Float vs Wade for your first trip to Montana.
Well, you have done it decided to book your first trip to Montana. You have read stories for years about fabled waters, large wild fish and endless adventure. You have decided on a river and an outfitter now you need to decide if floating or wade fishing right for you.
We have this conversation with guests all the time in the store. Many are undecided on what form of fishing is best for them. While each has its own charm there are specific advantages to both.
What is more romantic than standing in the river fishing. Guests have the iconic image of Brad Pitt wading in waist deep water. Then climbing on the rock to shadow cast and then swimming downstream to land the big fish. Anyone who has seen the movie wants to experience that. While movie magic is great on the big screen it seldom plays out that way in the real world.
Wade fishing is great for lots of applications. It connects angler, river and fish in ways float fishing does not. The serenity of water pushing against your legs as you take in and connect with the river is special.
We wade fish a bunch in select circumstances. Sometimes fish need to see the fly multiple times in order to eat. This happens when the water is colder in the spring and fall. Also wade fishing is great for experimenting. Don’t know the depth the fish are feeding? Adjust your weight till you strike gold. Not sure if they are taking PMD or caddis? Put one of each over a rising fish and find out. Experimenting and figuring it out on your own is one of the benefits of being stationary.
Wade fishing is also great to learn. You can slow down and watch the water, fish behavior and take each cast in your own time. Once a fisherman has a base level of skills , wade fishing will teach them more. How to get the perfect drift, where the holes are and what spots are most productive. All of these are only possible when the angler slows down and puts their feet in the water.
With all the benefits of wade fishing why isn’t it more popular on big western rivers? First off wade fishing and rank beginners do not go well. Wading on slippery rocks, back casts getting hung up in trees and less opportunity are all reasons first time anglers should not wade fish. Second, many of the folks who come west for the epic fishing vacation are accustomed to smaller rivers. The big western rivers are tough to break down to size for many. Lastly, wade fishing does not show you an entire river. Only, a small section.
There is nothing more iconic to western rivers than drift boats. They have been on the cover of every fishing magazine for years. Standing in the front of a drift boat while you slide down the river casting at spots is not just iconic but a rite of passage for fly fisherman.
Float fishing is great for a number of things. First, with a trained guide at the sticks. Float fishing is great for teaching true beginners how to fish and getting them into fish the same day. No back casts to catch trees just endless targets and an open field. This is the perfect place to get people excited about fishing.
Float fishing is great for covering a bunch of water. Once you do this it is a numbers game. Put your fly over thousands of fish and a few are sure to bite. It is a shotgun approach compared to the precision approach of wade fishing. Floating also shows you a bunch of river. Seeing up to 15 miles a day gives you the character of a river. It also shows you all the best sights and scenery.
Many anglers who are accustomed to smaller creeks do better float fishing. Can not break down the big river. Just put your bug over all of it and you will hit the sweet spot. No need to break down every section when you are moving along at 3 miles an hour.
Lastly, float fishing is just plain fun. Real magic happens when the angler and rower are in sync. Gliding downriver sniping spots as the boat and speed are kept in perfect harmony. There is more skill than you think to make this magic.
Where people do not like float fishing is if they are not skilled on the oars. Big western rives can be dangerous and should only be floated with a skilled oarsman. Secondly, when you bite off a section you are committed. No going home in half an hour if a storm blows in. You are out there till you hit the take out. Lastly, float fishing is a two angler one rower sport. If you are wanting to fish with a group or family only two angers per boat. Yes you can float in multiple boats but sometimes the atmosphere is lost for the entire group.
So, what should you do on your long awaited trip to the trout promised land? I always suggest spend a day or two with an experienced guide floating the river you choose. You will learn more about the character of the river, bugs to fish, where the fish hold and many more tips it would take you years to learn on your own. After the first two days in the drift boat strike out on your own. Wade fish and connect with the soul of the river. You should have the skills and knowledge to be successful. Long story short, both techniques are great and should be experienced. Make the most of your trip and spend time doing both.