Tips for traveling anglers this winter

By Patrick Straub Explore Big Sky Fishing Columnist

The holiday circus hustle is over. New Year’s has come and gone. Snow has been around for nearly 90 days. It’s time to take a trip.

And that’s just what many of us do this time of year – get out of Montana in search of warmer waters and new angling adventures. I did just that, spending the second week of January chasing steelhead on the forested rivers of the Oregon coast.

During this trip I partook of my own medicine – when on a fishing vacation, be on a fishing vacation. I shunned responsibility and better judgment to pursue fish, something we should do more often. Here are some other useful tips and tricks to get the most from your angling travel experience.

Ship it before you go. If you’re flying to a destination and it’s possible to ship your gear before you fly, do it. Given high baggage fees and increasingly unreliable airline baggage services, shipping your gear saves you hassle and worry.

Rent it. Most shops and lodges offer rod rentals. If you only need a 9-weight for one week, rent it rather than buy. The money you save will buy you an extra day with your guide.

Plan your road trip. If you’re taking a road trip, do it so you never backtrack. Plan your fishing to be in a loop so you save gas money and time.

Call before you go. Just before your trip, call ahead and speak with your guide, the lodge, or a local shop. Their first-hand knowledge may help with any last-minute planning. You can always check things on the Internet, but locally sourced knowledge can’t be beat.

Pack little cotton towels. These are great for wiping down gear at the end of the day, or wiping up excess bug dope or sunscreen so you don’t get that goop on your fly line. A few years back, on a trip to a remote island in the Bahamas, my cotton hand towels were lifesavers, keeping the salt mist off my glasses and gear.

Keep local fisheries healthy. The spread of invasive aquatic species can be an area fishery’s death sentence. Do your part by inspecting, washing and drying your gear before and after a trip.

Apply sunscreen right after you shower. When heading out for the day, put sunscreen on just after you towel off from your morning shower. You don’t have to waste time applying sunscreen at the boat ramp, and the sunscreen has a better effect.

Attitude is everything. Your fifth grade teacher had one thing right: a positive attitude goes a long way. The same is true for a great fishing trip. Fishing travel is rife with variables. Flight schedules, weather, guides, logistics in remote places, and more can all affect a trip. Your attitude in taking curveballs is paramount to a successful trip.

Most importantly, be honest with yourself about your ability. Don’t spend thousands of dollars traveling across the globe if your 30-foot cast won’t cut it on the gin-clear streams of New Zealand. An honest look at your own skill level is the first step in deciding where to travel and what species to pursue.

If you’ve always wanted to catch a bonefish but can’t cast 40 feet and further on a consistent basis, you should practice more before investing in this trip. And if you aren’t a strong wader, perhaps a steelhead trip isn’t a good idea. Before you make any trip, research the necessary skills and be honest in your assessment of those skills.

As I write this, some good friends are planning a trip to Belize – those lucky dudes. When they return in a few weeks, two more fishing pals are headed to Christmas Island. Even though I just returned from a trip, I’m jealous I’m not going on another.

But my time is coming. In March, I head to the Florida Keys to fish in an invite-only permit tournament. Permit are elusive, an extremely rare catch on a fly, but I’ll spend time practicing and travel with the right attitude. I had better because even though I have the best job in the world, it still feels good to leave it on occasion.

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.