Bullet Points in Fly Fishing History

If you want to study fly fishing history, study the hook! The earliest hooks were discovered in Okinawa, and made from snail shells. Wikipedia says they are anywhere from 22.360 to 22,770 years old. Man has been looking to the ocean for food for quite some time!

Inshore, it probably didn’t take long to figure out there was food beneath a rise. All early man had to do was figure out how to get it. It took a while for technology to catch up with fly fishing, because it would be difficult to dress a snail-shell hook!  The first record of true fly fishing comes from the Roman author Aelius in 200 AD, from his book On The Nature Of Animals. In volume 17, he tells of Macedonians attaching red wool and two feathers to a hook, to imitate the Hippurus fly. The fly was attached to a 6’ rod that held a 6’ line. He called it the Macedonian way of fishing.

It’s important to note Aelius didn’t stumble upon this the first time it was done. This method of fishing had been in place for a while. While we date the first true fly fishing documentation as 200 AD, the tradition had been established before then. No one had bothered to write it down! Also note this is a Western version of history. As the world shrinks, and we get more information from China and Japan, the earliest date of fly fishing may change. The Chinese and Japanese have their own history of fly fishing that is just coming to light. We shall see!

Fly fishing was present throughout the Middle Ages. Reference to using a Vederangel (feathered hook) is found in German literature in the 13th century. If was known well enough to be a literary device, the idea of fly fishing was firmly established. Fly fishing is also referenced in Britain and Spain, as well as Japan. The writings are clear about fly fishing, but not very clear on details. But the seeds are there for Dame Juliana and her landmark achievement.

The first book on fly fishing to be published with moveable type was A Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle,credited to Dame Juliana Berners. She was a nun, and an avid fly fisherman. It was the first manual for fly fishing, detailing building rods, weaving horsehair into lines and listing 12 flies, one for each month of the year. The fly for May was an Ephemerella, or a Mayfly. The impact of this book still resonates with us today.

In 1496, an angler’s tackle consisted of a rod anywhere from 12-16 feet long, made of 3-4 pieces of solid wood, angled at the ends and spliced together with twine. The horse hair line was approximately the same length as the rod, and attached to the tip. Flies were dressed on hooks, which were often shaped pins, and the horsehair leader was snelled into the fly as part of the tying process. If you hooked a smaller fish, you yanked it out. Hook something bigger, and you tossed the rod in the water and let the fish tow it around till it tired. It was not an easy sport to pursue, as the angler had very few places to procure tackle. The very wealthy had gillies (someone hired to do nothing but maintain tackle and do stream keeping if applicable) but most made their own tackle.

Interestingly, Tenkara today is almost a carbon copy of the angling enjoyed in 1496. Of course, Tenkara rods are graphite, the line and tippets are polyvinyl and mono, but the concept is the same. The Missoulian Angler fly shop hasn’t fully embraced Tenkara- its simplicity doesn’t seem to appeal to the tackle junkies who work here! But there’s no doubting the ease of taking a Tenkara rod backpacking, or the thrill of sneaking close enough to feeding fish to make the technology of 1496 work today.

Change came slowly over the next 350 years. Rings (metal hoops held by a band and wrapped on with thread) were the first guides, which allowed the line to extend and retract. Silk was a new material, and it was incorporated into lines. Gut replaced horsehair as the leader of choice, and would remain so until 1945. With a moveable line came the reel. As the world expanded, the woods used in rod building became more varied, and as bamboo came from China, anglers knew they had found something that held some promise.

Initially, bamboo was used as it came from China, like a cane pole. It was lighter in weight, with some flexibility in the thinner sections. Ferrules were a tricky business in the early 1800’s, as anglers tried to get away from splicing rod pieces into place every time out. The metallurgy still hadn’t caught up with the need. But by 1847, rod tips were being made with 3-4 strips of shaved bamboo, though the process hadn’t come close to being perfected. That was done in America by Samuel Phillipe and Hiram Leonard. Both were originally gunsmiths by trade, and both helped revolutionize fly fishing. They moved to 6 strip construction (hexagonal) which is still the preferred design to this day. They built rods that truly cast, and were significantly shorter and lighter than their predecessors. Reels continued to improve, as did the silk lines. Rod action was now controllable and expanded, with lines manufactured in different thicknesses (weights) to enhance the now controllable action.

An angler in 1939 was decked out waterproof pants made of canvas sandwiching a layer of rubber. They used a hexagonal cane rod, either hand or machine planed. The reel was steel or aluminum, and the line was made of silk. The leader was still gut, which needed to be soaked the previous day or it had no flexibility. The picture our Missoula fly shop bathroom called Grandpas Tackle shows an aluminum gut soaker. The flies had integral metal eyes, and were dressed with much thinner thread than used in the 1800’s. The 1939 angler would be quite recognizable today, with tackle we would easily recognize and be comfortable with.

