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Eddy Line: Floating season is fast approaching

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A fisherman casts into a labyrinth of trees with his loaded boat prepped and ready nearby. EBS columnist Patrick Straub advises fishermen and women eager to get out on the river to use the runoff period to get their gear in shape to ensure a successful summer on the water. OUTLAW PARTNERS PHOTO

Be ready with these six tips


I’ve got guide buddies always ready to share stories about mishaps occurring on the first day of floating after a long winter’s break. Most of these stories run the gamut, but they all begin with “I should’ve known better…” and end with “I’ll never do that again.”

With snowmelt runoff beginning, now is the time to prep for our summer floating and fishing season. With a below-average snowpack in most of our river drainages, the duration of runoff—the period when a river is too high and muddy to safely float and fish—will probably be shorter than the past few years. This means if you want to be ready to hit the river without any missteps along the way, prep now. Here are six simple ways to get ready now while the rivers are high to ensure your first floating and fishing trip goes as planned. 

Get your boat trailer serviced. It hasn’t happened to me…yet. But I’ve been behind one of my friends when the bearings on his trailer wheels blew out. Not only is dealing with a broken trailer by the side of a busy highway no fun, think of all the fishing that is being missed. Take some time now to get your trailer serviced. Get your bearings packed or replaced and have your tires and lights inspected. Half a day now can save you a full day down the road, and the salmon flies don’t wait for the unprepared. 

Check your net. I was fishing with a friend of mine on the Yellowstone River several years ago. It was the first trip in his boat since the fall and he was accustomed to leaving his gear in his boat over the winter and spring months. I was fishing and hooked a large brown trout, so my friend grabbed his net and netted the fish. I removed the hook and briefly looked away to grab my camera. When I reached back into the net to grab the fish, it was gone! A mouse had eaten a hole in my friend’s net. 

Test your anchor line. This is another easy task but is so often overlooked. Pull out the entire amount of anchor line from your boat and run it through your hands. Feel for knicks or scrapes. If there are any, consider replacing it. There’s a reason why sailors used to call the end of the anchor line “the bitter end.” Don’t find out the hard way. 

Grab a screwdriver, Allen wrench, and a ratchet set and check all the screws and nuts in your boat. Over time these become loose. This is especially important if you store your boat outdoors. The freeze and thaw of our winter and spring means small droplets of water can sneak into tiny spaces, loosening nuts and bolts. 

Visit your local fly shop and ask some questions. On tailwater rivers like the Missouri and Bighorn, things rarely change from year to year, but on freestone rivers like the Gallatin and Yellowstone, channels change with highwater and islands emerge or disappear. The Madison’s lower reaches near Ennis can change, as well. Take some time and visit your local fly shop. See who they’ve hired for summer help and if they know their stuff. Check in on how their fly and tackle inventory is looking and make a mental note so when you’re ready to hit the water you know which shop has what and who can relay the best information. 

De-clutter your kit bag. If you’re like me, by the end of the fall season your boat bag and fishing pack are a mess of used leaders, flies with knot clippings still attached, and half empty bottles of floatant and dry shake. Pull up the coffee table, Netflix “A River Runs Through It” and organize your bag for the upcoming floating season. 

Like I’ve said in past columns, dealing with runoff is part of being an angler. And, as I’ve said before, the sooner we get into runoff the sooner it will be over. This year, just make sure you’re fully prepared to fish when the moment comes. 

Patrick Straub has fished on five continents. He is the author of six books, including “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing” and has been writing the Eddy Line for nine years. He was one of the largest outfitters in Montana, but these days he now only guides anglers who value quality over quantity. If you want to fish with him, visit his website,

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