Parks' Fly Shop Guided Trip FAQ

Guide Service FAQ

We're pretty sure you know what a FAQ is for. If you have any questions that aren't answered here, by all means contact us. Scroll down to read, or click the appropriate link to go to the category of question you have.

General Policies: deposits, cancellations, what's included in the rates, catch and release policies, licensing, discounts available.

Other General Questions: beginners, children, which trip(s) to book.

Flies and Tackle

Walk Trip FAQ: both public and spring creek topics are covered.

Float Trip FAQ: both river and lake float topics are covered.

Tipping

General Policies

What is Included in Your Listed Rates? What's Not? How did You Decide on These Policies?

On all trips we include: the guide's time (obviously), transportation to and from the fishery starting from our shop or a prearranged meeting point, the use of rods and reels and wading gear appropriate to the season (if required), flies, leaders and tippet, other terminal tackle such as split shot and indicators, soft drinks and bottled water, and a picnic lunch on full-day trips. Rates do not include: fishing permits, access fees charged by the private Paradise Valley spring creeks or private lakes, Yellowstone Park entrance fees, personal raingear or other attire, polarized sunglasses (which we require clients to wear), or guide gratuities.

When we are guiding large parties, we may ask you to drive your own vehicle and meet us at our fishing spot. We will arrange this when you book.

We encourage you to bring your own tackle if you have it: you will be more familiar with it and many anglers have higher-quality gear than we provide on trips (basically gear in the low-intermediate to intermediate price bracket). We also suggest you bring your own favorite flies if you have them. A few times a year, something new and weird from a client's box is just the ticket on a tough day, and our guides are always eager to see what you've got in order to generate ideas for their own fly tying, even if we only wind up using flies from our shop.

Please do not ask us to bring alcoholic beverages. Montana state law prohibits us from providing these beverages. You are welcome to bring your own, however we ask that you do not drink from glass containers in the drift boat.

What are Your Deposit and Cancellation Policies?

We require 50% of guided trip fees to be paid at the time of booking, usually via Visa/Mastercard though we can also except checks and money orders. We generally cap the deposit at $1000 even on exceptionally large bookings.

Deposits will be refunded in full if you need to cancel one month or more prior to the date of the trip. Between one month and 48 hours prior to the trip, your deposit will be forfeited if you cancel, with 2/3 of the deposit going to the guide to make up for lost work. We may be able to apply the deposit to a trip on a later date if you rebook promptly. This will depend on how many trips we have had to turn away due to your booking and if we are able to rebook the guide. In general, the later the cancellation, the more likely it is the deposit will be forfeited in full. Trips cancelled with less than 48 hours notice, for any reason, will require payment in full. We encourage you to purchase trip insurance if you believe there may be a chance you need to make a last minute cancellation.

When we make reservations on your behalf on one of our area private fisheries, we will generally charge the associated access fees ($40-120/day per angler) at the same time as and in addition to our part of the deposit. Cancellation policies for these private waters vary, but since all are typically fully booked most days during high season, it is highly unlikely we will be able to get your access fee back without significant notice.

What Happens if Parks' Fly Shop has to Cancel?

We hate to cancel trips but we sometimes have to do so. If we have to cancel, for any reason, we will provide a full refund if it is not possible to reschedule your trip for later in your stay.

The most common reason we have to cancel is if water conditions are unfishable, generally meaning the water is too muddy to run the type of trip you have scheduled. If you are flexible in regards to trip type or trip date, we can usually work around the issue.

The next most common reason we have to cancel is dangerous or unfishable weather conditions. We define "dangerous or unfishable" as an expectation that lightning will be so widespread or that temperatures will remain below freezing or otherwise so cold and miserable for the majority of your fishing trip that it won't be possible to complete the trip. Brief thunderstorms or steady rain without lightning are not reasons we cancel trips, nor are brief periods of below freezing temperatures or light snow showers. We may be willing to reschedule trips when the wind is expected to be horrific on both anglers and guide, but we do not cancel trips due to wind. Obviously, trips scheduled for fall, winter, and spring are expected to run in worse conditions than those taking place during the summer. Again, flexibility in regards to trip date usually allows us to work around ugly weather.