Then came WWll, and the world fought in ways that had never been experienced. From that carnage came plastic, fiberglass and Poly Vinyl. Rods went from cane to Fiberglass. Leaders went from gut to monofilament, and fly lines went from silk to poly coated. Spin fishing came from the technological explosion during the war. Fly fishing became easier and much more accessible. Tapered leaders were now extruded, not hand tied. Rods didn’t wear out, and required less maintenance. Lines lasted well over a year. Fly fishing was simplifying.

This blog writer learned how to fly fish using a cane rod with a plastic reel seat. When it was built, plastic was a marvel. Waterproof, almost unbreakable- it was a miracle of the modern age. I learned to spin fish before I learned to fly fish, and my grandfather provided me with a left-hand spinning reel.  I cast with my right hand, and reeled with my right hand, as I do today. In the early 1900’s, you cast right and reeled right, which made sense. A big bass or salmon rod weighed 9 ounces, and the reel might weigh 15. When you hooked a fish, you fought the fish with your “fresh” arm. By the early ‘60’s, left hand wind in fly fishing carried a stigma with old school fly fishers. It meant you started out spin fishing, and then moved to fly fishing. No grandson was going to go through life with that black mark on his head! So I reel right handed. Don’t sweat it, that thinking is long gone!

Things progressed until 1973, when Orvis introduced the first graphite rod. Talk about an upgrade! With graphite, rods became casting tools, built for power, accuracy and distance. New vistas opened up for fly fishing in the salt, as well as on streams and rivers. Rods weighed less, and reels soon followed suit. Fly fishing was getting easier and easier.

October 9, 1992. Brad Pitt stars, and Robert Redford directs. Fly fishing goes mainstream, and there’s no going back. In 1993, at the Fly Tackle Dealer Show, I got collared by Jim Murphy, president of Redington Rods at the time. You must try this rod. So I did. He asked me how much I thought the rod I’d just cast retailed for. I said $400-$450. He said $129, with a lifetime warranty. I said Bullsh*t. I said he cherry picked it- he brought me 5 more and they were all good rods. It was my introduction to overseas manufacturing of fly rods. In 1986, when I entered the fly fishing industry, I could say without hesitation that a good fly rod would cost you $375- half that if you put it together yourself, as I did. That changed in 1993. Fly fishing became (relatively) affordable, and the industry has never looked back.

I still have some of my grandfathers old tackle- rods, reels, flies and other assorted paraphernalia. I can say this without hesitation- we argue the finer points of rods like it makes a difference. Use one of my Grandpa’s “sticks”, and you know how they got that nickname. You’ll run back to your modern tackle so fast your head will spin. We’re in the Golden Age of fly fishing, and don’t let others tell you different. Our tackle is so far beyond what my grandfather used in 1978, it’s science fiction. Fly tying materials have never been better or more varied, The Feather Thief be damned. Be glad you have access to the best it’s ever been, because that’s what we have. Enjoy!!!!

George Kesel

Blackfoot River Salmonflies

Yellowstone Flooding – Missoula Rivers Coming Into Shape

It’s all over the news- Yellowstone Park Closed! It looks like they’re having a 100 year flood down south, and we feel for them. Missoula had a 100 year flood event in 2018, and the town had issues for about 2 weeks. And then, except for the people whose houses took on water, we went back to a normal year. Better, in fact, because the water was high and cold throughout the summer and fall. Freestone rivers are at the mercy of the weather, and when the weather makes the national news, it has a definite affect on the rest of the season.

Right now in Missoula, the rivers are dropping. The cool spring has our flows where we want them, falling, and water temps staying cold. We have some heat coming in the next few days, but we don’t expect as dramatic of a bump like last week with the rain, followed by more mild temperatures. Last year at this time we were already talking about when hoot owl hours would come into play, and at the end of June we needed them. That won’t be the case this year. We have the makings of a good end of June fly fishing in western Montana and great fishing for the rest of the season. Water is what we need in the drought plagued west.

It’s a 4 hour drive to Yellowstone Park from Missoula, the intense flood we see on the Yellowstone river is much different than the bump in flows we saw last week around Missoula. We’ve had some people call and email the shop today concerned with what they’re seeing on national news. It’s important to note that Yellowstone river is almost 300 miles away from us. That’s multiple states away for some areas of the country! The Yellowstone river fly fishing will be affected by these floods for a while, Missoula rivers are in better shape and the rivers are dropping and the fishing is going to slowly picking up. Should be a decent salmonfly hatch starting by next week, although we don’t expect the rivers to keep dropping as quickly with the warm weather on tap for the next few days. Most likely another bump that should be smaller than last week and flows should continue to drop after that.

It’s the cycle of nature- the snow will melt and spring rains will come. Sometimes it happens early, and takes a while. Sometimes it happens late and occurs all at once. This year in Yellowstone Park, it’s happening late and a lot at once. In Missoula, it’s taking a while to occur. Both are normal, though we sympathize with the people whose lives and travel have been impacted by the extreme weather down south. It’s normal for the rivers to be high and off color.

