I am often asked "Do you take beginners?" My answer: "Absolutely!" Probably 20% of my clients in a given season have never fly fished before. Montana and Yellowstone Park beginner fly fishing trips are a great introduction to the sport. This region hosts a wide variety of places to fish, from tiny creeks to huge rivers and lakes, so it's easy to find something that's right for beginners, whether they're looking for a first step on a lifetime of fly fishing or just want to try it once.
Note that previous experience fishing with conventional tackle does not really help when it comes to fly fishing, especially with casting. Fly casts require a very different motion than other fishing tackle, so a lot of experience with conventional gear sometimes makes learning how to fly cast harder. As such, potential clients with previous experience with spinning (conventional) tackle do indeed count as beginners when it comes to fly fishing.
While I'm happy to take beginners on any of my guided trips, certain options are much better choices for beginners. The best options vary by the time of year. Most of this page is intended to help rookies (or the parents/fishing partners of rookies) learn about which trips make sense when. Much of the information here is also found on the other pages within the guided trips section of my website. Here's it's just given in a beginner-friendly way.
My rates page answers that question. Beginner trip pricing is identical to the rates for all other trips of the same type, for example full-day trips cost $495, regardless of whether my clients are experts or beginners and regardless of if we are walking or floating. If you're confused by which trip is which, feel free to contact me.
If $395 for a half-day trip during the June-October high season is a bit rich for your blood, I also offer lessons which don't quite qualify as a full guide trip, but will give you some of the basics.
Beginner fishing the Gibbon River.
I pride myself on focusing on instruction with all clients, beginner to expert, rather than just using tactics that enable me to "put clients into fish" without teaching them anything. All independent contractor guides I use when I'm unavailable have the same mindset. On all beginner trips, expect to at least be introduced to the following:
Depending on how quickly members in the party pick up the above, trip duration, and trip type, we may also cover the following:
Young angler and private lake rainbow.
Most beginners are visiting the Montana and Yellowstone area as part of a general vacation and care just as much about the scenery, geology, animals, and so on as they do about the fishing. As such, with beginners I focus on "the extras" as well as the fish. While I'm not a trained ranger-naturalist, I've been living and guiding in the region since 2001 and fishing here regularly since 1993, and I have some tricks up my sleeve and know some things a lot of fishing guides don't. Therefore some combination of the following are also included on my guided fishing trips, depending on what time of year it is, where we fish, and (in the case of the animals) pure dumb luck:
This is one of my favorite beginner streams.
The remainder of this page goes into exhaustive detail about the top trip options for beginners, in particular the types of trips that are best for certain clients at certain times of year. If you'd rather just skip the rigamarole and talk to me about the best options for you at the time of year when you're going to be here, give me a call.
Brief introductions of the trips that make sense for beginners follow. If you like exhaustive detail, click the "Learn More" links below each heading to expand these sections to learn more about each trip type. Rest assured, there are plenty of pics when you click these links.
"Beginner Brookies" trips are half-day trips involving short hikes in pretty parts of Yellowstone Park in search of small, numerous, enthusiastic brook trout. These trips (and fish) are ideal for families with kids, groups of four or more who all want to fish together rather than splitting into several parties, those who would like a low-stress introduction to fly fishing, those who would like a short but pretty hike in Yellowstone Park, those who will be moving on to a more-challenging trip soon and want something easy to start with, and those who are just looking to check fly fishing off their bucket lists in a pretty environment. Learn More if you think "Beginner Brookies" trips sound right for you...
Typical "beginner brookie" client, and typical beginner brook trout.
Back in the late 1800s, early Yellowstone Park administrators wandered about the park interior stocking various species of trout, especially in waters that had been isolated by waterfalls and were therefore originally fishless. Many of these were small, often slow-moving streams on the park's central plateau that were stocked with brook trout. This original stocking created massive populations of small, wild brook trout in many small streams and headwaters of several rivers. Today, there are several dozen waters absolutely stuffed with these fish, "brookies." These populations might be most beginner-friendly fish to be found anywhere on Earth. I target these fish on my "beginner brookie" trips.