Perhaps once or twice a season we are forced to cancel due to guide illness or other emergency or due to vehicle (boat or truck) breakdown. These are the worst types of circumstances because they're impossible to plan for and we often can't find another guide in time for the trip to run, since we (and most other guide services and fly shops) are usually fully booked during the core season. If something like this happens, we'll try to reschedule if at all possible, either with a different guide for the same day or later in your stay in Montana, if you have the flexibility for this to happen. If this isn't possible, we'll provide you with the use of rental tackle and a handful of flies, some pointers, and our abject apologies so you can at least get something out of the day.

The least common reason we've ever cancelled a trip is because our guide forgot about the trip. We earned a terrible review on Trip Advisor for this trip and we deserved it. That guide doesn't work for us anymore because of this event and it only happened once.

Can Someone Who isn't Fishing Come Along?

We have no problem with one or two non-anglers coming along on walk trips to take pictures or serve as cheerleaders, though we ask that they try not to interfere with the fishing. The number of non-anglers that can come along is capped at two per guided party because even if we are not charging a fishing rate, we are still responsible for these individuals in the view of Yellowstone Park, the state of Montana, our insurance company, and other relevant authorities, so trying to keep track of more people than this starts to raise our liability to unacceptable levels.

We will charge a few dollars if we provide non-anglers with drinks and/or lunch. Please note that the capacity of our boats is still only two passengers and the guide, even if one passenger is just riding along.

Can We Get a Reduced Rate if Only a Few People are Fishing at Once, or if a Member of Our Party Doesn't Need a Guide?

To put it bluntly, no. Our rates are based on the total number of people who fish on the trip, not on the number fishing at any one time or the amount of time the guide spends with each client. We don't mind offering suggestions on where to fish for individuals in your group who don't want to be part of the guided group, but if an individual walks in with the guided party and fishes the same area, they're part of the guided party and the trip will be billed as such.

We don't want to sound like hardcases here, but we have been burned time and again by groups that wound up making the guide work a whole lot harder than he was being paid for by having extra people fish.

Are Your Trips Catch & Release Only?

Except for a very few rare situations, our trips are catch and release only. There are three reasons for this: first, taking care of kept fish is a pain and takes away from fishing time. Second, almost all fish we target on our guide trips are wild, so keeping fish can severely impact populations. Finally, keeping fish in bear country is downright dangerous unless we're right next to the road. Do you want to be hiking with a slowly-rotting fish when a grizzly might get wind of it?

The only exceptions to our catch and release rule are as follows:

--If you catch a pure rainbow or brook trout in the Lamar drainage or a lake trout in the Yellowstone drainage, park regulations require killing these nonnative species to protect cutthroat populations. If we are fishing near the road, you may keep the fish we kill to comply with these regulations. If we are in the backcountry, we will puncture the fish's air bladder and dispose of it in deep water, as park guidelines suggest.

--If a fish that is legal to keep dies or is likely to die from injuries it sustains due to the fight, you will be allowed to keep it provided we are close enough to the road that the bear danger is minimal and we can keep it cool enough that it will be safe to eat once we are able to get it in a cooler.

Note that all above situations are rare. I (Walter) have been guiding since 2001 and have never had a client keep a fish.

Note that we do not allow keeping a trophy fish unless the above conditions are met. Instead, we'll be sure to get a bunch of high-resolution pictures of the fish and of you holding the fish, then send you the best. A framed picture tells a story even better than a mount, at a much lower price, and it leaves the big fish in the river for our next clients to catch.

What License Do I Need? Where Do I Buy It?

The license you need depends on where we'll be fishing. For river float trips, power boat trips, and walk trips outside the Park, you'll need a Montana license. It's required for anglers aged 12 and up. In Yellowstone, you don't need a Montana (or Wyoming) license, but you do need a Yellowstone National Park permit. All anglers are required to have a license, but for those age under 16 it's free. Licenses are not required on Depuy Spring Creek, but Montana licenses are required on the other Paradise Valley creeks. Licenses are not required on any of the private lakes we fish.

Some explanation for Montana licensing: all natural waters of Montana and those human-modified waters located at least partially on public land require a license. Since Depuy Spring Creek is a man-made waterway created by diverting Armstrong Spring Creek and other small spring creeks into an old creek channel, it is considered man-made. The private lakes are all man-made reservoirs entirely contained by one private landowner. The other waters we fish are natural and/or bounded by public land.

