Ah, the open road. From interstates and highways to rugged forestry roads, there is a prevailing freedom in driving to our destinations. Unlike mass transit, we get to choose when and where we stop, how fast or slow we go and what random side excursions we may want to explore. Behind the wheel of our vehicles, the options are endless.
For decades now, road tripping across the states has been an integral part of the American Dream. The pioneers of this undertaking saw the beauty in touring the country at one’s own pace and whim. Sure, flying is faster. But you miss a lot when you’re thirty thousand feet off the ground and traveling 500 plus miles per hour. There are, in fact, many benefits for opting for the slower option. Enjoying the little things is one of them (see our recent blog on it here).
As anglers, we continuously explore fisheries near and far. And driving to those destinations has a certain allure to it, an idyllic, romanticized draw similar to fishing with a bamboo rod over a graphite one. In many ways, fly fishing and road trips are aligned. They both embrace personal freedom and individuality, provide room for spontaneity and celebrate the natural beauty of the countryside.
Even though summer is coming to an end, it doesn’t mean the road trip season is over. In fact, fall is one of the best times of year to head out. The weather is cooler and more stable, crowds have diminished and the fish are fattening up before winter hits. But before you load up your vehicle, check out these 8 ½ tips for your next fishing road trip below.
1.) Correct Licenses
Obviously, you’ll want the appropriate state license for your final destination. But be open to purchasing a single or multi-day license for the states you will be traveling through. Catch some fish en route. That way you won’t feel the pressure to hook up as soon as you park at the end of your journey.
Insider’s tip: You can always purchase your out-of-state (non-resident) licenses online before hitting the road. But many gas stations, outfitters and sporting goods stores sell them as well. Stop into one of them during your drive and see if you can’t coax some local fishing spots out of the person selling you the license.
2.) Impromptu Stops
As you’re driving down a remote stretch of highway lined with dense forests and steep hills, the valley suddenly opens up. This serendipitous vista reveals a perfectly meandering stretch of stream, begging for a dry fly to be cast upon it. Fish it! If you have the appropriate license, make some random stops on your route. These impromptu detours are a great way to break up a long drive. Stretch your legs as you explore unexpected waters and possibly put some unplanned trout in your net.
3.) Tools In Your Vehicle
If you can tie a flawless uni-knot with 7x tippet in gale force winds or execute a precise aerial mend 50 feet across a river, you can certainly change a flat tire or replace a dead battery on your vehicle. Even repairs like installing a new alternator or brake pads can be done with just a handful of tools, a little elbow grease and a bit mechanical knowhow. That being said, throw a set of tools in your car or truck for your next fishing road trip. Breakdowns happen. Be prepared. Try to do the repair yourself first. Rural auto mechanics can be very expensive and time consuming. Beyond vehicle repairs, you may find yourself using that small (yet well-rounded) tool set for things like boat and trailer work or fixing a campground picnic table.
Insider’s tip: Perform a pre-trip check on your vehicle. Pop that hood. Check your oil, transmission & brake fluid as well as your coolant level. While you’re in there, top off your windshield washer fluid. Look underneath your vehicle for any leaks or wet spots on the ground. Next, inspect your brake pad thickness and rotor wear. Finally, check your tire pressure and tread depth. Fifteen minutes of inspection could save you fifteen hours of unexpected roadside repairs.
4.) Fisherman’s Lunch
During a typical float or wade trip, the outfitter offers lunches for their clients. And as a result, many cafes, diners and markets found around fishing meccas sell convenient and delicious meals. They make life easier on the already overworked guides and keep hangry (being bad-tempered or irritable as a result of being hungry) fisherman in check. Thankfully, this often overlooked gem is not just for guides and their clients. The general public can take advantage of these offerings as well. Sure, you can always build your own lunch. But I highly suggest letting a professional do the work for you. Again, even the small things can make a big impression on your fishing road trip.
Insider’s tip: While on a recent road trip to southwest Montana, I had the pleasure of enjoying a fisherman’s lunch from Mama Mac’s near Bozeman. Before setting off for long float on the Yellowstone River, we called Mama Mac’s and pre-ordered our breakfasts and lunches. Even though the place was bumping when we pulled up, it only took a few minutes to pay for and grab all our food. For about $11, you can get a healthy portion of potato salad, a bag of chips, a giant sandwich and a cookie. Everything was made fresh that morning. And our float that day was certified hanger-free.
