Fly fishing has the ability to take us around the world to chase fish, learn about other environments, meet new people and discover different cultures. However, traveling around the world for fly fishing can be expensive. While we love our friends that are guides and lodge owners who can live and travel to these amazing places for work, some of us just aren’t meant for that route. In this case, the world of DIY fly fishing opens its doors to you, and, let me tell you, it is exciting. Hopefully this article will give you the tips and tricks you need to execute an incredible fly fishing trip.

1: Ask questions!

This is #1 for a reason, folks. in order to have a successful trip, it is imperative that you ask questions to those that have the information you need. Yes, you can find a lot on the internet, but nothing compares to the value that a conversation can hold! Fly shops both at home and at your destination are always the starting place. If there isn’t a fly shop, go to the local bait shop and talk to other anglers you meet on the water. I find that anglers are very generous with information to travelers who approach them respectfully. Finally, explore your local fishing network at home to see if anyone can provide you with information about your destination.

“Undisclosed location along the Carretera Austral in Chile, arrived here after chatting with a local fisherman in our terrible gringo Spanish.” Photo by Cliff Watson

2: Do your research.

If you want your trip to go well, it is essential that you spend as much time as possible doing your research before you take off. Firstly, get a fishing license and look into regulations. This can be done with a quick google search and a credit card transaction. Regulations are also posted online, but be sure to double check upon arrival in case of emergency closures or new rules.

Next, figure out what gear and equipment you need. Research the weather and the type of fishing you will be doing to determine which rod/reel combo to bring, what kind of fly line you need, how to dress effectively and more. Are you heading to a saltwater destination? Better have a tide book ready and be sure you know how to use it. Understanding the local tides can be not just a matter of catching fish, but also of safety. I use the Tide Charts app and I highly recommend it. 

Also, be sure to look into etiquette on the water and follow local guidelines. This is a great question for the local fly or bait shop and everyone will greatly appreciate your respect on the water. The internet is one of your best resources for research; you have access to blog posts, fishing reports, YouTube videos, podcasts, articles and more. In addition, the Fish and Game website of the destination you are heading to can have incredible information.

Finally, research the water laws and public access in the place you are going. Water laws vary everywhere, and the last thing you want is to be locked up abroad while you’re trying to land an Argentinian brown trout.

“Arriving in Chaiten Chile to fish the Yelcho River, everything you need in the backpack with plenty of fly fishing gear.” Photo by Cliff Watson

3: Be resilient and enjoy the ride.

Chances are that fishing is going to be tough, and you will run into problems along the way. When exploring a new fishery, there is so much to learn that sometimes it can be overwhelming and feel like a lost cause. Don’t give up! Keep fishing and the reward will be even sweeter when you succeed. When fishing is tough or things don’t go as planned, take a moment to enjoy the natural beauty around you. Rarely does fly fishing occur in ugly places. Take a breath and recognize where you are and what you’re doing.  

“Fixing a flat on the rental car in Puerto Natales, Chile. Always push through adversity on a DIY fly fishing trip, just laugh it off.” Photo by Cliff Watson

4: Plan your trip, but only to a certain extent. 

Leave yourself flexibility for “side quests.” You may learn about new waterways, species or tactics upon arrival that require you to change your plans. Having the ability to be flexible with your plans is helpful in these situations. This is one reason I always try to camp; no hotel reservations to worry about canceling, and no commitment on where or when to be somewhere. Being able to call an audible and change the plan could be the difference between getting skunked or having the trip of a lifetime. 

“One of the beautiful trout caught at that undisclosed location. No waders, no net, bad spanish, no problem.” Photo by Cliff Watson

5: Don’t be afraid to use tactics or techniques that work on your home water.

All fish are remarkably different from one another, but at the same time, very similar around the globe. Use your expertise to your advantage. I was once on a DIY redfish trip in Louisiana and hadn’t landed a fish all day. As a Colorado angler, I was feeling lost in the marsh, but soon noticed an eddy created behind a boulder on an outgoing tide. I used my Colorado nymphing skills and euro-nymphed a shrimp pattern behind the rock. A nice red sucked it down, and I had beaten the skunk. 

“Fishing around Torres del Paine National Park. Spot is called ‘Valley of the Kings.'” Photo by Cliff Watson

6: Learn about local conservation issues.

Be sure to be involved with the solution as opposed to the problem. For example, make sure you are washing down your waders and gear before arriving at your destination. The last thing you want to do is bring along some invasive travelers. Maybe you can even get involved in a conservation project while you’re there; this could be a great time to meet some fishy friends and get some insider information.

7: Lose the stigma that some fly anglers hold about conventional fishing. 

A common trend I see among fly anglers is our ability to look down upon and discredit the knowledge and value that conventional fishing holds. While on a DIY fly fishing trip, you may find that fly fishing is not popular, maybe even unheard of. In this case, your best resource will be the local conventional anglers. In my experience, a bait fisherman can tell you everything you need to know about a fishery; all you have to do is ask. Some good questions are: What do these fish eat? Or, where can I access public water? If you hold onto that stigma about conventional fishing, you will be losing a great resource.

“Best fish of the trip, on the island of Tierra del Fuego.” Photo by Cliff Watson

8: Find accommodation that works for your trip.

As I mentioned earlier, I like to camp when DIY fly fishing. I find the freedom to be helpful and also, I end up fishing more. Frequently, I camp on the waterway I am fishing which leads to early morning and evening sessions that either produce fish or teach me new things. I use iOverlander to find my campsites; it has both backcountry and established campground options. 

9: Use digital maps to find spots.

I never knew how much time I would spend on Google Maps as an angler, but it is an impressive amount. I would say that satellite imagery is how I find most of my fishing spots while traveling. Other anglers can be great for general information, but people tend to be tight-lipped when it comes to their favorite spots, and how can you blame them? Having general geographic knowledge in your back pocket is essential to saving the day, and my new favorite resource is the onWater app.

You can locate access points, boat ramps, camping, parking, and know the distance between them – plus current river flows and weather, at your fingertips. It’s a game changer when you want to know a bit more about where you’re going, and when you need a bit more when you’re out there.

“Hitchhiking along the Carretera Austral in Chile after fishing the Yelcho river, Lago Yelcho and the Futaleufu river. Ended up having to camp here for the night because horses were the only traffic we say for the whole day.” Photo by Cliff Watson

10: Practice leave no trace (LNT).

This is beyond important when DIY fly fishing. We want to preserve these resources for everyone who wants to use them, especially our fellow travelers. Therefore, adhere to the 7 principles of LNT. In general, leave the area better than you found it! In addition to those 7 principles of LNT, check out the article below on how to leave no trace on the water.

All in all, it comes down to respecting the resource, being friendly to your fellow angler and doing some serious research. Furthermore, be sure to pay it forward when you’re back on your home water. If you meet someone traveling to the area, offer them some advice, share a spot, maybe even take them fishing. Whatever it might be, just be kind and the world will return that to you on your own DIY fly fishing adventure.  

Article written by Cliff Watson, be sure to give him a follow on Instagram @cliffwat21 to follow his fishing adventures. 

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