So many questions! We got you covered here.
Many of our guests fall into 2 categories. The first is: "I've never touched a fly rod before." Or, "I've done it a few times." Visiting the Madison Valley and fly fishing is sort of a "When in Rome" type of thing. That's why we're here.
Personally, I love beginners. Great listeners, fewer bad habits, and everything is a teaching moment. They're clay and we're the molders. I can have a beginner fishing just how I want them pretty darn quick. It's almost as if all of their apprehension about going on a guided fishing trip is relieved once they hit the water and see for themselves how fun, streamlined, and simple the whole thing is. That answers the most common question: Do you take beginners? Absolutely.
Much of this pre trip apprehension comes from simply not knowing way more than they feel comfortable with. Are we going to be in boats? What do you do when it rains? What do I bring? Where do we meet? So many questions, so much anxiety. It doesn't need to be stressful, it's fishing. The questions we get are all the same, especially the most common ones. So, here is a short list of the most common with some explanation.
When should I come and what your operating season?
I fish 12 months out of the year and fishing can be excellent in every month. Am I going to be in a drift boat in February all day? Probably not. Many boat launches are locked in ice and fish aren't as spread out in the river in winter, meaning fishing by foot is most effective. I'm probably going to be doing half day wade fishing trips higher upstream on the river where water temps are more stable and less ice. A little counterintuitive, but that's the effect a dam will have on a stream. From March through September, drift boat full day trips are the bread and butter. Yes, it's beautiful in July and August here, but you're going to see fewer people in the shoulder season months like March/April/May. So, you should come fishing when you can. When is my favorite time to fish? That's a tough one. But fishing a single dry fly in July and August is my favorite type of fishing so that would be my favorite time because there's a wide variety of dry flies available on the entire river and all the lakes are all experiencing some sort of hatch to target during this time. Second would be winter. It's a different kind of beautiful, but solitude is more easily found, and the fishing is also typically very good. Obviously, more layers are required, but it's a fun adventure. I like to hop from spot to spot in winter. Fish a bit in one spot, hop in the truck and warm up while driving to the next spot. These are mostly half days because, well, daylight is shorter in winter.
What does the rate include, and how can I pay?
Our rates are designed to allow you to walk off the street and we take care of everything. You only need to buy one thing on your own, a fishing license, which you can do on a phone. We cover everything from lunches, drinks, flies, gear, and bad jokes. Everything you need to fish, we've got.
We accept all forms of payment. Cash is king, but checks and credit cards are also accepted.
How much should I plan for gratuity?
We're a service industry. You tip what you feel is earned. Just like with other services, 20% is a typical amount.
How old do you have to be to fish?
What I've found over the years taking children along from 2 and up, as well as being a parent of two young kids myself, is that around 7 or 8, a kid has both the physical strength to cast a 9 ft rod, and the mental focus to listen to instruction and learn. Any younger than that, with a few exceptions, and they're pretty much along for the ride, maybe fishing a few minutes here or there. Those kids will definitely have fun too, but the parent on board will not get to fish much being concerned about the little one all the time. Remember, 2 people per boat/guide. Most of the time I would suggest a parent be with anyone under 12.
Can I bring beer?
Absolutely. While we cannot provide it for you, if you are 21 or older, you're welcome to bring it on board.
What's for lunch?
We utilize local caterers for our lunches and they offer an amazing fishing oriented lunch which includes anything from fried chicken to wraps. We'll touch base with you the evening before to get you a menu and take an order. We typically eat lunch on the river, pulling over in a protected cove and enjoying the views.
Can we keep fish?
As someone who grew up camping in North Georgia with a trout on an open fire stuffed with butter, onions, garlic, and potatoes, I love to eat trout. And while there are instances in specific stretches of the Madison where fish can be kept, we simply don't do it on our guided trips. These fish are wild, not stocked. There are many places around to keep trout, but we leave the trout of the Madison alone.
Do I have to fish the whole day?
You paid for the boat. You do what you want. There's a lot of intense guides out there. I'm not one of them and our guides aren't either. In fact, too many people spend all day looking down at the water, but forget to look up at the spectacular scenery and abundant wildlife. I consider my job to be mostly about teaching fishing and to also teach about our local fishery, ecology, history, etc. Most floats will be around 10 miles in length. There's a lot you could miss by looking at the water all day.
Do I need a license?
