Nothing has ever gone wrong on a fly fishing trip, right? I bet a few memories just came to mind reading that statement. Maybe someone was injured, gear was forgotten or broken, your vehicle had an issue, or you had to end a fishing trip early for some other reason. It is a huge disappointment to make calls that end your trip earlier than anticipated. Regardless of the circumstance, it is important to not be too hard on yourself for having to learn something the hard way.

I have forgotten my hiking shoes on a 10 mile alpine lake trip and had to hike in Birkenstocks (they actually held up great). I’ve gotten a nail in my tire on an off road trail. I have walked 16 miles to find out a lake reported to have incredible trout had become sterile. These things happen, but if you are prepared for adversity, maintain a positive attitude, and come up with creative solutions, you can still find joy in a tough day of fishing. Read on for a checklist and other ways to maximize safety and minimize heartache when things go not-so-according to plan. 

Photo by Melissa Zankman

Lessons Learned: My Biggest Misstep

With an upcoming day off of work, I planned a solo journey in search of high alpine golden trout. This adventure would take me three hours away from home into the wilderness on a backcountry road without cell service. Knowing this, I downloaded maps ahead of time, wrote down directions, and consulted friends who had visited this lake – I felt like I was prepared for anything.

Photo by Melissa Zankman

Everything was going according to plan: I had fueled my car (and my stomach via a breakfast burrito) and found ease with the offline navigation. The final leg of the drive was composed of a technical trail that looked approachable from the bottom. In hindsight, I should have parked my car at the bottom and hiked the rest of the way or walked the road to make sure it was passable. But, I had recently lifted my car and I felt invincible.

With my excitement for the fishing ahead, I labored onward. As I drove over a hill, I felt a pit in my stomach. The final push was a much more advanced boulder field than I had initially expected. However, I continued onward. A few minutes in with the end in sight, I suddenly heard my tires skid and felt the car shift as it lost traction. Before I knew it, my car was high-centered and teetering off the side of the road with a tree branch through my back window. If it weren’t for that tree, my car would have rolled down the hill. 

Photo by Melissa Zankman

In a moment of panic, I feared  I would be stranded there until someone happened to drive by. Then, I remembered my cell phone had satellite phone capabilities. Thankfully, I was able to contact dispatch who sent out a sheriff and a tow. 

With my car busted but operable, I decided I had to finish my mission. I knew that if I had decided to go home, I would have felt shame and regret that would permeate my mind from that day forward. I climbed past the site of my accident and into the mountains in search of the prize. I was able to fish for an hour and had a lights out fishing experience, catching about ten beautiful golden trout on dry flies.

A few days later, I received a call from my fly fishing boss when I told her  what happened. “Melissa,” she said, “this accident does not mean that you are incompetent. Accidents happen to every adventurer who is serious about finding special places. Don’t let this stop you.” 

Photo by Melissa Zankman

Moving Forward: Preparing for the Worst Case Scenario

If someone hasn’t told you this yet, let me share something with you: In this world, there are things outside of your control. However, you can plan ahead and be prepared for all outcomes to lessen the stress if something going wrong in the field. It is important to avoid naivety in your thinking. Just because nothing has ever gone wrong, does not mean it never will.  

Onwater is an indispensable tool to have on your adventures.

On longer, overnight trips, planning must be more intensive to include further safety and backup gear. Here’s a checklist of gear you should have for any day-long fishing trip. This will help you to plan for weather, injuries, gear malfunctions, car issues, and other scenarios:

  • A Satellite Phone

    •  iPhone 14 and above has a satellite feature that I used during my car accident. 
  • Portable charger

    • In case your phone with a satellite / mapping feature dies/you can’t charge it with your car.  
  • A map (on + offline) 

  • Extra rod, reel, boots and waders 

    • I keep extras on hand especially for my fly fishing clients. It is also to have a patch kit handy in case a pair of waders gets a hole.
  • Emergency dry layers in case your car breaks down or someone falls in water. 

  • A rain jacket if there is any chance of rain. 

  • First-Aid Kit 

    • Include bandaids, an NSAID such as Advil (make sure they have not expired), antibiotic cream, a tourniquet, tweezers, and gauze or other wound dressing.
  • A second pair of keys for your car and rod vault.

  • A patch kit for flat tires (also, always have a spare)

  • Extra water, nutritious snacks, bug spray for warm months, and hand/feet warmers for cold months.

Remember: You are Human

If you have had outdoor experiences that made you feel ashamed or question your competency, you are not alone. If you have not, take heed from this article so that you can be prepared for the worst case scenario. If it does ever happen, you will be prepared to keep yourself safe…and to keep yourself fishing! 

Allow your passion for this sport to turn into perseverance when things go wrong. The number one thing that will ruin a day of fishing is a negative mindset. When the circumstances are not catastrophic, challenge yourself to enjoy the day in a different way. 

About the author: Melissa is a certified fly fishing guide and mental health therapist (LPC) in Colorado. Her passion for the sport started in the alpine through chasing cutthroat trout. She continues to hike long miles in search of these beautiful red colored fish in hard to access places. 

10 Tips for your Next DIY Fly Fishing Trip

Flylords Holiday Fly Fishing Gift Guide 2023



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.