5.) Extra Gear
You just bought a delicious fisherman’s lunch and you have an 8 hour float scheduled for the day. Don’t let that fresh avocado and potato salad go bad in the heat. Pack your Yeti Roadie 20 full of ice, food and beverages and you’re good to go. And as the name suggests, the Roadie will keep all your goodies nice and frosty during your long road trip. Bonus: Use it as a seat at your campsites along the way. Extra Bonus: The Roadie is certified bear resistant. The contents in your cooler are safe from those mighty bruins.
I am notorious for breaking rods. From car doors and ceiling fans to unfortunate falls, my rods last two years if they’re lucky. Breaking a rod midway through a 10 day fishing trip (without a backup) can be a very disheartening experience. On your next fishing road trip, throw an extra rod or two in your gear pile. They don’t take up much space. And they’ll be a lifesaver if dump your boat and lose your rod in the river or accidentally break a tip.
One of the major advantages of driving over flying…luggage and gear space is rarely an issue. So I suggest bringing ALL of your tackle. Don’t skimp on extra leaders, backup fly boxes, multiple spools of tippet or a spare net. I also like to throw an extra fishing pack into the mix as well. If you’re traveling across three states covering thousands of miles and multiple fisheries, you never know what extra tackle you may need.
Insider’s tip: “There is no such thing as bad weather. Just inappropriate clothing.” Even if the forecast is perfect for your trip, make sure to throw warm and light clothes in your vehicle as well as rain pants and jackets.
6.) Sample Local Beer
Fishing and beer. What a glorious combination. And with the microbrew explosion, finding local breweries throughout your road trip is easier than ever. Not only can you pick up some canned goodness for your day on the water directly from the source. But while you’re there, you can sample everything they have and chow down on some lunch as well. Supporting local breweries is like supporting your local fly shop. It’s always a great idea and without fail, you’ll leave with a smile on your face.
Insider’s tip: If you’re road tripping out to colorful Colorado and need the ultimate local beer guide, check out our blog on it here. You’ll get the skinny on 10 of the best Colorado beers for fly fishing. Their respective breweries are located throughout the state and all fall within hours (often minutes) of amazing fisheries.
7.) Hire A Guide
If you plan to be in one location for a while and aren’t familiar with the fishery, hire a guide early in your trip. This way you’ll get a feel for the area, the hatches and the fish. After a day or two of guided fishing, you can take your new-found wisdom on some DIY excursions. It’s unbelievable how a few well-placed tips from a guide can make the rest of your trip far more productive.
Insider’s tip: Popular fishing destinations can be very busy during the late spring, summer and early autumn (prime vacation months). Call the local outfitter or fly shop far in advance to lock in your guided day on the water.
8.) Bring Flies From Home
Although I still highly suggest stopping into local fly shops along your route, there is one major advantage I’ve found with bringing your flies from home. And it really comes down variety. Flies purchased from local fly shops get cast on their local rivers to the same fish day in and day out. And the trout eventually pick up on it. Now, throw the same pattern tied by a different company and the subtle variations can garner huge payoffs. You can also take this a step further. Bring custom flies from your hometown fly shop or ones you tied at your own vise. There’s a good chance that the fish haven’t seen that variation before. It is still, let’s say, a PMD pattern. But the small differences can be enough to drive the trout crazy. I’ve found this to be especially true with streamers and hoppers.
8 ½.) Plan Out Half, Leave The Rest In The Air
Alright. I know that this won’t work for all fishing road trips. But if possible, it’s worth giving it a try. Think about how many times you’ve ventured across hundreds of miles of country, passing dozens of fisheries along the way. Yes, you have your final destination mapped out with particular streams and rivers you plan to fish hard. But what about leaving a portion of your trip relatively unplanned. Maybe you get to your final destination and have each day fully scheduled. But the fishing turns out to be mediocre on the rivers and streams on your itinerary. Or maybe you find out about a local spot midway through your vacation but can’t fit an impromptu detour into your packed schedule.
Adaptability is a major asset in the angler’s quiver. Consider applying that to your next fishing road trip schedule. Plan half, leave the rest in the air. There can be so much freedom in having an open-ended fishing road trip.
Keep ’em wet, handle them sparingly and always appreciate where you are.
Seth Kulas, Vail Valley Angler’s Content Contributor, @sticks2snow