We’ve all done it at some point, arrived somewhere prepared to fish but completely unprepared to catch fish. What I mean by that is we have the skill, we have the experience, and we’ve practiced, but we don’t know where the fish are or how to fish for them. A fishing trip can be ruined before it ever starts if you don’t have the slightest clue what you’re doing. Whether you’re just spending a long weekend on a stream only two hours away, or a week in another state or country you have to be prepared.
You must be able to know the area, fish, and how to fish it so well that you could teach it to another person before you even go there. This means you must learn, research, and work to find any and all information on your chosen destination. When
planning a fishing trip to a new location the first thing I do is contact the local guide services and fly shops. Call first email second, calls are always more personal and you can usually get more specific information through a phone call. When talking on the phone you have the option to have more of an immediate conversation allowing you to ask questions which equal answers which often times equal more questions Question to question conversations are all but impossible when contacting through email. However if you are unable to get in touch through a phone call, emailing is better than nothing.
Once you’ve contacted the area and made some friends begin to read any and all material you can find regarding the fishing and the area in general. With a massive number of fishing magazines in circulation there will almost always be an article or two highlighting the area you intend to fish. Search magazine and newspaper archives online and use our twenty-first century technology to your advantage. Searching blogs and online magazines should hold some helpful information depending on the area you intend to fish. Buying books or checking some out from your local library is another great way to learn about a fishing destination. Forums, twitter, and instagram can even be of some help. Don’t be hesitant to DM (direct message) someone on twitter or instagram if you feel they could be of some assistance too. Do not overlook conventional fishing articles and forums, even if you intend to purely fly fish the area, you may still be able find some important information pertaining to how to fish and where to fish.
After reading up and contacting the locals you should have a pretty good idea of the lakes, streams, ponds, or flats you plan to fish. Maybe you’ve even planned to fish a particular stretch of a stream, or a couple certain pools. You may need to hike into these areas, or take a short boat ride or kayak trip. There are any number of scenarios you could find yourself in and for almost all of them you’re going to need some type of navigation. Google Earth is a big component in any trip planning.
Google Earth shows shoals, riffles, runs, and bends in a river. As well as points and rock banks on lakes and ponds. I am currently planning a trip to the Lowcountry of Charleston South Carolina and I have been scouting the redfish flats extensively using Google Earth. For areas where you may be on some of the back roads and lesser known routes it may be helpful to obtain a county map. These can easily be gotten through the county seed and they will often mail you one for free. Many streams will have maps specifically designed for the fisherman, these may cost you ten to fifteen dollars but are well worth the money. Trail maps and topographical maps are extremely helpful in certain situations. Nautical maps are a must if you plan to be on the open ocean and don’t even think about tackling the swamps in Florida and Louisiana without a map of some kind. GPS’s are very important too, particularly to the saltwater fisherman, and should not be left at home when fishing areas where you won't be able to see any land.
Finally the actually nitty gritty, how to fish and what to fish. This ties back into the contacting portion of the article, always make sure to ask whoever you contact what flies need to be in your box and how you need to fish them. If you’re a dry fly guy make sure to know what is going to be hatching the time of year you plan to be there. You should ask about tippet size, rod length, line weight, and even line type (whether it be a intermediate, floating, or full sinking line). Fishing the right depth if you’re targeting pike or bass can make the difference. If you’re even a few feet off your trip could be a bust. Always find out what colors are best or if there is a specific color they go to when the going gets tough. I was recently fishing some small trout water in southern Minnesota and was impressed to see how the fish would react positively to flies tied with a little pink but would have nothing to do with flies tied without it. Sometimes certain areas or certain waters have a specific color that can really turn the fishing on. However don’t over plan on fly patterns and filling boxes and under plan on locations and how to get there.
It is very important to remember during trip planning is that any and all information is good information. The slightest tid bit can make the difference. One fly to large or too small and you may not be catching that fish of a lifetime that’s rising only thirty feet away. Never show up somewhere with the wrong gear, wrong flies, and wrong attitude. If you know you’ll be hunting small trout in mountain streams then don’t expect to land any massive fish, you’ll only be setting yourself up for failure. But in the end it’s all about having a good time, you’re not out there fishing for money or for food to put on the table, so just have fun. Being prepared and planning for a trip is going to make that much easier to do.