Day Trips

day trip 1- day trips start before first light

Day Trips Start Before First Light

Mike Cline, Bozeman, Montana

Since I actually don’t live on a river anymore (I did live on a lake on the Coosa River in Alabama for 12 years), I can’t pop down to the stream for an hour or so in the morning or evening. I’ve got to make a day trip to go fishing. When relatives or visitors come for a week or two, we’ll make an overnight somewhere to save the hassle of a day trip and get more hours on our favorite waters. But by and large, most of my fishing from March through November is just a long string of day trips to my favorite rivers. Day trips don’t require a lot of planning or preparation. Indeed, different rivers or lakes, different seasons and weather may require some adjustments in fly boxes, fly rods, and clothing, but over the course of the season, these adjustments are made much like the audible in football. Wake up, survey the situation, make a decision on the destination, and grab the right gear and go.

In 2013, according to my Montana Fishing Log, I made 42 day trips to Montana waters. You can probably add another 10-15 day trips into Yellowstone that don’t get logged in Montana. From my house, the farthest day trip was to Yellowstone Lake (141 miles one way). The shortest day trip is always to the East Gallatin (23 miles one way). Other routine day trips include the Upper (49-60 miles) and Lower Madison (30 miles), Big Hole River (96 miles), Beaverhead River (89 miles), Yellowstone River (40-60 miles), Gardner River (80 miles) and Lamar River (115 miles).

There are however some day trip essentials. When I leave the house, usually well before the sun comes up, there must be a source of quality hot coffee within a few miles. There’s no time in the morning at the house to mess with coffee. I routinely stop at one of three all night convenience stores or truck stops strategically located along the various routes I take out of town. Coffee paid for, it’s usually “Have a nice day” from the cashier and “That’s up to the fish” from me. The night before a day trip I try and stage a few items on the kitchen table—hat, sunglasses, a snack bar, camera and bottles of water. I don’t always remember to do this and it costs me precious minutes in the morning. Alarms are set to compensate for sunrise and distance traveled. The goal is to be at my destination at least one hour before sunrise. This can mean 3:30 AM alarms in June. There are times where an aggressive early start gets me to the destination well before there’s sufficient light to do anything productive. It’s time to kill some clock and check the iPhone for a signal.

day trip 2 - right where I left them

Right Where I Left Them

Fly boxes, an extra reel or spool, extra tippets, etc. are stored in two small dry bags that more often than not remain on the hallway floor at the bottom of the stairs—right where I left them on return from the last trip. Waders and boots are in the garage along with a small plastic tote hold miscellaneous stuff. Fly rods are already strung up from the last trip and staged on top of the kayak. If I am bringing along a different rod, it usually remains in its case until I arrive at the river. The routine is pretty much the same. Wake up, throw on the same clothes I wore on the last trip (unless its Tuesday, as Monday is laundry day). In the Spring and as days move into Fall, layering up with thermals is the norm. Into the garage, back the small P/U or Subaru out and load and tie down the kayak. Waders, boots, tote go in the bed of the truck, while dry bags, rods, miscellaneous stuff and a jacket go in the cab. Although I always have a lightweight rain shell with me, cold or increment weather demands a sturdier jacket.

Although my day trips all start out at dawn, they end at different times. Remember, I still have a job and day trips in mid-week come with some anxiety. Although all the work is outside Montana, my boss and a few clients can get antsy when they need an answer or file. Cell coverage isn’t ubiquitous so being unconnected has its advantages. But on those rare occasions where I check my phone on the river, I must admit I’ve told more than one person, “I’ll get you that file once my computer is up and running again” without actually telling them I was 100 miles away from my computer. When I know someone really cares where I am, I must admit that I cut my days on the river short.

day trip 3 - day trip routine

Day Trip Routine

The typical day trip involves fishing 2-4 miles of high quality river, mostly with my kayak, but occasionally on foot. With exception of Yellowstone Lake, all my Yellowstone day trips are sans kayak. The essence of the day trip is get on the water early, avoid the crowds, fish until you are tired, don’t waste time with a lot of food, stay hydrated, take good photos and make the trip home. This is not always as easy as it seems. No matter what water you are on, there’s always that next bend in the river. There’s always one more set of pools and riffles. Turning around and going back is mentally tough. But when I do make it back to the put in, the kayak and/or gear are loaded up and I head home, getting there some 10-12 hours after the morning’s alarm went off.

Every day trip is special and looked forward to with great expectations. Deciding where to go at times is challenging—there are so many good destinations within day trip range. Weather and wind play a big role as well as river flows. At times the choices are few, at times they are many. At times some new destination beckons and I take a chance it will produce. Sometimes it does and another day trip destination is added to the list. I plan on sharing some of my day trip destinations in the future, both the long ones and the short ones, but now I have to get ready for the next one.

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