We are license agents for both Montana and the Park, so you can buy your license from us when you arrive. Park licenses will be available if we meet you at our fishing destination as well, though please tell us beforehand if you need us to bring a license for you. You can also buy Montana permits online here, if you want to fish on your own before you get to our shop.

Do You Offer any Discounts or Perks?

We offer a variety of discounts/perks for early booking, for trips early and late in the season, and for trips involving larger groups or multiple days of guide service.

Our early booking discount is simple. If you book before we update our rates for the upcoming season, you lock in the previous season's rates. This makes it a bit easier for us to book trips well in advance and gives early birds a nice potential price break. We usually aim to set our rates in late January or February, so book before that to land a deal, assuming of course that we change our rates from season to season.

Early and late during our main guide season, we offer special spring and fall rates on most trips. We began offering this deal because we found our trips early and late in the year usually ran shorter than trips during the heart of the season and it didn't seem fair for us to charge full-price for trips that usually ran about 3/4 as long as our summer full-day trips. These price breaks are not available on all trips. They are described in the rates for the relevant trips.

We offer discounts based on large bookings, whether these bookings involve large groups and multiple guides or multiple days of fishing. We set these discounts on a case-by-case basis. Generally speaking, we will provide discounts for bookings involving five or more guides or five or more consecutive days of fishing.

We also may offer perks to large/complex groups such as corporate groups or family reunions: this may involve presentations at your lodgings, free (brief) casting instruction if required, copies of Richard's or Walter's books, shop schwag, or other perks.

Can I request a specific guide? How do you choose which guide to assign to my party?

Yes you can request a guide. We ask that you begin booking your trip by contacting Walter or Richard via e-mail or by calling the shop, but you may request the guide of your choice when you confirm the booking. We will try to assign the guide you request, subject to the following criteria:

Generally speaking, repeat clients take precedence when assigning a guide. If Client X has fished with Guide Y before, we will pair them up again if the guide is A.) not taking that day off and B.) not already fishing with another repeat client.

Requests who are not repeat clients generally fall next on the totem pole, unless we have a particular trip on the books for which the requested guide is the only suitable guide. For example if Client X requests Ben for a walk/wade trip and we need Ben to run a float trip that day, but Bart is available for a walk trip, we'll assign the client to Bart.

Trips that are not repeat/request bookings are generally assigned according to which guides happen to be available and suited to the particular trip. For example if Richard and Walter were both available to run a trip and the client wished to pursue fall-run browns, Walter would take the trip since Richard does not generally go after runners.

Back to Top

Other General Questions

I've Never Fly Fished Before, but I Want to Learn. Do You Take Beginners?

Absolutely. Probably a quarter of our clients have never held a rod before. We recommend walk & wade trips for beginners, either standard walk and wades (available April 15-early November) or our specialized beginner trips (available June to early September). On a walk & wade trip we can spend our time fishing small water with fish that aren't too picky, to ensure beginners will catch some fish. They will not be big, but just like riding a bike you need to start fly fishing with "training wheels." Rods and flies are included with all trips and wading gear is included on walk trips. Thus you don't need to invest in the full regalia of the sport if you just want to "get your feet wet."

If you do want to fish from a boat, either due to physical issues which prevent you from walking or just a desire to be in a boat, this is possible. Please bear in mind that on boat trips the guide is busy handling the boat and so cannot offer as much hands-on instruction as on walk trips. We suggest taking a casting lesson or a beginner fly fishing lesson before getting in the boat, if at all possible.

Please note that trips involving both an experienced angler and a rookie are notoriously difficult. Generally speaking, we need to fish a location suitable for the beginner or one suitable for the experienced angler. There's not a great deal of overlap. We're not trying to dissuade you from fishing with a partner with a widly different skill level, just bear in mind our guide will really need to plan to best meet the needs of one client or the other. Trying to meet halfway usually results in poor results for everyone.

My Child is "X" Years Old. Is He/She Old Enough to Go on a Guided Trip?

The age at which you introduce a child to fly fishing depends on three factors: the child's attention span and size and their ability to walk to the stream and along the stream banks. Fly fishing requires considerably more focus than fishing with bait or lures, and fly rods for our area need to range from eight to nine feet in length. Both factors make fly fishing a poor choice for very young children. In general, a child is big enough and has the attention span to be ready to learn to fly fish between age 8 and age 12. In addition, most of the time we wind up walking at least half a mile on flat ground each way, and often up to two miles, even on half-day trips. Little kids can get whiny if you make them walk this far, especially if the ground is rough. We'll let you be the judge...

