It’s backcountry fishing season for those willing to explore

By Patrick Straub Explore Big Sky Fishing Columnist

It was late July back in the early ‘90s when I learned my destiny lay in taking people fishing. Now, more than 20 years later, I look back in disbelief at some of the things I did for the sake of getting friends into fish.

I was young, fit and weighed a lot less. Back then it was second nature loading up a pack and hiking five miles to fish in solitude or to show a future ex-girlfriend a secret fishing spot that would probably hold my interest longer than a relationship with her.

Boyfriends or girlfriends aside, for those willing to sacrifice a little comfort and put in some grunt work, fly fishing in the backcountry is rewarding. Few of us have the time in our busy lives to mix backpacking with fly fishing, but getting away from the melee of civilization can be done without freeze-dried food and Jetboils. Here’s some advice:

Be willing to walk a little. It’s not unusual on a backcountry day to put in five miles or more. You walk in a mile and then fish for a mile or longer; you have two miles coming back, and if you spend anytime bouncing around on the creek, the distances pile up quickly.

Be wary of bears, but also be aware of the terrain and bugs. Going up Slough Creek, for example, it’s not unusual to see grizzlies. But keep your eyes on the road – you could also slip and fall, or twist an ankle. And bring bug dope, as the mosquitos and deer flies may take more of your blood than a bear or a fall.

Don’t fish alone, and tell someone where you’re going. Have a partner. This helps with bears, and it also helps if you get hurt. But it doesn’t help with the damn bugs.

Stay general with your fly selection. Attractor dry flies like Stimulators, Trudes and foam hoppers fool most backcountry trout. For nymphs use Beadhead Princes, Pheasant Tails and Lightning Bugs. For lakes use black beadhead Wooly Buggers and olive or brown beadhead Leeches. Hoppers, ants and beetles also work for lakes as those insects can be blown into the water.

Use a lighter weight, 4- or 5-piece rod. A packable fly rod is crucial for fishing away from the crowds. It can be strapped to a pack or tied to a belt. Fish a 3- or 4-weight rod loaded with a floating fly line. With a floating fly line on a fly rod you can effectively fish lakes, too.

First cast is often the cast that works. Backcountry trout tend to be opportunistic. If your cast lands in a spot you think is fishy, be ready. Less-pressured streams are home to less-wary trout, and they tend to eat when they see food.

Keep moving. Many backcountry streams are small, meaning you can cover the best holding water quickly. You might want to fish a deeper pool a few times over, but when moving from pool to pool or between deep runs, cast and move through the marginal water, as well.

These days I visit with many folks venturing out to chase backcountry trout. The excitement in their voice makes me jealous, as I know they are headed for an adventure. The best way to have success fly fishing for backcountry trout is to just go and do it. Get off the road. Get out of cell phone range. And get ‘er done.

Pat Straub is the author of six books, including The Frugal Fly Fisher, Montana On The Fly, and the forthcoming Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing* *but were afraid to ask. He and his wife own Gallatin River Guides in Big Sky.