But in a time, the roads will be cleared and the rivers will be back in play in Yellowstone. In the long run, it’s just a blip on the radar. Just as last year’s low, warm water was a blip on the radar to Missoula. Each year brings its own challenges, and its own set of conditions. But it takes a crazy year to really foul up the fishing beyond June 22 in this area and we don’t expect that to happen in Missoula. We expect our late spring fishing to be decent in Missoula, and the summer/fall fishing is going to be spectacular across the western half of Montana. Of course these are all speculations at this point but we are optimistic about the last week of June and the rest of summer

It’s all about the water, and in both places, we’re getting it. It might not be the way they want it in West, but it will be there. We’re having an easier time of it, and for that we’re thankful. But in the end, this too will pass, as Spring goes into Summer and then Fall. Then we see how next year shapes up, we see how nature treats us. It’s an endless cycle that anglers and other travelers have been dealing with for centuries. It seems like a lot right now, but in the long run, the trout, the rivers and the anglers will be doing what they always do- handling the conditions as they find them.

Right now, despite the news, it’s looking pretty darn good in the Missoula area for at least the last week of June and the rest of summer. Yellowstone will be out of commission for a while and we expect there to be an extended road closure for the summer months over there. We realize that many people are changing their plans to come fish the western side of the state at least for the next few weeks as we don’t have near the amount of issues like many other places in the state. Just remember those small businesses on the Yellowstone will have a tough summer. We’re happy to accommodate the lost fisherman for the time being but those small businesses will hopefully be ready when the damage is repaired. Might not be a bad idea to give them some business later this year or next, whenever they open back up.

Flat Water Of Clark Fork River

What’s A Good Day on the Water

One of the WORST things I ever did in a fly shop happened in early summer 2000. Yes, I remember the year- surprised I don’t remember the date. A guy came in the shop simply bouncing, telling me he had the best day he ever had on Rock Creek. It was epic! He’d never caught so many fish! He was so excited. I joined in his excitement, and said, “Hey, you must have caught like 40 or 50!

He looks at me and says, “I caught 6”

You can imagine his face. You can imagine how bad I felt. In one sentence, I’d crushed his day. Just crushed it. Still, to this day, I think about that. He’d HAD a good day….until he talked to me. I’m still haunted.

About 2007, I found myself back on the Bighorn in a 7 boat guide trip. I’d fished the Bighorn in the early ‘90’s, and spent two guided days following a huge polypropylene indicator. I caught 50 fish a day. It was terrible. I vowed I would never do that again.

That morning in 2007, the guide introduces himself and says he’d like to take a look at my rod. I said, “Don’t touch my fly rod. Do not put a bobber on my line.” You can imagine the look on his face. He starts to tell me it’s the best way to fish, catch the most fish, etc. I say I don’t care, I don’t care how many fish I catch, do not put a bobber on my line. By this time, every guide in the group is watching this exchange, wondering what it’s going to be like having this @sshole in their boat, and who could blame them. After about 2 more minutes of the same conversation with my guide, including asking him to keep my friend Tom on all the fish, I reach into my wallet and tip the guide $150. In the parking lot, before the boat is wet. He looks at me and says, “I guess I have to believe you.”

I caught 7-8 fish that day, including a smallmouth bass, the guide’s first in that watershed. I was casting my streamer into some REALLY random water! Meanwhile, Tom is hooking up consistently. It must have looked pretty funny, the boat pointed into the bank for Tom, while I’m flipping a streamer behind the boat. Once in a while, I floated a dry fly, fruitlessly, and watched it drift along the bank. It was a great day on the water.

What’s up with that? 50 is terrible, 8 is good? It’s what I wanted on the water. It can’t be any simpler. I like fishing the way I like fishing. That makes a good day on the water.

Take A Kid Fishing!

When the Missoulian Angler fly shop books a guided fly fishing trip, we ask a lot of questions, trying to find out what the guest wants from his/her day on the water. Instruction? A shot at a legit 20” trout? A lot of trout? Only dry flies, or do they want to Euro nymph?

Can we guarantee a big trout, or a lot of fish? No. It’s fishing! But we guarantee our guides, the best fly fishing guides in Missoula, will do everything possible to make the day live up to expectations. We can’t stress this enough- talk to your guide, tell them what you’re looking for in a day. No matter what it might be. Our guides are good, but you’re input makes them better. That information will do a lot to make your day on the water a good day.

My Dad traveled the west for years, alone and being guided. He was happiest tossing a dry and catching fish 8-13” long. It made him happy. One day a guide, who knew my Dad was a “stick” (Guidespeak for a good angler) was floating Dad down a river. He stopped, and said, “George, let’s take a walk.” 45 minutes later, they’ve come to a slough. The guide gets excited, and ties on a little dry. “Cast it just above that log.” So Dad casts just above the log, and a 28” Brown Trout slides out from under the log and starts to rise… but halfway up, decides against, drifts back down and back under the log. “OOOOHHHH, that’s the farthest up he’s ever moved!” groans the guide. And then says, let’s get back to the boat.