If you know how to fly fish and have a younger child who likes to fish and who knows how to cast and retrieve lures with conventional tackle, another possibility is taking a float trip, either a river float or a private lake float. You can cast flies from the front of the boat while your child throws spinners from the back. This approach can bring some surprising results.

In general, we will not take young children fishing unless a parent or other adult comes too, since we're guides rather than babysitters, while those aged 13 and up can be unaccompanied provided they're no more insane than your average teen.

What's for Lunch?

Typically we do picnic-style sandwich lunches on our trips. On float trips we arrange things buffet-style, while on walk trips where we'll be hiking we carry pre-made sandwiches. Fruit and chips or cookies accompany the sandwich. This is our default lunch, and we can modify it somewhat to suit tastes. When it's cold we sometimes include a thermos of tomato soup or coffee. At times our guides make something more complicated (usually after going insane from eating a roast beef sandwich every day), but we virtually never cook on-stream. We figure our clients want to fish and our trips already usually last until later in the day than those of our competitors, so we don't want to take the time to make something complicated for lunch. If having a gourmet lunch is a key element of how much enjoyment you take from a guided trip, you should probably book with another outfitter.

If you require kosher, vegetarian, gluten-free, diabetic-friendly, or other specialized meals, please let us know when you book and we should be able to accommodate. Please be very specific as to your needs. One client mentioned "I'll eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich." We took this to mean he didn't care what we made. In reality, he had dietary issues which meant that peanut butter was about the only lunch protein that didn't cause stomach trouble.

How Cold is the Water? Do I Need Waders?

Water temperatures range from thirty-five degrees into the high sixties. We generally wear waders all the time until early June and again from late September onward. Some waters require waders year-round, chief among them the upper Yellowstone and the Paradise Valley spring creeks, and if cold/wet weather is forecast we'll wear waders even in high summer. Otherwise, we wet-wade with our felt-soled wading shoes and gravel guards whenever weather permits, since this is cooler and more comfortable and requires less gear to be carried. It's always a good idea to bring waders in case of a cold snap, but you're probably safe if you choose not to from around 7/10 until 8/15 unless you're planning to fish the upper Yellowstone near Yellowstone Lake or the lake itself, both of which are icy year-round.

Wading in an old pair of tennis shoes is usually not a good idea except on meadow streams or on float trips where we'll only be getting out of the boat for lunch and to visit the bushes, since our waters are often in rugged terrain and have fast currents or otherwise make felt soles and good ankle support necessities. Rental wading gear appropriate to the season is included on our trips if needed, and we have gear available to rent for days you're not fishing with us, subject to guided trip needs.

How Long is Each Trip? When Does the Trip Start?

On standard walk and wade trips and river floats, a half-day trip runs 4-6 hours total and generally includes 3-4 hours of fishing time. We meet for morning half-days between 5:30AM and 9:00AM, with 8:00AM the most common meeting time. Half day trips meet anytime between 5:30AM and 4:00PM depending on conditions, but usually meet either between 6:00 and 9:00 or around 12:30.

All Full-day trips are more flexible, but generally speaking these trips run 8-11 hours total and include 7-9 hours on the water. Walk/float combo trips, Madison River float trips, and Burns Lake private lake trips run slightly longer on average. Trips that run longer than about 11 hours door-to-door mean the guide is putting in unpaid overtime and we strongly encourage you to remember that when you decide on the tip. We'll meet between 5:30 and 9:00AM, depending on travel time, weather, and the kind of fishing we'll be doing. A typical summer trip meets between 7:30 and 8:00.

Double half-day float trips usually run slightly longer than standard full-day trips and meet at the same time. The weirdness with these trips happens in the middle.

Power boat trips make for exceptionally long full-day trips if we're not basing out of Helena, Montana. Expect to meet around 4:00AM if we're meeting in Gardiner and not to get back before about 8:00PM. We prefer and strongly suggest booking 2+ days on Land of Giants trips, so we can spend the night closer to the fishing and not have to spend half our time driving.

