Fly-Fishing Guide Tip: 3 Ways to Find New Water

Written by: Nolan Bluntzer

3 way 1

Even on a river as popular as the Madison, you can find solitude if
you’re willing to walk far from the parking area.

photo by Philip Monahan

At the end of April a couple years ago, I and several hundred other Orvis-endorsed fishing guides headed to Casper, Wyoming, for a week’s worth of fishing and camaraderie. As I made my steady descent out of the high country of the Colorado Rockies into the bustling metropolis of Denver, I stared in amazement at the sheer abundance of urban sprawl. I make the drive all the time, and I always find myself wondering where all these people came from and how many more are coming. For most of us in the lower 48, the last couple of decades have been a sobering realization that the good ol’ days of uncrowded water and solitude are gone. That said, if you know where to look and you’re willing to work a little harder than the average Joe, there’s still tons of quality water and seclusion to be found. Here are three practical tips that will help you find those out of the way places.

3 Ways Walking

The farther you get from a public-access spot, the more likely you are to
have the water to yourself, casting to fish that have seen fewer flies.

photo by Philip Monahan

1. Walk

It’s very simple. The farther you walk from a road or parking lot, the lower the pressure, and the better the fishing is. Most people park their cars and just start fishing without any thought about which part of the river gets the least amount of pressure. The first thing that I like to do when either fishing a new body of water or my regular beat, is take out a map and locate all the public access points and parking lots. I figure out the point on the map that lies directly between the parking lots and start there. It’s the farthest point from both parking lots and usually gets less pressure. If a road or highway parallels the river, drive the road and look for areas that appear to be hazardous access points: steep banks, cliffs, thick brush, or forest. These areas often appear too dangerous for a safe approach to the river; however, if you are willing to get out and investigate, you will often be able to find your own path, or better yet, an existing path that very few people know exist.

3 ways plat

A plat map shows you where the property lines are, allowing you to know exactly where public land ends, as well as whom to ask for permission to fish their property.

(We’ve removed landowner names from this version for security.)

2. Get a Plat Map

Discerning where private and public water end and begin can be confusing and frustrating for many anglers. An easy way to solve this problem is to take a little extra time to buy a plat map. These maps are sometimes available online, but they can always be found at your local tax collector’s office. These maps will give you two very important pieces of information. First, they will give you the property lines for each landowner’s parcel of the land, and second, they give you the land owner’s name. Oftentimes you will be able to public access points that you never knew existed because it is often difficult to determine where exactly public and private land end. Having the names allows you to approach private landowners and ask for permission to fish on their land. If you’re polite, you may be surprised at how easy it is to gain access to water that not many fish. When approaching landowners, I usually stick to three basic rules: 1. I always tell them I’m a catch-and-release angler. 2. I always pick up trash, and I guarantee them that I will never bring anybody with me. 3. After I am done fishing, I always send them a thank-you note. Following these small steps will allow you to gain access to private un-fished water.


The folks who work in a fly shop hold the keys to finding unpressured water on local rivers.

photo courtesy The Tackle Shop in Ennis, Montana

3. Get to Know Your Local Fly Shop

People love to talk about themselves. Since I started working in a fly shop, I have learned that people really love to come into the shop and tell you about all the huge fish they catch. Wherever you live, you probably have a local fly shop that has one or two employees who consistently work behind the counter. I strongly recommend that you get to know those people and build a genuine relationship with them. Whether they intend to be or not, they are the gate keepers of local fly-fishing knowledge. They are similar to priests, in the sense that people come in the shop and confess it all.

As a shop employee, I usually lump customers into one of two categories: tourists who are passing through town and local patrons who come into the shop and have developed a relationship with me. I am going to do my best to help everybody; however, there are definitely some secret places around the rivers that I fish that I would only tell a few people about. Those people are the ones who consistently come in the shop and have developed a friendship with me over a long period of time. Make an effort to get to know your local shop, and you will be amazed at the amount of information that you will receive.

Finding and fishing quality water is becoming harder and harder to do. Now more than ever, it is important to get creative in order to find solitude and less pressured water. These three simple steps to finding quality water will make your fishing experiences more productive. Get out there, work harder, do some research, build some relationships, and enjoy your local stream or river like you never have before.

Nolan Bluntzer is a guide at WorldCast Anglers, in Victor, Idaho.


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