Fishing on a Budget

Fishing in Montana, Cheap fishing, fishing frugality, fishing budget

Fishing on a Budget

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Way, John

Fishing trips that won't break the bank

Every year, the legendary waters of southwest Montana draw adventurous anglers from around the world, all hoping to connect with the soul of fly fishing and touch its bounty. Because of this, high-end, all-inclusive fishing lodges have coated the landscape, boasting five-star meals, expensive cigars, and a breathtaking setting. The problem is, most prospective anglers would need a second mortgage to afford a one-week stay. For adventurous fishermen on a budget, here are few tricks to keep the wallet out of starvation mode.

Time Your Trip
If you want to experience the fancy lodges or fish with a hot-shot guide, time your trip during the shoulder seasons and steer clear of the summer bustle. Many lodges and most fly shops run discounts in the spring and fall. Start your search in April, May, and October to score a great deal on daily rates. What’s more, these months can be some of the best fishing of the year.

Rough It
The rivers of southwest Montana are lined with state and federal campgrounds. Most charge a small fee, but the rewards are worth it—great views, good fishing right outside the tent, solitude, and the ability to set your own schedule. Rivers are busiest during business hours, with guides picking clients up at 8am and bringing them back to the lodge by 5pm for appetizers. If you’re staying next to the river, you can time your fishing in the mornings and evenings, taking the middle of the day to lounge in the shade. You’ll have the river to yourself and be on the water when the fish are most active.

Vacation Rental by Owner
There’s an extensive network of vacation rentals in and around local towns. These are relatively inexpensive and are often located near some of the best trout water on the planet. Most homes sleep six or more, making the daily rate affordable for a group of anglers. Stop by the local grocery store and pick up food for a week of meals, and you’re good to go—just add water.

Get Some Help
If you’re new to fishing southwest Montana and want to make the most of your long-awaited vacation, get some local help. The region is dotted with some of the best fly shops in the world, each with its own style and knowledge of home water. The unwritten rule of fly shops is that the amount of knowledge is in direct proportion to the size of the purchase. Don’t be the guy who accosts the employees during the morning rush, then walks out without buying a single fly. Stop by the local fly shop during mid-afternoon when the fish bums have time to chat. Ask them to pick out a dozen flies that are working now, even if you already own a duffle-bag full, and then ask for some fishing insight. You’ll be surprised on how accommodating they can be.

Splurge Early
If you can afford a day of guided fishing, the experience is worth the cost. As a shop owner and guide, I hear the same story all summer: the out-of-state angler has been having tough fishing for his entire week then and books a guide for his last day, when he catches a bunch of fish. If you’re going to take one guided trip, do it on your first day.

Lastly, don’t believe the ads—the ones in glossy sporting magazines telling you the only way to catch fish in southwest Montana is by staying at a fancy lodge. With a little homework and some good advice, you can fish the same water that the lodge guests do, and keep your trip on your own schedule and budget.

John Way is an outfitter and the owner of the Tackle Shop in Ennis.

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