Spring and fall special float trips usually meet between 9:00 and 10:00.

Spring special walk trips usually meet around noon.

Offseason walk trips include around 2 hours of fishing time and 3 hours of the guide's time. It's cold enough you wouldn't want to spend any more time out there, trust us. We'll plan to meet around 1:00PM, so we're fishing during the warmest part of the day.

Regardless of trip, we will plan a tentative meeting place and time when you book your trip and confirm this time when you check in the day before. Meeting times may shift somewhat from what is written above if we're meeting somewhere other than our shop, since the meeting times above factor in travel time from our shop rather than from other meeting points. Meeting times can be tweaked slightly to suit your schedule. If we REALLY need to meet at a certain time for optimum fishing (to hit an early hatch, dodge crowds, or hit a certain spot before the sun gets on the water), we'll let you know.

Refunds are unavailable if you choose to end a trip early. If weather conditions become dangerous early in a trip or water conditions suddenly fall apart, rate adjustments may be possible solely at our discretion.

What Kind of Trip Should I Take? Full-Day or Half-Day? Beginner vs Normal?

Choosing between each of the six types of standard trips we run (public walk, spring creek walk, river float, lake float, walk/float combo, and power boat) offer different things, produce different results at different times of year, and are suited to individuals with different skill levels and interests. The best way to decide which type of trip to take if you're unsure is to call us or e-mail us and talk it over. The descriptions of each trip type given on each type's own page in the Our Waters section in the Trip Planner will often give you a ballpark idea.

Full-day trips are far more popular than half-day trips, except for beginners who typically prefer our beginner specialty trips. Most of the time we suggest half-day trips for beginners and children, while full-days are better for others. On full-day trips we have more time to reach distant destinations, can hike farther, cover more water, see the whole day's succession of hatches and the like, and all in all have a much richer experience. Half-day floats do have one benefit: it is usually easier to get away from other boats on half-days than full-days. Except for beginners and families with children, cost is usually the determining factor in whether clients book full or half-day trips..

Back to Top

Flies and Tackle

What Kind of Flies and Tackle Should I Bring?

Please check our Trip Planner to learn the answers to this type of question. If you still have questions, feel free to contact us.

Flies are included in all guided trips, though we suggest you bring your own as well, especially if you like to catch fish on flies you tie or have a bunch of specialty/oddball flies you love.

I Don't Have Tackle, or Don't Want to Bring It. Do You Offer Rentals? What Kind are They?

The use of rental rods and reels is included in the trip price, if required. The following covers other rentals.

We offer rental fly combos, waders, and wading shoes. Wading gear appropriate to the season is included on guided trips. The rental rods we stock are generally mid-grade Orvis, TFO, or Redington combos with Cortland lines. Waders are Orvis or Dan Bailey, while boots are generally whatever boot we can get a good deal on.

Our rental setups include the rod, reel, and line. Consumables such as leaders, tippet, and flies must be purchased separately. The gear we rent is much higher quality than can be purchased at big-box stores like Wal-Mart, so if you're new to the sport or are unable to travel with bulky gear, renting makes a lot of sense.

Do you allow spin-fishing on your guided trips?

Yes, but only on float trips. None of our guides fish for trout with spinning tackle, so there'd really be no point in taking you on walk trips with spinning gear. On floats, where the boat positioning is by far the most important factor, we have solid success with spin anglers.

Perhaps 10% of our float trips include clients using spinning gear, though usually this means either a child or a friend/spouse who does not fly fish is along with a fly angler. We only run one or two trips a year in which both clients spin-fish.

We do not include spinning lures in the trip pricing, but we do have a suitable range of lures available in the shop and will only charge for lures you use, not all those we bring along. We require all spinning lures to have their barbs smashed, require a treble hook to have one of its points removed (we carry bolt cutters for this purpose), and require plugs such as Rapalas to only possess one set of hooks. All of these requirements are designed to limit the damage to the fish. Barbed treble hooks in particular tear up our trout far more than flies.

We can provide spinning rods/reels if required, and these are included in trip pricing.

Back to Top

Public and Private Water Walk Trip FAQ

Note that the best way to have a question on a walk trip answered is to call or e-mail us.

Where Will We Go? How Long a Walk is It?

