Fish One River

Imagine you have planned your next fly fishing adventure for three days in Bozeman Montana.  Pretty darn good choice of locations.  Fish the Madison, the Gallatin, and the Missouri, right?  Or maybe take a day and go fish the Yellowstone.  Why not?  They are legendary rivers.  Sounds great, but let me tell you why this might not be the best idea.

It is tempting for someone who does not live close to a trout stream to get excited about fishing multiple rivers when they plan a fly fishing trip.  However, there are several reasons why fishing one river is more productive than splitting your time between streams.

Quick caveat: Exploring different rivers can be an end unto itself.  If you want to experience what various streams have to offer, and make that your goal, go for it.  You will still catch fish and have a blast.


Anytime you decide to fish a river that you have never fished before you are probably going to spend some time planning.  This involves all the basics of transportation, food, and lodging, but it also includes some research into the river you are going to fish.  There are many questions you will want to answer.  Should I wade or drift the river?  What are the flows and the weather like?  What flies shall I make or buy?  What guide shop is close by?  All this takes time and energy.  If you need to plan multiple rivers, the result is either more time spent to getting well prepared, or the same amount of time spent and being less prepared for all.

READ: WADEOUTTHERE | To Drift Or Not To Drift, That Is The Question

Time on the River 

This is huge.  If you decide to fish multiple rivers while you are on your fly fishing trip you are going to have to travel between them and this takes time. 

Time in the car is time not spent fishing. 

If your line is not in the water, you are not going to catch fish.  Simple as that.


Flies, gas, and guides all cost money.  When you start to fish multiple rivers, the costs rise as you require more of these three things.  You may need to buy various flies that are fishing better on one river than another.  The drive to a new river might be a significant distance, and gas ain’t cheap.  If you paid for a guide’s services on one river and then move on to another, you can either pay more money for another guide, or skip the guide and fish without that knowledge.  This brings me to my final and most important advantage of fishing the same river.


If you fish the same river you will learn and become familiar with that river. This makes you much more efficient.  Each day’s experience on the same river builds on the next.  You start to discover which sections of the river fished best.  What flies work consistently.  What time of day the fishing picks up.  Where the hatch is best.  You will know the pullouts and the time it takes to get places.  A black hares ear is fishing better than an olive. PMD emergers are working better on top than just below the surface. You will start to notice the small details that can help you catch more fish. 

Every day you go out on the same river you are a little more knowledgeable and a little more productive than you were the day before. 

You may even develop some rapport with the folks in the fly shop if you stop by a few times.  You can tell them about your day, hear what other fishermen and women have to say, and apply the tips you pick up. 

Compromise — What Makes Sense

If you want to fish different rivers, my suggestion is to balance how much time you spend on each river with how many days you have on your trip.  Here is how I would split up my time on a fly fishing trip if my goal was to both catch fish and explore different rivers.

Unless you have three days on the trip, I would not try to fish more than one river.

One day. Same river.  Same section. 

Two days.  Same river different sections. 

Three days.  Same river for two days.  One day on another.

Four days. Two days on each river.  Or Two days on one river, then spend the third day on another river.  Use the fourth day to fish whichever river you prefer.

Five days or more.  Same idea, just more options.

The longer you can stay on one river, the more you will learn and get better at catching fish on that unique river.  If I can fish the same river for five days and be happy, I will.

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

I planned a trip to the Provo River with my father in August of 2016.  The fishing was okay, but not great, so we decided to go to the Green.  We drove all afternoon to the Green river and got a cabin.  We fished the next day and it was fine as well.  The next day we drove back to the Provo and had a great day fishing a section we had not fished before.  If we had stayed put, we would not have missed out on a total of one day’s worth of fishing!

For someone who loves to fly fish but does not get to go as often as they would like, choosing one river and sticking to it can be an especially difficult task.  It has bit me several times.   By now I have learned the hard way that if I spend the time to get to know one river, instead of starting fresh every day, I will catch more fish and have longer, more productive days on the river in the end. 

I have finally learned my lesson.  I think.  Probably.  I hope so…  Wadeoutthere.


Jason Shemchuk

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