Good Planning Is Key to a Fun and Stress-Free Fishing Trip

truck pulling boat for family fishing trip

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Going to the lake just outside of town is easy. Get off of work, get home, throw your stuff in the truck and head to the lake until it’s time to come home. I have basically just described my own cozy Montana Friday night for myself.

The year before last it was time for my annual trout fishing trip to Yellowstone National Park and this time I was taking others with me. This was going to be family fishing and it changed the whole way I vacationed. I love going to Yellowstone but there are some logistics to get out of the way before you go.

As I said, this was different with others else involved. It added new factors such as their comfort and enjoyment, is where we are going to accommodate the both of us? What gear do I need for the both of us? I have found that the further from home you go, the more intense these questions become.

When I was a kid I remember not packing what I was supposed to for a road trip, by the time we got a hundred miles down the road I realized what I had forgotten and it was too late to turn back. This is true of any trip far from home so preparedness is a very important thing.

Trips that my wife and I make now are extremely planned well in advance and there are some other things we make sure to do as well, and I will cover those here as well.

Here are some of the more important things that you need to consider to better plan a fishing trip anywhere, near or far. A proper plan and organized action can make or break a trip.

Lodging and Food

camping tents for fishing trip

The first things to consider are lodging and food – these are staples for any fishing trip. Make sure you have this part down. One way that I always travel is to make sure that I have a deposit somewhere that has a roof and a bed.

Perhaps you have an RV or trailer you’ll be staying in. I camp but I always have a place reserved for my family fishing trips just in case camping does not work out. Most hotels will let you reserve a room for less than the nightly price.

Some of you are not camping, however, and will need a hotel. I recommend one that is okay with you bringing gear into the room and one that is close to your fishing destination if possible.

If you are being guided or are taking a guided trip you can always ask your guide for referrals to different lodging destinations, food, etc. These guys are locals and can tell you where the best, (and worst) of anything is in town.

Food is very important to have planned for your trip but may not be quite as difficult to plan as other aspects of your trip. For me, it’s enough to eat out once per day of the trip and a cooler to make my own food for the rest of the trip.

I’m sure that your trip may look more elaborate than this, however. Make sure that you research where you eat as well and you should have a good trip as far as the food is concerned.

Gear, Weather, and Terrain

gear for fishing trip

As stated above, the further you get from home and forget something, the more irritating it becomes. This is why I recommend the checklist two weeks in advance. List all the gear you think you’ll need and leave it somewhere accessible.

As the weeks roll by, you are going to find yourself adding random gear that you remembered or gear that you have decided to cross off. This is what I do for big trips and it reassures me that when I pack up and go, I’ve got my gear covered.

Also during this time, be thinking about how your gear is going to fit in whatever means of transportation you take. Your car, truck, camper, airplane, etc. The airplane may require some extra work.

Basically, the more you know before you go, the better off you will be. I have forgotten things and ended up buying that product again when I got to the fishing destination and it is frustrating.

Weather can change in an instant anywhere, and it can be hard to plan accordingly. Springtime in Montana can have us watering and mowing our lawn one day and shoveling snow the next and spring is the popular time to fish.

The location can also make a huge difference and it is extremely important to know where you are going in terms of weather. For instance, going home to Washington for me is always fun but never without rain gear.

Look at the weather at its best and its worst for the area you are going to. Charters and guides (especially saltwater operations) are very in the know about the weather. If you are paying for their services, they will be happy to tell you what the weather is, what the weather can be, and what you should bring.

When looking at the weather yourself, again especially in saltwater regions, use the NOAA resources online for good information on weather. As a wildlife biologist, I use NOAA statistics for monitoring weather when conducting fieldwork because of its higher accuracy.

Terrain ties to gear yet again and what you are going to wear. I backpack in the summer with my family and that means hiking very long distances. In that setting, weight is also a huge factor and we have to consider every pound.

Look at where you are going close up, specifically the state park you are using, the trails you have to hike to get there. Try to get elevation and inclination statistics of any area you are hiking in to understand what you need before you go.

