Fishing Alone In The “Crowded” West
Spend more than an hour in the local watering hole of any popular fishery and soon enough you’ll hear something to the extent of “this river is too damn crowded” from a visiting angler. While he or she might be right that the more popular access points on the more popular rivers were probably full of vehicles, their sentiment that the area is overrun comes from a lack of creativity, curiosity and quite frankly, ambition. I happen to live on one of the most popular trout rivers in the country, so I have some tips to avoid the crowded feeling.
Get away from the truck
Believe it or not, right where everyone parks to fish or launch boats is often a busy spot on the river. Here in Montana, we are blessed with abundant public land and wonderful river access laws that allow you to get as far from these spots as your legs or watercraft will carry you. If you’re feeling crowded and you’re within eyeshot of your truck, that’s the problem. While not everyone has a boat, it is a great way to get down the river and find yourself a nice and quiet spot to fish. With that option off the table, use those legs! If you have public land along the river walk as far as you can before you start fishing and watch the number of anglers you see dwindle. A huge part of ditching the crowds in simply outworking them.
Time of day
Some times of day are busier than others regardless of where you are. On a recent trip to the San Juan (one of the most heavily fished tailwaters in the lower 48) I realized that if I let the main push of guides and floaters get going down the river, I could be the only boat in the Texas hole by about 2:00. Same thing went for fishing near the take out first thing in the morning. Learn the habits of the masses and do the opposite. This works pretty much anywhere you go with different cadences. If quite a bit of the traffic is guides, remember that they’re on a schedule. There is something to be said about weekends versus weekdays but when it comes to peak season on destination fisheries they can feel about the same. Time of day is the best thing to focus on.
You’ve made it to your fishing town of choice, spent a day or two on the big popular river, and you’ve found yourself disappointed by the fact that quite a few others had the same fishing plans…. the logical thing to do is walk into the nearest fly shop or bar and complain right? Wrong. The logical thing to do is research the area! Any destination you find yourself visiting more than likely has plenty of other fishing opportunities that a minimal amount of legwork will lead you to. In the age of onX maps, guidebooks, and Google there is no reason you can’t find a fun lesser-known body of water nearby. Personally, my favorite way to ditch the crowds is to string up my 3wt, find a stream on public land, and go. Just don’t expect the employees at your local fly shop to go handing out small stream names, you must find them yourself which isn’t hard.
Don’t go to “that” river
If you’re the type that gets bothered by sharing water with other anglers, you need to account for that when planning a trip. If you’ve read about the river in some fly-fishing magazine, so did everyone else! Seek out places that aren’t in books such as “50 places to fly fish before you die” or found in articles titled “Top 5 Trout rivers in the west”. If you’re going to be using a guide on your trip look for outfitters and lodges that offer a remote experience. There’s nothing cooler than a “pack in float out” guided trip. If your self-guiding call around the area you want to fish and verify there are plenty of options for “getting out there” just be prepared to do some hiking with bear spray on your hip, it’s fun!
I’m not one to deny that the more popular rivers in the west are well loved, but I hope this article has shed some light on how to ditch the crowds and find some solitude on your western fishing trip. At the end of the day it’s just a matter of thinking outside the box and a little extra effort.