Anyone 12 and older needs a license. Super easy to buy either online HERE or at any sporting goods or fly shop. Remember, if you're a non resident buying a license for the first time in Montana, you'll need your SSN. Many teenagers don't know theirs, and sometimes the parents don't have their teenagers' memorized either. Keep that in mind...
I or my parter is disabled or has mobility issues. Can you take us?
Yes. Some of my favorite guests are in their 80s with obvious mobility issues. However, if you have mobility or disability issues, we absolutely need you to be honest with us at the outset when booking. This helps us prepare and plan our trips accordingly and not be surprised the morning of your trip. I've taken someone who was legally blind fishing before. He was a brilliant caster having only recently become blind. We managed to hook a few fish that day. A really rewarding moment for both of us. So yes, absolutely, but help us prepare as best as we can for it by letting us know exactly what mobility/disability issues we're facing.
When does the trip start and how long are we out there?
This depends on the season. We'll be in contact with you the day before your trip to plan specific logistics, but as a general rule of thumb in the winter I'm starting trips around 10AM off by 3PM or so. Spring, you're looking at probably a 9AM start. Off by 4PM ish. And summer can be very early to avoid people and to get good fishing in. I've started as early as 5AM before. Off by 2PM. But it's pretty common to meet at 8 or 9 in the summer for certain floats. We definitely try and avoid later morning starts in summer due to heat. It's all flexible. Each guide has in mind their plan for the day and will communicate this to you the evening before.
I have a rod, not sure about its quality, should I bring it?
Sure, if you really want to use it or it has sentimental value. We have our gear dialed though. Often our rods are already rigged with the right flies ready to fish too. So, most times it's best to just use our gear, but if you have a really nice rod or something that's special to you, by all means bring it along.
What should I wear/bring?
While we provide all the fishing related gear you might need, you'll definitely want to be prepared with the appropriate clothing. Do you need a rain jacket? Yes. Always. The forecast could be sunny and you need a rain jacket. It's Montana. It could happen. Layers, layers, layers. We believe in Gore-Tex, fleece, windstopper, etc. Sunglasses are required. We don't need any fly/eye collisions. Winter hats if it's cool, regular hats if it's summer. You're more exposed on a drift boat, so subtract about 10 degrees from whatever your weather app says and that's what I would plan for. Wind is a common element of every day. Be prepared. Be over-prepared.
Do I need waders?
If you have them, bring them. Most times we're in a drift boat and waders are unnecessary, but they can provide an extra layer of warmth and protection which is nice. Your guide will be able to tell you that morning if you need them or not. But don't stress over waders. We're totally capable of keeping you out of the water all day from launch to launch. If you're coming in the winter or early spring and we'll be doing wade fishing, then they are required but we can always stop by a shop and you can rent them for the day if necessary. We also have a pretty wide selection of waders you can borrow if we have your size.
Where will we fish?
Typically we meet people in Ennis the morning of the trip and will float somewhere between Raynold's Pass and Ennis Lake. If you're staying in Big Sky or West Yellowstone, we often meet you upriver to reduce your drive time to Ennis. There's about 60 miles of water we utilize. Which section of water you float on any particular day is up to your guide. We will base that decision on a variety of factors including: weather (wind), flows, skill level, boat ramp availability (fewer in winter), etc. It's an inexact algorithm.
Will we be in a boat all day?
If your visit falls in the March-October range, likely yes, you will be in the drift boat all day. Stops for breaks, lunch, bathroom, pictures, etc. will be scattered throughout the day, but you will spend all of your fishing time in the boat. Winter and spring trips often involve some wading. Fishing spots and then back to the truck and on to the next. If you have waders for those time periods, bring them. If not, no worries, we'll get that sorted out.
How many people in a boat?
Most drift boats are only rated for 3 people, including the rower, so 2 anglers per boat. Space is limited and there's just enough space for an angler in the front and the rear, that's it.
What kind of fish will we catch?
On the upper Madison we have rainbow trout, brown trout, mountain whitefish, cuttbows, and cutthroat. Grayling are also present, albeit extremely rare. There's also a chance, primarily during early summer runoff, to catch big chubs.
Is there any whitewater?
Not on the upper Madison. The upper Madison is mostly characterized by shallow (0-3ft) riffles and pools. Whitewater can be found in the Beartrap Canyon portion of the Madison, just downstream from Ennis Lake. We're definitely not going there in our drift boats though.