About 2 hours, one cast. That was absolutely NOT what my Dad wanted. That was his memory of the day. The guide thought it was a magic chance for a huge Brown on a dry! That was his memory of the day. Straight up miscommunication. Just that simple.

There are anglers who go fishing for the Instagram moment. (Not my Dad!) They’ll walk or float anywhere to take one trout that garners the Big Looks! A day without big is a bad day. A one fish day over 20 inches, and it’s a great day. Like it or not, social media is here to stay. It’s changing the concepts of fly fishing and fly tying. Some is good, some not so good.

We have pictures lining the ceiling beam at the MAngler. What shop doesn’t have a bragging board! Big trout and happy anglers! We get questioned about those pictures all the time. Is that the average size of trout around here? Were they caught this week? And the answer is always no. They got on the wall because of their rarity. But it gives some anglers an inferiority complex, because they’re not catching those trout. Sometimes it crosses my mind to take those pictures down, because it raises expectations and may make an angler’s trip less enjoyable. Not always, but it does happen.

The same happens with magazine articles. In the mid ‘90’s, I worked at a catalog fly shop in New Hampshire, where I spoke with anglers all over the country. I got a call from a man in Texas. He’d just finished reading an article about trout fishing on the Housatonic River in Connecticut. I’d fished the Housatonic fairly often- the Smallmouth Bass fishing was pretty good. He was asking me about lodging, and when the best time to come for the Housatonic trout fishing.

I was baffled. I barely drove 3 hours to get there, and thought it was a bit of drive for the fishing. I went because one of my best friends lived close by, and I would hang out with him and his Dad (who still remembers me as “the guy who falls in the Housatonic.” It was very slippery, and I was too young to need a wading staff. Hence, falling). I asked the customer why he was even considering coming? He said he’d read the article, and was ready to make the effort for that type of fishing. I zipped out front of the shop, got the magazine, and started to read the article. Hmmm….

I’ve been to exactly ONE place where the fishing was as good as the magazine said, and that was New Zealand. What I was reading about the Housatonic was as close to fiction as you could get, without downright lying. I’m sure what was described happened on one magic day, but it was not anywhere close to what I experienced on that river in my 14-15 times fishing it. Think about magazine articles you’ve read about rivers you’ve fished- was the reality anywhere close to the actual experience?

That’s what I thought.

I told this gentleman about my experience on the Housatonic. I told him he was going to an airport, and standing at a gate. He had a lot of gates to choose from! Missoula. Bozeman. West Yellowstone. Colorado. So many options where I KNEW the fishing was actually good. None of those gates included Hartford, CT. No dis on the Housatonic, but there are better rivers in the United States. Yet someone had written an article about it, and people from away were reading it and believing it. I think he would have had the worst days of fishing there- the reality would never have matched the expectations created.

This dovetails with a fascinating conversation I had with the caretaker of DePuys Spring Creek in Livingston, MT. I found myself on this amazing stream in early August in 2009. I was there with two friends, and there was a fourth rod on the water, but he was gone by noon. My two friends went to their spot and stayed there. I basically had 3 miles of spring creek to myself. It was amazing!

In my wanderings along the river, I saw the caretaker and we started talking. I said how pleased I was to be there when so few where fishing, and he said yes, that’s the new way of fly fishing. When I asked for an explanation of that statement, he told me this.

He’d been the Depuy’s caretaker for 20 years, and had seen a huge change in booking patterns. He said at this point, when the hatch chart said there was a strong hatch, all 16 rods were filled. But when there were no hatches, no one booked a rod. In early August, no hatches, so no anglers. Again, I was baffled. He elaborated, and it has stuck with me.

20 years ago, people came to Montana to fish when they could. They went fishing, and caught some trout. But since The River Ran Through It, a lot of anglers needed a REASON to be there. It wasn’t enough to go fishing, there had to be a reason to go fishing. To come when “nothing” was happening didn’t have enough ROI, it didn’t have punch, not enough to be GOOD. It made me think about my experience in destination fly shops and booking trips, and saw his insight was correct. There are many anglers out there who travel to something. Not to the fishing, but to the expectations of what fishing could be. There needed to be more than just fishing. An event was needed.

I caught about 30 fish that day, all on the surface. Hoppers, ants, beetles, micro caddis and there was even a rusty spinner fall for about 30 minutes. No, the rises didn’t make it look like it was raining. But if you think 30 fish on the surface isn’t a good day, you and I aren’t calibrating our fishing days the same way. The sky was iridescently blue, the mountains so close you thought you could touch them, but so far away. A good cast was rewarded often enough that subsurface never crossed my mind. It was a great day.

When nothing was going on.

Instagram and Facebook. So many magazines about fly fishing. I get it, I’m old and crotchety. I’ve been fly fishing for 49 years, and I was taught that a day on the river is better than a day doing anything else. Sometimes you hit it right, and lite the world on fire. Other days you got your fanny handed to you, and went home smelling of skunk. But it was never about the end result. It was always about the journey.