Both questions depend on your experience level, interests, the season, etc. On our walk trips we fish anywhere from right alongside the road to five miles into the backcountry, in flat meadows where we've taken 85 year-olds to rugged canyons that seem to require as much rock climbing as walking. Our Trip Planner and the information on the Walk Trips page will give you a good idea of how the season affects where we fish. This should give you some idea of our options. We do have some secret spots where we might take you, of course, but they're too sensitive to mention online.

Beginner trips usually take place on the upper Gardner River, one of its tributaries, or on the upper Gibbon River. Generally we'll go to the upper Gibbon early and perhaps late in the beginner season, one of the Gardner tribs in early July, and somewhere on the Gardner itself the rest of the time. The walk required for the Gibbon is 1/4-1 mile each way, for the Gardner tribs 1/4-1.5 miles each way (1-1.5 miles for better fishing) and 1-2 miles each way on the Gardner itself. Some rough footing and steep trails are present on portions of the Gardner, while the other locations have fairly flat terrain but often some deadfall trees and boulders to negotiate.

Depuy, Nelson, and Armstrong Spring Creeks all offer different things, with Depuy featuring the widest variety of water. This makes it our favorite of the creeks and the one most-suited to anglers of intermediate skill. All feature exceptionally easy access, with gravel roads, clear angler paths, benches, picnic tables, and so on limiting the need to walk very far at any one time or over rough ground.

Does Hiking a Long Way Reduce the Amount of Fishing Time?

It sometimes does, though the hike is usually worth it in terms of solitude, larger and/or more plentiful fish, and scenery. We may stay out a bit later on days when we hike a long way, but there are only so many hours of daylight, meaning that a hike to the Second Meadow of Slough Creek or several miles up the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone will by necessity eat an hour or two of fishing time.

What Kind of Shape Do I Need to be in to Take a Walk Trip?

The baseline requirement is an ability to stay on your feet for most of the day. We will either travel to a picnic area or find a convenient spot under the trees to eat lunch, but otherwise there aren't many places to rest on the public water we fish. The spring creeks have numerous benches, picnic tables, etc. Other than this, physical fitness is not a huge requirement, as there are streams to suit any degree of fitness or desire for adventure.

I Want to Catch Big Fish in a Place Where I won't See Anyone Else? Is This Possible?

Sometimes, particularly if we fish exceptionally early in the day and/or hike a long way. Despite popular opinion, there are still secret spots in the Yellowstone area. Other good options for big fish with little competition are the spring creeks and private lakes. There are always anglers present on the spring creeks, but not pounding every pool as can be the case on the easy to reach famous streams in the Park. On the lakes, we are often the only party present.

What are the Maximum Distances You'll Hike on a Walk Trip?

Generally speaking, five miles one-way is the absolute maximum we're willing to walk. Any more and we're too tired to fish once we get where we're going, and it's too late in the day by the time we get there. Two or three miles each way is more common when we want to shed the roadside crowds for some solitude. Even a short hike, less than a mile, is often enough to shed all competition. Most flat roadside streams will be crowded, even if they're not very good.

Back to Top

River and Private Lake Float Trip and Power Boat Trip FAQ

What the Heck is a "Double Half-Day" Trip? Why do they cost more than a full-day float?

A double half-day float consists of floating two separate short sections of river, one in the morning and one after lunch, rather than one long stretch. There are a couple reasons we offer these trips.

First and foremost is the ability to show our clients two different stretches of river in one day of fishing. The Yellowstone changes dramatically over the 90 miles or so of it that we float, with some stretches holding large numbers of medium-sized trout that love dry flies and others holding smaller numbers of big fish. The scenery, character of the water, and even the weather can change depending on where we go. While we'd love it if clients were up for booking two (or more) full days with us to see different stretches of river, the double half-day allows us to see a lot of river in one day. Ideally, we'll have our cake and eat it too: catch numbers of smaller fish on dries during one half of the day, then get some big daddies in the other half.

The other reason we run these trips is to provide flexibility: flexibility to beat crowds, outrun dirty water due to rain storms, or just to fish one specific short stretch of river twice in one day if it happens to be fishing particularly well.