All beginner brookie trips are half-day public water walk-wade trips. They generally involve hikes in the 1-2 mile range each way to access unpressured water and easy fishing, usually traversing gentle terrain with good footing, though if you are up for a more aggressive hike, even more fisheries and some lovely waterfall viewing become possible. These hikes give us access to a wide range of small waters where the fishing is easy, the casts are short, and the wildflowers are pretty. On beginner brookie trips, most clients get between ten and fifty bites apiece on an average day. Some beginners catch thirty or more fish, and just about everybody catches at least a few.
These trips run as half-days (though brook trout are sometimes half of a full-day trip). The fishing is generally better in the morning on these trips, with less competition from other anglers, so we will probably meet between 7:00 and 9:00AM depending on meeting place and how far we'll be driving.
Angler fishing typical beginner brookie stream.
Beginner Brookie trips are ideal for groups containing children aged 10-13, for anyone who wants to be almost certain of catching several and often quite a few fish, for those who want to mix a little hiking with their fishing, for folks who are impatient, and for those who just want the experience of fly fishing, without knowing for sure if they'll do it again. They're also great choices for anglers with experience fishing with conventional tackle (lure or bait) who like fishing for panfish such as bluegill, since brook trout are basically the panfish of the trout world and behave similarly. Finally, Beginner Brookie trips are far and away my best option for large parties who wish to stay together, whether three anglers with one guide or 4+ anglers with multiple guides, since the Beginner Brookie streams are really the only areas where three or more beginners fishing more or less together can expect to do very well.
Beginner Brookie trips are very bad options for anyone who is not physically fit enough to walk 1-2 miles each way, usually on decent game trails or even officially-maintained trails, but with some areas of marsh and some uncertain footing and wading while on-stream. We are very serious about this. While there are some easy-access brook trout fisheries right next to the road, they usually get fished out very early in the season and we expect even experienced anglers to do poorly fishing them through most of the season.
We also suggest other options for beginner teens and adults with a lot of patience and a desire to focus on learning rather than just catching fish and enjoying the scenery of the hike, for at least part of the day. For such beginners, a full-day trip that perhaps includes a morning session chasing brook trout and an afternoon session chasing larger fish, or even a full-day targeting larger fish, makes more sense. Finally, Beginner Brookie trips are not a good fit for anglers who will get bored quickly catching hand-size and smaller fish and would rather try to catch a far smaller number of larger trout.
Public rivers, streams, and lakes in the northern part of Yellowstone Park and near Livingston, Montana provide a wide range of fishing opportunities, scenery, and experiences suitable for half-day or full-day beginner trips. Unlike "beginner brookie" trips, options are available for standard walk & wade trips year-round. While beginners seldom catch as many fish on standard trips, these fish are almost always larger and more challenging, which makes these trips better for beginners who want to focus on learning proper techniques rather than just catching as many fish as possible. All in all, a standard walk-wade is a better option for small groups of teens and adults who want to "dive right in" to fly fishing and expect they'll continue in the sport, and for anyone save young kids who is visiting the area when beginner brook trout trips aren't available and would rather fish on foot than from a boat. Learn More if a standard walk & wade trip sounds right for you...
Standard public water walk-wade destinations provide opportunities for larger fish than "beginner brookie" streams.
All of my public water walk & wade trips include plenty of time for instruction, so if the small fish and easy fishing of Beginner Brookie trips sound like they might not hold your interest, you should consider a standard walk & wade trip. Both full-day and half-day options make sense during the core season, while from late fall through early spring, shorter "winter special" rates are available for trips including a couple hours on the water. These trips usually take place on rough and tumble mountain creeks or rivers in Yellowstone Park, during the park's open season, or on the Yellowstone River outside the park from late autumn through spring, though many destinations are possible depending on client interests, where clients are staying, and what's fishing well.
Destinations for our standard walk & wade trips suitable for eager beginners range from tiny creeks to alpine lakes, as do the types of tactics we might use, the fish we might catch, and the scenery and animal-viewing options available. This makes standard walk & wade trips my most flexible trip option for beginners. While the rough, boulder-bottomed streams fish best, I can accommodate if that won't work for you. Unsteady on your feet and need to stay on a gentle stream near the road? I can do that. Would you rather make an aggressive hike into a brawling river canyon? I can do that too.