I feel that’s changed in the last 25 years. Now, it’s less about the process and more about the result. Guides have reported getting in a boat with anglers who have a counter with them. Yes, a finger activated counter. When they caught a trout- not a fish, a trout- the counter was clicked and the event recorded. Next.

Some of those anglers return year after year, and they will definitively let you know they had better fishing 8 years ago. As you speak with them, you find they aren’t enjoying the fishing as much. It didn’t meet their expectations. It can get a bit crazy. I’ve been told that the 25 fish day just wasn’t as good as the 40 fish day they had in the past. I get it. This is their vacation- it needs to be what they want. But every year is different, hell, every day is different.

I get a unique perspective in the shop. I see guides every day, I know how the fishing is. Everyone in the shop does. I know when a 5 fish day is a GOOD day. Here’s a thought. Missoula is blessed with over 300 miles of floatable water an hour’s drive from town. That means everyday, Missoula’s best fly fishing guides have a big decision in front of them. Some days, you make the call and you’re the hero. Some days you’re the goat. It’s all part of the experience. The experience………

I try not to be old and grouchy. Older is actually easier to deal with! We’re lucky enough to be close to a college- I see young, enthusiastic anglers every day. I wish I still had their legs! They go places and do things I used to do, and it makes me happy. It keeps me young. When asked (and often unprompted!) I’ll tell them something I think is important. Sometimes they think it is, sometimes not.

Grouchy is tougher some days. When the going gets tough, some customers get grumpy. Not enough surface action, not enough fish, not enough big fish, too many people. I want to ask them, did you look at the iridescent sky? Did you watch that little cloud form, and then simply fade away across the vast panorama of the mountains? Did you watch a storm move up the valley? Were you aware of the herd of Elk behind you, watching you, wondering what you might be doing in their river? What did you miss in your quest for fish?

We know all the hackneyed phrases. “It’s not called catching, it’s called fishing” and others are bandied about when the conditions go against you. Said with a laugh, but meant with a purpose.

Again, I get it. I used to fish so hard for so long. Nose to the water, complete focus on the cast. Drift. Cast again. Drift. Cast, drift, cast, drift. Next thing I knew, it was dusk. Where did the time go?? It went fishing. And I went with it. Some days hero, some days goat. But always, at the bottom line, I went fishing. And that was good.

To sound like a jackass, I can truthfully say I’ve caught enough fish in my lifetime. I’ve been lucky, and I know it. But I’d be lying if I said there weren’t days when I go fishing and it’s important to catch fish. It’s not as often as it used to be, but it’s still there. I’ll never lose that. But it makes fishing a lot more peaceful when the day doesn’t always rely on a result. Some days are about the journey, and those are turning into my good days on the water.

Do I tell my customers I went out and caught nothing? Not a chance! I use my father’s stock phrase, “I caught a couple.” Never more, never less. But I do tell them about the eagle’s nest and the circling adult, looking for food for her babies. I think about the play of light across the water, and wonder how many crayfish might be in the shallow rocks I’m walking through. I hope I don’t see a snake, and secretly hope to see a bear…..on the other side of the river! I talk about the ones I didn’t catch, and tell them how I plan to take them later. It always requires a new fly!

Missouri River Guided Fly Fishing Trip

So as you contemplate what a good day on the water is, think about what it is that really matters. Ask yourself if it matters all the time. Think about the things that do matter all the time when you go fishing. And think if you’re giving each day on the water a fair chance. Every day on the water is good- if you have to search a bit deeper to find it that’s OK. And never forget Robert Traver’s words about why go fishing;

“I fish because I love to. Because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful, and hate the environs where crowds of people are found, which are invariably ugly. Because of all the television commercials, cocktail parties, and assorted social posturing I thus escape. Because in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing what they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion. Because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed, or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude and humility, and endless patience. Because I suspect that people are going this way for the last time and I for one don’t want to waste the trip. Because mercifully there are no telephones on trout waters. Because in the woods I can find solitude without loneliness. … And finally, not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important, but because I suspect that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant and not nearly so much fun.”
― Robert Traver

And as a final note in this somewhat contained rant, I ask you to look up one of my favorite fishing stories. It’s short, fun and to the point. It defines why we fish, and why the bad days are so important. Because they are!

George Kesel Mssoula Fly Fishing

George Kesel

Western Montana Fly Fishing 2022 Forecast

We’re having a typical Montana Spring. We had snow in late April, and the weather hasn’t gone above 70 since October! We’re getting a bit of rain each day, which is keeping the ground moist and the grass green. While some don’t enjoy this weather now, we’re all going to love it in about 6 weeks and throughout the summer. So far the Montana fly fishing 2022 prediction is looking pretty dang good.