How come these trips cost more? Two reasons. First and foremost, they cost us more. On double half-days we pay our shuttle service for two river shuttles (currently costing us $25-$40 per shuttle) rather than just one. We also have to pay two sets of commercial use fees if we utilize National Forest boat launches (currently around $13 per client per launch, over $50 if we double up on National Forest water during the course of the day). Secondly, these trips run long due to the time needed to launch and secure the boat twice, rather than once, so they always take more of our guides' time than standard full-day trips. We're paying our guides a few bucks extra due to this fact.

Where Will We Float?

For river trips, we float the Yellowstone and the lower Madison. The Yellowstone in particular can fish very differently depending on which stretch we're doing. In general, we float further up the river for numbers and dry fly fishing and further down for a shot at big fish. There are exceptions to this rule, but it's a good way of thinking about it. The Middle and Lower Yellowstone River sections of the Yellowstone River Page in our planner will give you an idea of which stretch is right for you.

We float only the lower portion of the Madison, generally beginning at the bottom of the Beartrap canyon and continuing about twelve miles. The floatable portions of the more-famous upper Madison is simply too far from our shop (three hours, roughly) to make sense.

Over the course of the season, we float the Yellowstone from mid-March until runoff dirties the river sometime in early-mid May, the Madison and private lakes beginning in April and continuing until the Yellowstone clears in late June or early July, and the Yellowstone for the remainder of the season unless thunderstorms dirty it. The lakes also become a good option again in mid-September and remain strong through the fall.

If you are interested in floating Yankee Jim Canyon, we are the shop for you, and Walter Wiese is the guide. He is the only guide who regularly does this section of the river in a drift boat, though a few others do it in rafts, which aren't as comfortable or efficient to fish out of on such big water.

Our most popular power boat trip is on the Land of Giants section of the Missouri. We typically run these as two-day trips based out of Helena, Montana. We also run trips on the upper Missouri near Toston, but only very occasionally. These can be done as single-day trips.

On lake trips, you can choose which lake to fish. The Lake Floats page has a great deal of information on each lake, and you can also ask us for our recommendations. The only thing we'll say with certainty is that if you want a good chance of catching fish on dries, you should fish Burns Lake. The lakes are the best choices for novice anglers and those who want to be almost sure of catching larger fish, albeit maybe lower numbers of them. Please note that the lakes are only good choices early and late in the season, as all grow too warm for optimal fishing sometime between June 15 and July 15 and remain too warm until sometime between September 1 and September 15, depending on weather conditions and the specific lake involved.

What Species Will We Catch? How Big Will They Be?

The Yellowstone is home to cutthroat, rainbow, brown, and brook trout, as well as whitefish. The upper river near Gardiner has more cutthroats than any other stretch, while the area below Yankee Jim Canyon on down to Livingston and beyond is home to more rainbows and browns. Brook trout are a rarity, but possible near tributaries. The average fish size in the upper river is from ten to fourteen inches, with plenty of chances to encounter fish to eighteen or nineteen inches. Closer to Livingston the average fish size creeps up to 12-15 inches and there are a handful of fish to 24 inches. There are fewer trout altogether, however. Downstream of Livingston your chances for big trout go up, but so do your chances of a skunking. When the brown trout run in the fall, larger fish become available throughout the river system and your chances of catching a trout over twenty inches dramatically increase. The best period to come for these larger fish is from September 20 until November 10. Whitefish are present throughout the river but are most common from Gardiner to Livingston. Whitefish are a great quarry for beginners, since they readily take nymphs.

Power boat trips offer by far the largest average fish on any of our trips, period, with most fish running 14-20 inches and very realistic chances at fish to 26 inches. Rainbows predominate, but browns are also present, especially in the fall. There are also a few walleye, kokanee, and whitefish. The "Land of Giants" is far and away the best place to catch trophy trout in the state of Montana, and is one of the best in the United States.

Rainbows predominate in all lakes, but there's a chance of other species in most. In general the trout we catch on our lake floats will average somewhat longer than those on the Yellowstone or Madison, usually 14-18 inches, with plenty of fish to 20-22 inches, and they are usually much fatter, but you have a better chance at a real monster in the Yellowstone or especially on Land of the Giants trips.

How Good do I Have to be to Catch Fish on a Float?

