By Patrick Straub EBS Fishing Columnist

Fly fishing is a sport of progression. First, the cast is learned. Second, an understanding of flies is essential. Third, knowledge of how to manage the fly line on the water, so flies look natural enough that a fish will eat them. Fourth, choosing where and when to fish. Fifth, expanding the angling experience to include new species, new methods and so forth.

As a new angling year begins, make 2018 the year you continue your angling progression. The following angling resolutions are a good start.

Learn to trout spey cast. If you thought Tenkara was going to be the next big thing in fly fishing, don’t fret, you weren’t the only one. But, trout spey, also know as casting and fishing with two-handed rods, is here to stay. Rooted in Scotland but now common on most coastal rivers, fly fishing with a two-handed rod has been scaled down and our local waters are an ideal place to learn.

Fish a Paradise Valley spring creek. These world famous waters located south of Livingston deserve your attention. Nelson’s, Armstrong’s, and DePuy’s are the ranches through which these creeks flow, and access is gained by paying a trespass fee. For dry-fly anglers, prime seasons are April for spring mayflies and late June and early July for early summer mayflies, as well as solitude during the winter months. From my 20-plus years of guiding the creeks, anglers who hire a guide benefit from the expert knowledge and understanding of spring creek fisheries.

Watch your son or daughter catch their first fish on a fly. Make a point to observe rather than be wrapped-up in your own fishing. With our busy lives this can be hard. Commit to it and schedule time, but allow yourself to be flexible—forcing a kid to fish is no fun for you or for them.

Catch an elusive species on a destination trip. Last spring, I celebrated catching a permit as I ate fresh iguana eggs on the deck of my guide’s house while the sun set over the island of Guanaja, Honduras. Make 2018 the year you finally catch a steelhead on a fly, stalk golden dorado in the Amazon, or a bonefish in Belize.

Invest in better gear. You took care of all the nice people on your holiday list, now take care of yourself. Buy the new Sage X or the revolutionary Simms G3 waders, or Patagonia’s Tough Puff jacket. It may take a chunk out of your bank account but your fishing will improve—being comfortable on the water goes a long way to being a better angler.

Tie better knots. Tying knots faster and better means one thing: more fishing time. Find some old fly line, old tippet or string, and finally learn to tie the blood knot or the nail knot. While you’re at it, learn the perfection loop or the non-slip mono loop.

On a recent trip to Belize my knot tying skills were far superior than my angling partner’s, so I naturally caught more fish because I spent more time fishing and less time struggling with knots.
Leave the river better than you found it. Pick up any trash you find. Recycle your old leaders and tippet, and don’t dispose of clipped tippet material into the river. Practice catch and release properly—pinch your barbs, keep the fish wet at all times, and bring them in quickly. If you see another angler fishing, give them plenty of space, as you walk past offer up a “Hello” or “How’s the fishing?” If you see a parked car already at your favorite spot, consider trying a new one.

Create your own fly pattern. Most fly anglers progress in the following manner: catch one fish; catch a lot of fish; catch big fish; catch a fish on a fly you tied; catch a big fish on a fly you tied; catch lots of big fish on flies that you created. Fly tying is a unique way to get more enjoyment out of our sport. If you like to be innovative and enjoy doing things your way, fly tying is for you.

I spent the first day of 2018 fishing the Gallatin River near Big Sky. It was a typical winter day of fly fishing—I got a late start with my first casts around 1 p.m., my trout were caught using a two-fly nymph rig, and I was home in the hot tub by 4 p.m. It was a darn good start to what will be another year of living in the best fly-fishing area of the world.

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.