Montana Meandering: Fly fishing tips for beginners

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Chad Thompson
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
When I first arrived at Malmstrom there was only one thing on my mind--fly fishing.

Besides being home to some of the most beautiful national and state parks in the United States, Montana is also known for having some of the best fly fishing in the world.

For the fishing enthusiasts and nature lovers out there I can't think of a better way to spend a beautiful afternoon than being waist-deep in a cool stream with a fly rod in hand.  "Matching the hatch" by using your keen sense to see the small insects that are flying around this time of year and reeling in that brown trout you saw hiding in some reeds.  This is the beginning of a great adventure.

Having the proper equipment is essential when fly fishing and Malmstrom's Outdoor Recreation has fly rods and reels you can rent for $6 a day.  The staff also offers a basic fly casting class a couple times a year, which is where I started this time last year, and I was hooked right away.

Essentials for a successful trip

Fly rod and reel - I have a 9-foot and a 7-foot rod for different situations.  A shorter rod helps you get into tighter spots where the fish like to hide. "Action" of the rod also plays a big part of how to cast with your rod.  Find what works for you but get something that fits your budget.  Fly fishing is one of the more expensive hobbies I've tried but it is well worth the money in my opinion.

A good variety of basic flies - Nymphs, caddis, wooly buggers and leeches - wet versus dry - The types of flies out there will make you dizzy.  Finding a local fly shop and seeing what people are talking about will help you pick something that will catch fish.  Get a good variety of flies to "match the hatch," which means looking at the insects you see flying around and trying to present your fly in the same manner.  One fly might be pulling out record fish where another won't make the fish bat an eye - swapping out your flies and trying something new at different times of the day is essential.  Trout are finicky and patience is the key!

A fishing net (which you can also rent from Outdoor Recreation) - Instead of pulling the trout out of the river and letting it flop around on the shore use a net to keep it in the water.  You will save more fish from injury, especially if you are just out for a day of catch-and-release fishing.  Another tip is to always wet your hands before handling a trout.  Many types of trout have a protective slime on their skin to help fight off parasites and bacteria.  By touching the trout excessively or with dry hands you will remove that slime.

A pair of forceps - It will help remove the hooks out of the trout's soft mouth.  I grew up in the south fishing for bluegill, large- and small-mouth bass, crappie, stripers and catfish and never experienced anything like getting a hook out of a trout's mouth.  The deeper it is, the harder it is to get it out.  The best way to do this is getting a tight grip on the base fo the hook, which will also keep from damaging your flies.  If you are using barbed hooks it might take a little more effort because they were designed to want to hold on tight.  The quicker you get the hook out, the faster you get the fish back into the water.

Practice the basics

We have all heard that practice makes perfect but it has never been proven truer than with fly fishing. 

For casting a fly, there are two main types--overhead and roll.  The overhead cast is one of the more common techniques.  To start, you will want to hold the rod firmly like you were shaking someone's hand.  Your thumb should be on top of the rod because it helps with control.  I tend to hold the extra line in my left hand while I'm striping out line and getting ready to pick my spot.

Lift the rod to get your line out of the water by raising your forearm and ensure your line is tight.  From here you will quickly move your arm backward to the two-o'clock position (this is loading the rod).  Be sure to pause briefly at the top so your fly swings fully behind you.  Once there, you will flick your arm forward and send the fly back in front of you stopping at the 10-o'clock position.  If performed correctly your line will start creating a figure eight pattern in the air.  I'd recommend practicing this movement without a fly at first because it's quite unnerving the first few times you see your fly screaming at your face at Mach-one.

For most people, the mistake comes in not having the courage to load the rod or return it quickly enough.  I grew up fishing in the Chattahoochee River in southeastern Alabama.  I was used to just drawing the rod back slowly and whipping it forward to cast my lure.  Fly fishing is definitely more about finesse and timing.  With practice, it has pin-point accuracy where you are almost putting your fly right inside the fish's mouth.

The roll cast tends to be used in faster moving water like a stream or river, or can be used if you have limited space behind you to perform the overhead cast.  It's also used if the wind kicks up and makes it difficult to perform an overhead cast.

The roll cast is performed in a similar manner to the overhead cast.  When you are first loading your rod you will draw it back to about the one-o'clock position just behind your ear and then quickly lower the rod in the direction of your cast.  It's important to not pause at the top or your line will get bundled in front of you, or in some cases around you.  Again it's important to practice these casts in a controlled environment so that you don't get frustrated when the fish are jumping all around you.

A stocked pond (like Pow Wow pond on base) will help you practice presenting a fly to fish and seeing what works best.  The fish are also very familiar with people so they won't get spooked as easily as a fish in a remote creek.  Although, they have also seen almost every type of fly or lure that's out there.  So catching them might be a bit more challenging but that's where presentation comes in.

Depending on the action of your rod you could add small movements to your fly when it's in the water.  These movements will lure fish in by mimicking an insect that is either emerging from the depths or something that just fell into the water.  Proper presentation is another key factor in catching fish.

A great way to relieve stress

Whether I'm catching my limit of fish or just enjoying a day out on the river, I believe fishing is a great stress reliever.

Escaping the hustle and bustle of the everyday life is something fishing provides.  It allows you to get out to some beautiful remote areas with very little cellphone reception and just disconnect for a few hours.

If you are looking for a way to get out and refill your spiritual, mental, physical and even social (take a friend or two along for the adventure) pillars of Comprehensive Airman Fitness - head over to Outdoor Recreation, learn a few fly-fishing basics, sign out a rod, get advice on a few places to check out and get out and try your hand at this popular Montana hobby.

For more information visit's official site at -- Here you can find rules and regulations on where you can and can't fish, what kinds of baits you can use, and what fish you can and can't keep.  It's a one-stop resource for all your Montana fishing needs.