Meeting times for these trips will range from 6:00AM to 9:30AM on full-day bookings, depending on the time of year and where we're meeting, and between 6:00 and 11:00 for half-days.
For more details on typical public water walk & wade trips, check out the relevant page here.
Not bad for her second fish ever! I'm still surprised I didn't drop the rod...
Standard walk & wade trips are ideal for patient adults and teens who want more of a challenge than is usually provided on our Beginner Brookie trips and to learn to use several techniques on their day of fishing. They're also good choices for those who have had some previous fly casting instruction, or maybe even gone fly fishing once or twice without much success, as well as for groups containing anglers of wildly different skill levels, a beginner teen and an experienced parent for example. In addition, they are better choices for anglers with somewhat limited mobility, since some gentle streams near the road can fish acceptably well when they contain trout other than brookies.
The fishing is harder on standard walk & wade trips than on Beginner Brookie trips. Beginner fly anglers who opt for a standard trip should expect to catch many fewer trout than on Beginner Brookie trips. They will generally be larger, however, and every once in a while even a rookie will get a big one even though we're targeting medium-sized fish. This more-difficult fishing makes standard trips poor choices for young kids and anyone else with a short attention span, as well as those who are just looking to check fly fishing off their bucket list and may not actually take up the sport.
Beginner with Yellowstone River cutthroat.
Fly fishing float trips on local rivers are my most popular trips overall. They provide the most fishing time relative to travel time, the potential for both a lot of fish and numbers of them, depending on the season, the river, and the the stretch of that river we float, and great scenery along with the potential for whitewater thrills. That said, they're not ideal for beginners during the early summer timeframe. The rest of the year, new fly fishers who don't want to walk and want to focus primarily on catching fish--including potentially some big ones--with one major technique rather than learning lots of nitty-gritty details might like a float more than other options. Click here to learn more about river floats for beginners...
This big brown trout is very much the exception for beginners, but it's more possible on float trips than any others.
Many beginners don't want to hike for their fish (or physically can't) and don't much want to fish lakes. Some others would rather just try for a few bigger fish, even if it means generally using one basic tactic all day. For these anglers, river floats are the best option. Except immediately following the spring melt, when most fish are clustered tight to the banks to stay out of the fast currents and therefore require quick, accurate casts for success, beginners can do quite well on certain stretches of river, primarily using one technique.
This technique, called "indicator nymphing" involves fishing a strike indicator (glorified bobber) with either a pair of aquatic insect larva imitations or a small baitfish imitation and an aquatic insect larva. Because these flies typically produce the largest trout on all rivers, and the most trout overall over the course of a season, this is probably the single most effective fly fishing technique overall. Out of a moving boat, it's also the easiest technique, since the guide can often maneuver the boat so that clients don't have to cast as often or as accurately as with other techniques. They need only manipulate the line to make the flies move in a lifelike fashion and cast from time to time.
On the other hand, float-fishing with indicators is often considered the most boring method of fly fishing (until you hook a big one), and since the guide does much of the work in getting the flies into position with this technique, clients don't learn as much as they do on walk-wade trips. In addition, the casting involved with this technique tires many beginners quickly, since the flies, strike indicators, weight, and even the rods used on floats themselves are much heavier than those used on most walk trips.
If your kid gets bored and demands to row, we might let him if the river is gentle enough.
Most beginner floats run as half-day trips, though full-days make sense too. Just make sure to tell me or your guide if your arm is getting tired and we'll let you know which stretches you should sit down for and take in the scenery, since on float trips we drift over both good areas and bad ones, and we'd rather you fish the good spots. Depending on the time of year and whether we're running a full-day or half-day, we'll want to be on the water between 8AM and 2PM.
River floats are good choices for beginners who want to focus on a more relaxing trip with opportunities for some larger fish, good scenery, and perhaps some whitewater. In fact the scenery and whitewater are big draws for many clients who book floats, beginners or not. River floats are also ideal choices for anglers who aren't mobile enough to handle the best hike-in or even rugged roadside fisheries. Groups in which one angler is experienced and the other is not almost always book river floats, simply because it's easier to have the experienced angler use one technique and the inexperienced angler use another and have both catch some fish on a float trip rather than a walk-wade.
