Visiting Montana - What To Pack
Fly-Fishing Trip Packing List
Traveling to Montana for a fly-fishing trip is guaranteed to create memories that will last a lifetime. From crystal clear water, to the wild trout, to the towering glacial peaks, a Montana fly-fishing trip delivers the best of what nature has to offer. And because you'll be surrounded by nature at its best, you'll want to be prepared with the right clothing and gear to make the most of every moment of your trip. Whether fishing with a guide or exploring on your own, a few items are essential for any Montana fishing trip. Here are our suggestions for what to pack for your next fly-fishing adventure in Montana.
Montana weather can change from a morning near freezing, to a sunny, warm afternoon. No matter which season you plan to visit Montana, pack a variety of layers, and dress in multiple layers each day. Depending on the length of your trip, you'll want to bring duplicates or more of each piece of clothing.
- Versatile Base Layer – Long-sleeved or short-sleeved, your base layer should have moisture-wicking/quick-drying properties to keep you dry all day. If you're traveling in colder seasons, you will want an insulating base layer that wicks moisture.
- Mid-layer – Depending on the season, your mid-layer can range from an insulating quarter-zip pullover, to a lighter weight technical shirt. Like your base layer, a mid-layer should have moisture-wicking properties to keep your dry and comfortable.
- Down or Synthetic Puffy Jacket – A midweight down sweater, or synthetic puffy jacket is a must for any trip to the northern Rockies. They pack down small and stay out of the way until you need them. Perfect for chilly nights and mornings, they can be a lifesaver when a cold front blows through. And they always make a good pillow for camping trips or car naps. If your evenings include relaxing around a campfire, be aware that stray sparks may damage synthetics fabric. A lined flannel, denim or wool shirt is a good option.
- Merino Wool Socks – Even with the most breathable waders, the changing temperatures of walking warm earth and wading in cold water can dampen your feet during a day of fishing. A pair of merino fishing socks will pull moisture away from your skin, and with merino's natural antimicrobial properties, will prevent your neoprene booties from getting stinky.
- Rain Shell Jacket – A sudden summer rain shower can stir up food in the water or lead to a prolific hatch. Don't get caught soaking wet when the bite is on. A rain shell jacket provides protection from rain and wind, keeping you comfortable so you can focus on the the fishing. Matthew Long, outfitter for Long Outfitting in Livingston, MT, adds, “It doesn’t have to be a $400 coat, but make sure it is functional whether it is 30 degrees outside, or 85 degrees. When clients get wet during the day, it can be difficult for them to make a full day out in it.”
While your clothing keeps you comfortable, your accessories will keep you happy. It’s not necessary to pack every comfort of home, but a few small items can make the difference between a great day of fly fishing in Montana and an all-time, best-ever day.
- Good polarized sunglasses – Brian McGeehan, outfitter and owner of Montana Angler Fly Fishing in Bozeman, MT, advises, “Don't overlook the importance of good polarized fishing sunglasses. We do a lot of sight fishing on some of our exclusive ranch waters at Montana Angler and if you can see fish you can catch them. Even on the bigger waters like the Madison you need to use your eyes. You may not see the fish but subtle changes in river depth show up as a different color. As a guide we want to teach you how to use your eyes to ‘see the water.’ On a float trip we will explain where the fish are but if a guest can also see the subtle differences in depth, current seams, etc., the fly will end up in the right place more often and translate to more hookups.”
- Fishing Gloves and Hand Warmers – The Rockies create their own climate and locals in Montana know that even in midsummer, the weather can change at the drop of a hat. Long says, “Be prepared with items such as disposable hand warmers and fishing gloves if the weather turns south. Two years ago a lot of clients got caught off-guard when during the third week in July when we had super cold daytime temperatures and periods of snowfall.”
- River Sandals – A pair of active river sandals serves two purposes on a fly-fishing trip to Montana. First, they’re the perfect après-fishing footwear to give your feet a break from being enclosed in waders all day. Second, if the air and water are comfortable enough, they’ll allow you to wet wade less technical water.
- Hat – Whether it’s a warm beanie for the shoulder seasons or a classic fishing trucker hat for the summer, a good hat will protect you from the sun during a full day on the water.
