Quite awhile ago when I was in my early twenties and still running track and cross country for the University of Montana (Go Griz!), I used to take long, easy runs into the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area & Wilderness. Sitting just North of Missoula, the Rattlesnake has some beautiful trails and the picturesque Rattlesnake Creek cuts through the surrounding mountains creating a gorgeous corridor in which to travel.
This place inspired my love of trails…and of fly fishing. I know it’s cliché to hear about fly fishing in Montana, but it’s cliché for a reason! Being a runner since I was a little kid, I couldn’t end up just being another run-of-the-mill fly fisherman, so I combined my two passions. I like to think of my sport as the Dirtbag Biathlon: Running & Fly Fishing.
I know what you’re thinking: “How the hell do you fish and run at the same time?” Well, you don’t really, that would be nearly impossible. You can, however, run trails that go along the side of a river and take fishing breaks. It’s actually very similar to a true biathlon where you ski, stop and shoot. Additionally, it’s an amazing way to explore all of the fishing holes of a river and ensure your easy run is truly easy!
I’ve certainly changed the way I approach this “sport” over the years. When I was younger, I used to carry a fuel tablet stove and was dependent upon catching, cooking and eating trout for sustenance on my run. If I didn’t catch anything, I was shit outta luck. I definitely ended a few runs bonking for a couple miserable hours. Except for a few planned excursions, nowadays, it’s just for fun and I’m sure the trout appreciate my catch and release philosophy.
Never fly fished before? That’s okay! It’s actually not that difficult to learn and just like running, the more you practice, the better you get! I could write a lengthy post all about how to do it, but there are some great resources already created:
Rod: I personally like to keep everything as light as possible while still keeping it functional. For the streams I fish here in Idaho, I use an 9-foot, 4-piece, 5 weight rod. That basically means it can pack down small and still be strong enough to pull in a 20+ inch trout. I personally like the Temple Fork Outfitters brand as they make dependable rods at a reasonable price. I use a rod from the Lefty Kreh Signature Series II which cost me about $130. There are less expensive rods as well like the Crosswater series from Redington ($70).
Reel: Any good fly fisherman will tell you that you don’t need the best reel out there because a basic one will do pretty damn well in most situations. I personally like Redington reels. They make functional, relatively lightweight reels that won’t break the bank (Path Reel $65).
Fly Line: Along with your rod and reel, you’ll need fly line. If you want to be like Brad Pitt in A River Runs Through It, you’ll want a floating line. Most rods have a code on the side that’ll tell you what weight you want to buy. This is perfect for beginners and will do well for most everyone but the most serious fisherman. I personally use Scientific Angler (Air Cel & Mastery Series $30-$75).
Flies: You may have to do a little research about which flies you want to carry depending on time of year and day you go out. You’re basically looking at the different life stages of mayflies or caddis flies (and all sorts of others depending on where you live). Some flies will float on top of the water (dry flies) and others will sink (wet flies). Take a couple of each and you’ll be set for a variety of situations. I typically carry 6-8 flies total. That’s not many, but if you know your water well, you won’t need many more. Flies cost between $1-3.
Accessories: Some additional accessories include nippers (for clipping your extra fly line after tying on a new fly; fingernail clippers work too), a hemostat (for pulling a fly out of a fish’s mouth), extra tippet (the thin, transparent line you tie your fly onto) and polarized sunglasses (goodr $25). Don’t forget to buy your fishing license or you may find yourself running up the side of a mountain to get away from a Fish & Game warden (a story for another time).
Packing & Setup
How to Pack for a Run: Depending on your setup and what running pack you own, there are a number of ways to pack everything in. I personally use the Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest 2.0 as it’s lightweight, has cording on the outside and is versatile enough to either hold a bladder or soft bottles. I strap my rod to the back of the vest using the cording with a couple rubber bands and a twist tie. Nothing fancy needed here. The rest of the gear goes in vest pockets or my Patagonia Strider Pro Shorts.
There are numerous blue ribbon streams throughout the world and it’s quite likely there’s one near you. The following link does a decent job of putting together a list of streams, but check your local outdoor shop as they might have local knowledge of where to go: Fly Fishing Steams of North America.
I’m fortunate to live in a city where a beautiful river flows less than a mile from my doorstep. The Boise River is stocked with trout a few times per year and provides a great respite from the stress and hassles of daily life.
So what are you waiting for? It doesn’t have to be a major trip where you travel to some perfectly scenic destination. This is about experiencing the adventure wherever you happen to be. I’ve learned over the years that running and fly fishing have a lot in common: they both take practice, concentration and allow a person to be completely engrossed in nature. This simplicity of being is what draws me to both. Remember, keep your gear ready as you never know when you might feel like stretching your legs and partaking in the Dirtbag Biathlon.