To reliably catch trout on river floats, on all trips you must be able to cast thirty feet accurately, even with wind, and often with a change of direction in the cast. You also need to know how to mend. This basically means intermediate skills are required. If we plan to fish streamers, this will usually mean knowing how to handle sink-tip lines and large, wind-resistant flies. Because the upper Yellowstone usually produces larger numbers of fish, this section of river is best for those with lower skill levels, since you'll have larger numbers of chances. We strongly suggest that you practice casting before your trip, if you haven't fly fishing in a while. Please be honest about your skill level when booking; nothing is more likely to lead to low numbers of trout caught than taking our clients somewhere they're unprepared to fish.

If you're a beginner or novice and want to take a river float, we will probably predominitely target whitefish using nymphs. This requires shorter and less accurate casts, but your trout numbers will be far lower. If you're a rookie and would rather catch trout, take a walk trip.

Power boat trips generally require less casting and allow you more chances to hit your target than other river floats, since the water is slower, but the very large size of the fish and delicate nature of the leaders and flies required mean that this water is still better-suited to intermediate anglers.

Lake floats are more suitable for those with lower skills, since casts don't need to be as accurate, the guide doesn't have to row constantly and thus can give more hands-on instruction, and the tackle used is usually pretty stout and therefore forgiving. Total beginners probably won't catch a lot of trout on lake trips, but they almost always do okay.

What Kinds of Boats do You Use?

For now we float the Yellowstone, Madison, and lakes exclusively in drift boats, which if you aren't familiar with them are essentially whitewater rowboats with the oarsman/guide in the middle and anglers in front and back. If anyone wants to float you down the Yellowstone or Madison in a raft and they aren't doing the Gardiner town section, Yankee Jim Canyon, or the Beartrap, run screaming, because drift boats are far more suited to these rivers than rafts. All our boats feature at least one waterproof compartment for items such as cell phones and dry clothes. All boats feature double-leg front knee braces and single-leg rear knee braces to make it easy to fish standing up. It's also possible to fish sitting down in the back. All boats feature anchor systems to make stopping to undo tangles, unhook fish, or tie on new flies easy.

Walter's power boat is a 16-foot Crestliner equipped with front and rear decks with adjustable-height pedestal seats, a 40hp jet outboard, a removable trolling motor, and the oars and anchor system of a drift boat. It rows like a pig but fishes comfortably with fly tackle.

Do You Encounter Much Whitewater on Your Floats?

All sections of the Yellowstone feature at least a couple small rapids. The only extended whitewater is found on the upper river between Gardiner and Corwin Springs and in Yankee Jim Canyon. We may require you to wear life jackets for portions of these sections, or on other sections early in the season when all rapids are heavier. The Yellowstone isn't a really heavy whitewater river. Except in a few rapids, you don't even need to stop fishing as we run the waves. We tend to cut things pretty close to keep you fishing the prime water, so we may splash a little water over the sides at times, so it's a good idea to be prepared for this eventuality by stashing phones, etc. before we get started. There isn't any whitewater on the section of the Madison we run.

If you would rather not fish a rough section of river, for whatever reason, please please please tell us this when you book.

Back to Top

Tipping Etiquette

Is Tipping Standard? How Much is Usual?

Tipping fishing guides is generally standard provided their service is of expected quality. For the past several years, an average tip for a full-day trip has been $80-150. Half day tips average $40-100. If there is some problem with your trip caused by your guide, you should of course avoid tipping. We also suggest you share your concerns with both the guide and Richard Parks or Walter Wiese, since we are all professionals and want to give our clients the best experience possible.

How Should I Decide How Much to Tip

The number of fish you catch should not be the determining factor unless it seems like you don't catch enough fish due to your guide's indifference. Fishing is fishing, after all, and even we have a tough day once in a while. You should focus instead on your guide's effort, how much you learn, your guide's sense of humor, and other factors which are entirely within his control.

How Should I Tip?

Cash is king. We can add the gratuity to the bill at the end of the trip if you don't have any cash, but we would strongly prefer to leave the tip between you and the guide. If you use multiple guides over several days, you should tip each individually. If you have a single-day multiple guide trip, a general tip split evenly between the guides is fine. When multiple guides over multiple days are involved, our clients more commonly tip at the end of each guide day, rather than at the end of the entire trip.

Back to Top

phone 406 848 7314, address 202 Second Street South PO Box 196 Gardiner, MT 59030 E-mail Walter Wiese E-mail Richard Parks link to PFS Youtube Channel link to PFS Facebook

Design and (most) content by Walter Wiese