Trip Duration and Time to Relax 

This is important as well. I recommend that you consider the wants of yourself and any others that are traveling with you. Whoever wants the shortest trip is usually the trip I take. This is because I want everyone to have a good time, anytime I want to be gone longer, I go on my own.

For most of us, it’s the usual routine of taking time off. Take Friday and Monday as vacation days and get a 4 day weekend to go fishing. But any longer than that there are a few things I have learned that make a world of difference for me.

The biggest exercise that I have learned to practice is to give yourself one day at home after the trip before returning to work. As much as I love fishing and being outside, I have come to really enjoy that last quiet day before returning to my life of responsibility. Try it out on your next trip.

Leave your house clean when you go. This is my favorite rule and the biggest one that I follow. When I get home to spend that last day relaxing, I do not want to be cleaning the house. My grandmother taught me that she was a saleswoman in the ’60s and traveled frequently and knew her stuff.

A simple rule of not biting off more than you can chew can save you so much headache. Have a hotel or camp that you can retreat to in the middle of the day. It’s a planned fishing trip but it does not have to be a rat race, take time to relax as well.

Make It Fun for the Kids

kids on fishing trip

As a dad, I know how difficult it can be with kids on a fishing trip. They are kids and they struggle with the attention needed. What can you do? You can make it engaging for them too.

The best way to handle keeping the kids happy is to include them as much as possible in the aspects of the trip – get them involved from the start. Let them share some responsibility and ownership of the trip, however small.

My kids were always responsible for packing their own gear, which I naturally look over when they’re done. They find this enjoyable and I look at it as a unique experience to teach them about the gear and its purpose.

Might as well face it, kids do not get super excited about not catching fish and that is perfectly ok. I see other parents go as far as making their kids fish and they never care for the sport again.

Let them be themselves on the trip and it will be more enjoyable for everyone. My kids are one part fishermen and one part screw-arounds and I love them for it.

The pre-planning tip I gave you earlier should be applied to the kids as well. They need to know what they need ahead of time but try to make room for something they want to bring as well.

Letting them bring something they want and may not need will tell them that it is their trip too. Try it out next time you leave home.

Executing the Plan

I am going to start by saying that things change, and they change rapidly sometimes. I remember, one time, my wife and I were driving the Beartooth Highway and when we made it all the way to Billings, MT we found that our already paid-for hotel room was given away accidentally.

We wound up leaving Billings in the middle of the night and car camping. Looking back at that I decided that I would reserve two rooms at different hotels in case one did this again. Now I’m not saying you should do that but just want to emphasize having some backup plan.

Execute the trip and avoid changing anything if you can avoid it. By don’t change anything, I mean reservations, especially those that are paid for. It is extremely difficult for hotel staff to undo something that is paid for and sometimes there is even a fee.

Enjoy yourself on the trip and relax. You’ve pre-planned, had time to make the changes you wanted to make, the house is clean when you get home, etc. You should now be able to just simply enjoy yourself.

For trips that are closer to home, it is much more simple. Remember to bring a camp chair and rod holders and some favorite foods/ drinks. Personally, those are my favorite trips. Either way, no matter the trip and no matter where it takes you, just have fun with it.

It is easy to take a trip and come home wishing you had never left. Folks that have this mentality did not plan accordingly or tried to do too much. Break down your day-to-day trip activities and see what you have time for, and what you don’t have time for.

At the beginning of the article, I mentioned eating out once a day. That is because to physically go somewhere to eat takes too much time. I want more time on the water, therefore, I am a ham sandwich man.

Execute your trip during a time that you enjoy. I love spring because of the hatch and the great fly fishing that happens here in Montana and Yellowstone, but elsewhere it may be different.

Take your favorite way to fish and match a season to it. I have always wanted to ice fish on the great lakes, and when I do, it will be winter, just as an example.

A fishing trip can be fun, and it is relatively inexpensive compared to other activities making it more accessible for most people. During uncertain times like these, fishing is a good fallback for folks in need of answers. With this pandemic getting better, it is now easier to grab a rod and see the world.

I sincerely hope this article will help you in planning and executing your next big (or small) fishing trip for yourself or your family. It was a long winter, but it’s time to find ourselves on the water again, my friends.

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