- Sunscreen and Lip Balm – The sun in the Rockies is much harsher than the sun at sea level. Paired with an eight-hour float trip, your skin will burn easily if not covered. Long adds, “Everybody seems to remember sunscreen nowadays, but can't seem to remember to bring lip balm. You need to remember that with the increased elevation in the Rocky Mountains, comes increased UV rays from the sun, and oftentimes, since we do live in a desert-type climate, we have air humidity levels in the summer of 10-25 percent. That is very dry compared to where many of our clients come from. Bring lip balm!”
Most guides and lodges in Montana offer rental waders, boots, rods, reels and more included with your trip, or for a small rental fee. When traveling for a guided trip, consider what gear you absolutely need to take with you. Often you’ll find that the guides offer higher end gear than your own. You also don’t want to handicap yourself by fishing technically limited gear, when you could be catching more fish on a guide’s top-of-the-line rod and reel outfit. If not listed on their website, give your guide a call before your trip to discuss which gear to bring and which to leave at home.
If you're bringing fly fishing gear, you may want to pack:
- Waders – Your waders may be your most personal piece of fishing gear. If your current waders are up to par (breathable, seam sealed, stockingfoot chest waders), then you should consider bringing them on your trip. If you're currently using a pair of rubber, hip length, poorly fitting, or damaged waders, consider renting or borrowing from your guide.
- Felt-Free Boots – Wading boots present more of a challenge when traveling. Besides being bulky to pack, there are other reasons you may want to consider renting or borrowing from your guide. McGheean advises, “At all of our all-inclusive programs we provide high quality Orvis waders and boots for our guests. Many guests still prefer to bring their own waders and we strongly recommend felt free boots for conservation reasons. Although Montana still allows felt, felt free boots are easier to clean at the end of the day and dry faster to reduce the chances that you will be transferring invasive species from one state (or country) to the next. In the modern era of traveling anglers we all need to be extra vigilant when it comes to protecting our aquatic resources.”
- Vest or Pack – Whatever your preference, you'll want to make sure your vest or pack is complete with your daily fishing supplies. You should consider the following as mandatory: Nippers, Forceps, Leaders (3x, 4x) and Tippet (3x-5x) which most guides will provide, Fly flotant, Strike indicators, Wading Staff, Fly Boxes, Flies, and a Water Bottle. Depending on your trip and guide, flies are usually provided. If you're on a DIY (guideless) trip, remember to stop into the local fly shop to pick up locally tied flies and some local fishing wisdom. As for hydration, while guided trips provide lunch—and sometimes snacks—on the river, bringing your own water bottle is always a good idea.
- Rod – Don't worry: whether you have only one high-end 4-weight for mid-sized trout streams in the East, or a beginner rod, your guide has you covered. With a variety of water, you'll want the versatility of a variety of rod designs to most effectively present your fly to targeted fish. McGeehan recommends, “If you prefer to bring one rod, make it a fast action 6-weight. We provide equipment including rods for all of our guests but we still have many of our return anglers like to bring their own rods that they are used to fishing. We fish a huge variety of water in Montana, including small spring creeks, mountain streams, and even flat water, where a 3-to 5-weight rod can be a great match but at some point you will be fishing the big famous rivers if you visit the Big Sky state. Our rivers are bigger than in the East and even many other Western states and a nice stiff fast action 9-foot 6-weight is our go-to big river rod for casting on a windy day and turning over larger flies.”
- Reel and Spool – If you're bringing your own rod on your Montana fly-fishing trip, you'll of course want to bring your favorite reel and spare spools. Load them up with a floating line and a sink head line, so you can change your strategy as the fish change their feeding.
- Camera – For many, fishing photography is as much a part of fly fishing as casting a fly. You'll want to capture every exciting and inspiring moment on your trip, so make sure your preferred camera of choice is in your vest or pack.
What You Shouldn't Bring On A Guided Fishing Trip
If you've been fishing for a while, packing for your next fly fishing trip to Montana will be a comfortable experience. However, even seasoned Montana travelers may need to be reminded of what to leave home—and it’s more about attitude than physical items. Long says, “I don’t want you to bring your cell phone with you if you are going to sit in the chair in the bow of the boat and trade on the stock market all day. I am not the only guide in Montana who has had this happen, but fishing trips should be for decompression from your normal life. Breathe in and breathe out, watch the eagles and ospreys fly overhead, catch a trout once in awhile, but please keep your cell phones for taking photos and emergencies.”