has a location he or she is especially proud of and will happily tell you all about it.  This “insider trading” has led me to some fantastic and unexpected fishing locations.  How about an old irrigation ditch full of Colorado River Cutthroats!

If you hire a guide: The guide is working for you.  You have the right, and responsibility, to have a qualified and compact-able guide.  When you are booking ask about the guides, their experience and knowledge of local conditions.  A guide may be great as a float trip guide but lousy on a walk-wade trip.

Your responsibility to the shop and the guide is to be brutally honest about you experiences, skill and physical ability.   We once had a client tell us that they have 10 years of experience only to find out that really meant was about 20 days on the stream over a ten year period.   It was a long day on a stream that was rather technical.  Now we quiz folks about what 10 year really means.   The same goes for skill level.  Perhaps the most important consideration is you physical ability, especially on a walk-wade trip.   Wading all day in even moderate current is strenuous.  Add altitude and perhaps a hike in and out and you have a serious workout.  Day one might be OK but the remainder of the trip might be HARD.

Winter trip planning may not be a good as actually being on the water.  But if you do your homework while there is snow on the ground you will have a much better summer trip.