River floats are only good choices for patient kids who are big for their size. One reason I no longer take kids under age 10 is than many younger kids just don't have the patience to stay relatively still in the boat, or might just be too small to handle the tackle. These trips are also poor choices for those who want to focus on learning a variety of techniques, rather than just catching fish.>
He got about ten fish altogether, if memory serves.
Float trips on private lakes offer large fish in peaceful surroundings, consistently fish well with techniques that beginners can pick up with relative ease, and offer good opportunities for instruction since the guide is not as busy handling the boat as on river float trips. They also sometimes offer an opportunity to fish on foot as well as from the boat, adding variety to the experience. On the other hand, they cost a lot due to the additional access fees payable to the landowner, seldom produce big numbers of fish, and are seldom as exciting as fishing streams. In addition, if it's windy, fishing can be very challenging. Learn more about private lake trips for beginners...
By the end of the trip, this young man was fishing far better than his experienced grandpa. While above average, the fish he's holding was not a great surprise for the private lakes.
Three of the biggest problems with floating rivers as a beginner are that the guide is too busy rowing the boat to offer hands-on instruction, the casts usually need to be accurate, and there are no second chances: once you've floated past a good spot, there's no casting back to it, even if you missed it the first time. On private lake float trips, all of these problems disappear. When fishing the lakes we usually anchor the boats (and even get out to fish from shore from time to time), so the guide can put the oars down to offer hands-on instruction, the casts usually need not be particularly accurate, and since the boat is not zipping downstream, you can always cast back to a good spot if you miss it the first time you cast to it.
Private lakes are good choices for beginners only in the spring and early summer. All lakes I fish are good from April through June, and are typically the most consistent nearby fisheries overall in May. One lake, Burns, which has a larger springwater component than the others, fishes well until sometime in mid-late July. Later in the summer, all lakes are too warm to fish well for anyone, while in early autumn the aquatic weeds are heavy enough to frustrate beginners. The fishing turns back on again for beginners in late September and is very good in October.
The main draw of private lake fishing for beginners is the chance at trout averaging 14 to 20 inches and occasionally reaching five or six pounds, trout which are otherwise pretty unlikely for total rookies. The photos of beginners holding big fish elsewhere on this page are exceptions. The private lakes offer the largest average fish of any of our fisheries save the Missouri River, and because many of the techniques that work well for them are not too demanding, even beginners can tie into these fish. These are not numbers fisheries, however. Beginners should expect to catch somewhere between one and five fish per person on an average day (though more are certainly possible).
For in-depth information on our private lake trips in general, check out the Private Lake Trips page.
The fish were cruising the shoreline on this trip, so probably about a dozen out of fifteen fish or so came via "sight-fishing" on foot, looking for and casting to specific fish.
Private lake trips are good choices for patient beginners who want a mellow, relaxing day on the water rather than a lot of whitewater thrills or long hikes. If you like to fish with conventional gear by sitting in a chair and watching a bobber while waiting for a fish to come along, a private lake trip might be just for you, though usually lake trips are somewhat faster-paced. They are very bad choices for anglers who get bored easily or who would rather catch a lot of little fish rather than a couple big ones, for anglers who want to see a lot of scenery on their trips, and those who want their trip to include activities other than fishing. They are particularly poor choices for children who are impatient. Without exception, every lake trip I've had with a beginner child under the age of thirteen ended early because the kid got antsy. Focused teens (like the boy at the top of this section) can get really into private lake fishing, because it's a chance at probably the biggest fish most have ever caught regardless of their experience level, but there just isn't enough going on to keep younger kids interested.
This is a "typical big" private lake fish, fat and solid.
Walter Wiese is Montana Outfitter #22001 (formerly guide #9530) and Madison River SRP Holder #297. Yellowstone Park trips are run in cooperation with and under the permit of YNP CUA holder Richard Parks.
All text copyright Walter J. Wiese. Photos copyright Walter J. Wiese or the photographer. If you would like to use any of the content on this site for noncommercial purposes, you are welcome to do so provided you include this copyright notice and our contact information. Please do not use the information here for commercial purposes without written permission.
Website, text, and graphics by Walter J. Wiese. Photos generally by Walter J. Wiese unless noted.