Our snow pack is between 150 and 215% throughout the area, and if this rain continues, we’re going to have an epic summer. Hate to pull a jinx, but it’s looking a whole lot better than last summer, when we had some serious drought throughout western Montana. But right now, we’re poised to have water throughout the summer. The weather looks mild for the next few weeks which always helps extending the runoff further into the summer and should produce some good june fly fishing as well. As long as we don’t see those early record breaking temperature like we saw last June, we should have some much happier fish for the summer of 2022.

We can’t wait. The droughts that occasionally show in Western Montana can be a real issue for fishing. Low flows and high water temps are a serious stresser on the trout. When water levels stay up through the summer, keeping water temps lower, the fish stay healthy. This snowpack, and some typical June rain will keep water levels where they should be through the summer.

The Missoulian Angler is prepping for a big summer of fishing. Our cold spring fishing has shown us some very healthy, fat fish with no noticeable population decline. We came through last years’ low water relatively unscathed. All the cards are in place, it looks like the stars are aligned. With a little help from June rain, this summer is looking to be a lot deeper than last summer. Lazy waders might be a bit sad, as will those who like their fish stacked like cordwood. But for those who want a healthy river, stress free trout and cold water around their feet, it looks like the summer of 2022 Montana fly fishing is going to be a whole lot better than last year.

Current Western Montana snow water equivalent percent map – 6/1/2022
A great start to Western Montana fly fishing 2022 season!!!

Best Fly Fishing Packages For Beginners

At the Missoulian Angler, we are big fans of the fly fishing packages for beginners. So many questions are answered, so many problems are solved with an outfit. The line, backing and reel come pre-loaded on the reel, so you don’t spend hours learning and tying knots you don’t really need very often. The rod comes in its own protective case for rod and reel. The rod and reel are balanced for comfortable fishing, and with the technology being used in manufacture, these relatively inexpensive outfits are very good fishing tools.

Echo Lift Kit

The Echo Lift Kit, upgraded from the Base outfit, has been our most popular fly fishing kit for the novice angler. This is probably based on price, as the Lift Outfit is our least expensive of the fly fishing combo packages. It comes in a 9’ 5 or 6 weight, and as an 8’ 4 weight. All rods in the Base series are 4-piece rods, which makes storage and carrying a whole lot easier. The Lift Rod is a mid-action rod, comfortable to cast, well made and durable. The reel is a cast composite with a mechanical drag, and is set up with a left hand wind but can be switched to right hand wind. The backing is pre-spooled, and rigged with an average fly line. The leader is 9’4X. Simply remove the protective plastic from the reel spool and rod handle, tie on a fly and you’re ready to fish. We used these beginner fly fishing outfits for our teaching and rental rods for years- they are an exceptional value in a starting fly fishing outfit and comes with a lifetime warranty for the rod and reel.

Echo Lift Fly Fishing Package

Echo Lift Fly Fishing Package

$179.99

5wt Recommended For Beginners

Echo Traverse Kit

The Echo Traverse is Echo’s upgrade in our novice angler choices of fly fishing packages. The Traverse outfits are available in a 9’ 4, 5 and weight rod outfits. The rod is a bit faster than the Lift, but not so much that it becomes difficult to cast. The biggest upgrades in the Traverse kit are in the reel and line. The reel is the Echo Ion. It’s a cast metal for better durability as well as closer tolerances. Cast metal reels are a superior option to a cast composite reel because of the closer tolerances.

It’s the line that has received the biggest upgrade in this fly fishing package. The Traverse line is a couple of steps up in quality from the Lift fly fishing kit. It’s a more durable, higher floating line than in their other kits. Because the line is so critical in fly fishing performance, we feel the higher price represented by the Traverse is often worth the additional expense for an outfit that performs at a higher level directly out of the box. As with the Lift Kit, the rod is correctly balanced, and the reel comes spooled with backing, line and leader, again in a left hand wind. This fly fishing package also has a lifetime warranty for the rod and reel.

Echo Traverse Kit

Echo Traverse Kit

$269.99

5wt Recommended For Beginners

Mangler Fly Fishing Package

At the Missoulian Angler, we are fans of the Douglas fly rods as well. New for 2022 is the ERA rod, available in a 5 and 8 weight. We are pairing the ERA rod with the Echo Ion Reel, a Scientific Angler Mastery fly Line, backing and a Rio 9’ 4X leader and offering this as an exclusive Mangler fly fishing kit. The ERA rod is an excellent casting rod, utilizing all we’ve come to expect from Douglas in every rod they make. The Frequency line is high floating and durable, and we’ve chosen it as the best value in a fly line. Please note the MAngler ERA fly fishing package does not come in a Rod/Reel case- the rod tube holds only the rod., and the reel will need to be stored separately. The same applies to the next fly fishing package listed as well. The Mangler fly fishing combo package reel and rod both come with a lifetime warranty.

