On the aftermath of Icepocalypse 2014, most flyfishers can’t begin to think about wading a cold stream with snow-covered mountain peaks as a backdrop. But come August, they will think differently.
But by then it might be too late to make that destination dream a reality.
Taking a fishing vacation, aka “fishcation,” involves planning months ahead. And not just because it can save a great deal of money. Depending on when and where, items such as lodging, guides and even car rentals can be difficult to book the longer you wait.
When and where you go depends on what adventure you wish to have, how much time you have to spend and how much money you want to spend.
As a young man, I always wanted to fish the “Golden Ring,” an area centered in West Yellowstone, Montana, and extending 200 miles outward in all directions. This area is renown for having the best dry-fly fishing in North America. It’s also a natural wonderland; a great destination for families.
Over a decade, I took my family or one or both of my sons to this area. The first few years we flew into Billings or Bozeman and rented a car. We’d fish a couple dozen rivers, staying at various locations along the way, and book our room after a day of fishing.
This might sound expensive, but back then this trip cost us less than a week at Disney World. Airfare and gas were cheap. Even the cabins were cheap and readily available all through summer.
Of course, there was some planning. Summer airfares often go on sale in March or April. By booking those sales fares we saved anywhere from 30 to 50 percent.
Within a few years, the cost of this trip doubled as gas prices, federal taxes on air tickets and rental cars skyrocketed (half the cost of a rental car today is taxes).
To cut costs, we began flying into Salt Lake City, which is only eight hours from Montana. Hub airports can be significantly cheaper than most regional airports.
Flying into Salt Lake also opened up new adventures. Soon we found gems of rivers and lakes in Utah, Idaho and southwestern Wyoming. Waters teeming with nice rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout but minus the crowds.
When my kids entered college, I suddenly found these trips outside of my budget. Thanks to our local fly fishing club — and close friendships I had made by way of the club — I was able to continue my expeditions out west.
Traveling with two or three friends won’t reduce airfare. But you can split costs on rental vehicle, motel rates and any guided trips, saving significant amounts.
Another advantage of “team trips” is that each member of the team can fish different areas with different flies or setups and, if any are successful, immediately share their secrets. When one prospers, all prosper.
For some reason, after 2003 Yellowstone became flooded with international tourists. Rooms became difficult to book. By delaying our trip to mid-September — the start of off-season rates — we were able to get our favorite lodging for less money.
Again, this change in itinerary had a bonus. In September, browns make their migration spawning runs. Big rainbows also get more active. Now we had fewer crowds and more bigger fish.
These days I’m retired, with lots of time but less money. For the budget-conscious fly rodder looking for destination fishing, that’s not a bad trade-off.
If you have an RV, popup camper or even a large tent, the possibilities in places like Arkansas, Colorado, Wyoming and Tennessee are endless.
Cabins that rent for a week can be cheaper for a family of four or five than six nights at a motel — plus the added bonus of being able to fix most of your meals as opposed to eating out each day for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
If you’re looking for a fishcation a bit more romantic — one the wife would love — there are multiple possibilities to our east.
Calloway Gardens in western Georgia is one of my favorite vacation spots. The resort is first-class but very reasonably priced. The gardens are the showcase, but the lakes and ponds offer trophy bass and world record-sized bluegill. The fly shop on premises can also put guests on rainbow trout in winter and spring.
In northern Georgia, Helen is an Alps-inspired town with quaint shops and restaurants. The upper Chattahoocee River and Unicoi offer great trout fishing, and Unicoi Lake is one of the country’s best fly rod lakes for bass.
Captiva and Sanibel islands in southwest Florida are a tropical paradise. In winter, lodging can be quite expensive. Not so during summer.
Summer also offers the best snook and tarpon fishing of the year, especially from kayak. Within a couple of hours drive, you have world-renown locations like Boca Grande, Pine Island, Rookery Bay and Everglades City. There’s also great night fishing under lights at Naples and Venice.
Of course, there’s one other great destination I recommend — Louisiana. Perhaps your fishcation could be a staycation. With the world’s best redfish and offshore fishing around Venice and Grand Isle, I could be happy with that.
Well, that is if the wife feels the same.