Mangler Fly Fishing Package

Mangler Fly Fishing Package

$249.95

5wt Recommended For Beginners

Mangler Fly Fishing Package 2.0

For the angler looking for a step up from the basics, we are offering a fly fishing kit based on the Douglas LRS fly rods. Available in many line weights and lengths, we are pairing these rods with a Lamson Liquid fly reel, spooled with a Scientific Angler Mastery fly line. This kit is more expensive than an introductory fly fishing outfit, and the quality will show. The LRS rod has proven to be a shop favorite, while the Liquid is our number one selling reel, based on price and performance. The Mastery line is SA’s top of the line from 20 years ago- it worked well then and it works well now. Again, the reel will be spooled with the appropriate backing, and will come with a leader attached so you’re ready to go fishing. Like all of our fly fishing packages, the rod and reel comes with a lifetime warranty.

Mangler Fly Fishing Package 2.0

Mangler Fly Fishing Package 2.0

$399.95

5wt Recommended For Beginners

Echo Gecko Fly Fishing Package For Kids

Another outfit that bears mentioning is the Echo Gecko kids fly fishing outfit. The Gecko is designed for the junior angler, and is perfect for anglers in the age range of 3-10 years old. 7’9″ and a 4 weight, the Gecko rod has a narrow handle for smaller hands, and a small fighting butt/handle that a younger angler can use to add strength to their cast. Hey, two hands for beginners! If you have a young angler coming up, the Gecko kids fly fishing kit is the way to go. The Echo warranty is very good, so if an accident does befall the rod, all is not lost.

Echo Lift Fly Fishing Package

Echo Gecko Kids Fly Fishing Package

$179.99

5wt Recommended For Beginners

Selecting a Fly Rod

We talk about these fly fishing packages from the standpoint of a beginner, but can say with all confidence these are excellent fly fishing tools. There are many other species to chase with a fly rod other than trout like bass and pike to name a few, but not everyone wants to drop $700 on a rod and reel for a species they might not target more than 2-3 times a year. We would have no hesitation in recommending an 8 weight outfit for those couple of times a year a pike or bass rod might be required. For those with less need for a heavier weight rod, the 4 weight outfits offer a great introduction into a lighter rod without breaking the bank. For most trout fishing, the 4 or 5 weight options are usually the best all around option. 4 weight for smaller streams and 5 weights for larger streams.

Since The River Ran Through It, fly tackle technology has advanced geometrically from what had previously been available. Rods, reels and lines have undergone incredible advances, and what was once considered cheap and less effective has morphed into fishing tools that work exceptionally well. The only place this doesn’t apply is if you are venturing into the salt for the first time. The rod and the line are fine- it’s the reel that might be problematic. The reels that come with the outfits aren’t designed to withstand the corrosive effects of salt water. They will work in an emergency, but you had better REALLY clean them after fishing, or you’re going to have a problem on your hands.

Today’s outfits are wonderful pieces of equipment- well thought out, with performance far exceeding their relatively modest price. 30 years ago we couldn’t say this, but we can now. Like every industry, fly fishing benefits from trickle down technology and the beginning angler will be very well served by the fly fishing combo kits available today.

Mangler Fly Fishing Starter Kit

Fly Fishing starter kits are a fast track to getting started correctly, and we’ve developed other bundles to streamline the beginning fly fisher’s journey. For someone looking to get started in fly fishing correctly, we built the Mangler Fly Fishing Starter Kit. It begins with a 3-pack of 3X leaders, gel floatant, tippet in 3, 4 and 5X, a box of 2 dozen flies that work in all areas of the country, 2 indicators, nippers and forceps. With this fly fishing starter kit, an angler can step into the water knowing they have what’s needed for a successful day on the water. We’ve designed this fly fishing kit to take the guess work out of starting fly fishing. It can be a tricky and intimidating process, entering fly fishing, and this fly fishing Kit can remove a lot of question marks, as well as saving a few bucks when purchased as a unit.

Mangler Fly Fishing Starter Kit

Mangler Fly Fishing Starter Kit

$115.00

Great for beginners who are getting started in fly fishing

Montana Brown Trout

To net, or not to net, that is the question

Oh, to own a boat! Then using a net is not a question, because fly fishing nets with a rubber/silicon bag are a fish saving, time saving device on the water. A well-designed net allows you to land fish so much faster than hand landing, saving the trout’s energy for the best release. You’re back in the game much faster, because you’re not fighting a fish for 5 extra minutes better spent catching another fish you need a net for. The shallower rubber bag is the perfect platform for hook removal, and the unused hopper or dropper won’t stick in the bag as you remove the fly that worked from the trout’s mouth. In short, nets save time, reduce fish mortality and simplify hopper/dropper release. Fishing Nets makes a great holding pen before taking a picture- keep the net/fish in the water until ready to shoot, sweep the trout up and snap your shot. A healthier fish goes back to the river.

Despite all the positives a net has, the net can create as many annoyances as it does solutions for the wading angler. I remember struggling to carry a net in my youth. Attached to my vest under my left arm or on my back, the net bag found every branch and shrub along the river. When I carried it in easy reach, it was in the way as I fished. When I carried it where it wasn’t in the way, then I couldn’t reach it when needed. Net carrying was a dilemma. Then I learned about The Brookie, made by the Brodin Company, famous for their oil rubbed wooden nets. The Brookie was approximately 13” in length, and was advertised to hold a 20” fish due to the size of the net bag. Perfect! Tiny to carry, and it holds huge fish!

Well do I remember the first time I went to use that net on a big fish. I got the fish close, whipped out the net, and then just stared at it. The opening of the net was about 6” across- the fish was about 17” long. Not a good fit. In order to get the fish properly led into the net, I was going to have to fight it to exhaustion. I stared at this silly piece of tackle for a second more, then dropped it (couldn’t throw it as it was attached with a magnet/bungee- more on that later) and landed the fish the old fashioned way. Never used that net again.

It was a lesson learned. You don’t often truly need a net when fishing. Most of the fish we catch can be brought to hand quickly and released easily. But when you need a net, you need a NET. Not some tiny piece of tackle designed for easy carry, but a net that can easily swoop up a thrashing 18” fish. The bigger the opening, the more effective a net is. And therein lies the rub. The bigger the fly fishing net, the trickier it is to carry. That’s been made trickier by the new sling packs and fanny packs.

When I started fishing, anglers used a vest. The conventional spot for a net was on the back of the vest, handle down or handle up. Each had their proponents, and many clips/magnets were designed to hold the net while not in use, with a piece of bungee cord holding the net to the clip. You quickly learned to stop bushwacking when you felt a tug on the back of your vest. Take two more steps, and the net freed itself from whatever separated it from clip, and came ripping into the back of your head propelled by the bunjee cord. These different clips are still in use today, and other than the bushwacking thing, work very well.

But with sling packs and fanny packs, carrying a fishing net has become trickier. Net manufacturers build wading nets with longer handles that balance better when stuck into a belt. I’ve not mastered the sling pack yet, but they have net attachment points and I know anglers who use them with their slings. They make it work because having a net is important to them.

You can get a rubber bagged wading net starting about $35, and they go up from there. The less expensive nets for fly fishing are made of wood and then varnished. The varnish protects the wood from water, right up until you chip the varnish and then the net falls apart due to water damage. An oil finished wooden net lasts much longer, but needs some off season maintenance. Now the better nets are being made from graphite and tubular aluminum, and are completely impervious to water. Those will last until you lose them.

So let’s talk about losing tackle on the water. We all do it, and many of us find things on the water as well. Fly boxes, sometimes a vest or rod/reel but mostly gink and forceps. 99% of the tackle lost on a river doesn’t have a name or phone number on it! I know if most anglers found a fly box or vest with a name and number on it, they would get it back to the owner. But without that info, who’s going to go to every shop in town and put up a notice- tackle found.

PUT YOUR NAME AND PHONE NUMBER ON YOUR TACKLE

A box with 40 flies in it is worth $150. Fishing Nets can be $250 for a boat model and we all know how much rods and reels are. Take a piece of masking tape and a sharpie and put your number on the expensive stuff. It will come back to you. But without that info, it’s gone for good. Something to think about, especially with nets. They get put down while releasing fish, or put down because you’re working a run and don’t need to carry it and next thing, it’s forgotten. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

I carried a net with me for the first 20 years of my fly fishing career. I carried it until the negatives outweighed the positives. How did I define that? As I started fly fishing, my fish were few and far between. When I hooked one, I wanted to land it- I wanted to touch it and hold it up to look at it. I wanted it caught, and a net gave me such an advantage in that area. Especially the rare larger fish that I didn’t have much experience with. The net made sure I didn’t lose it at my feet, when the fight got real- I could net it when it was merely frantic, not ballistic from me grabbing it. It was so worth having a net with me.

As I gained more experience, and found myself actually learning to play fish to a point of release, I found myself going less and less to the net. I was able to handle larger fish safely and quick without a net, and over time, the net became less and less useful, until I finally stopped carrying one. Which is not to say that about twice a season, when faced with a fish much larger than I usually see, I don’t wish I had a net with me. But I’ve made that decision, and I might not land that fish. It’s on me. It’s a balance of comfort on the water versus the few times I really want it, and I’ve made my choice. I still have multiple nets I could pull out and use- I just don’t.

That’s the mathematics of carrying a net for fly fishing. They make landing fish a snap, especially big ones. If you want the photo op, a net is a critical piece of equipment. It’s a bit inconvenient, but then, really, what in fly fishing isn’t! Experiment with different ways of carrying it- Missoulian Angler has a few different net attachment implements. PUT YOUR NAME ON IT. It’s going to get forgotten at least once- give yourself a chance to get it back. The fish will thank you for carrying a net, it makes their lives easier.

Final thought. If you fish with a buddy who doesn’t carry a net, and you do, make sure you fish far enough away so you can’t hear them yell, ”Hey, I need this fish netted!”