If you find that your home waters are exceptionally beautiful and full of wild trout, you may be facing increased fishing pressure over the years as people from all over the world flock your way. There are only so many rivers, and for every new angler that moves to your region, that is one small piece that you'll no longer get to enjoy in solitude, peace, or quiet.
Where I live, every year there is open comment on how to better regulate the summer madness on the Madison River for example. Outfitters complain that there are too many boats out during prime-time angling mid summer, and that added pressure hurts their business. As Bozeman grows by five thousand residents a year, thats X amount of hikers, anglers, hunters, all showing up at your favorite accesses. Five, ten, twenty years ago (and rarely today) you could show up to one of many rivers and smile as you're the only vehicle pulling up, the happy river awaiting. Nowadays, if you show up to an easy to access, popular trail head or fishing access, you're almost engulfed in a feeling of dread and disgust.
As an angler, always learning, we have our favorite spots, our honey holes, and they too change as we grow. We have our favorite stretches of river that we think about to get through a hectic day at work, or perhaps a favorite time of day at a certain run on a lazy, quiet flowing stream. Sometimes we go days or years between frolicking around the waters waste deep, but it ultimately calls you back, for reasons unknown, often overlooked. We just know that "we need" that moment of tranquility, or we have the itch to hook a trout on a dry fly, so we head out to our favorite stream on a seemingly quiet Sunday morning, just to pull up and have your whole mood turned upside down as the parking lot has turned into a zoo. Whats a fisherman or lady to do? There are a couple options, some better for some than others, depending who you are and what kind of fisherman.
Fish the weekdays! If you live in a destination location, you realize that people travel from around the world to experience a day or two, or week enjoying what you have anytime. Vacationers often do not have a set schedule, and are often the ones being guided any day of the week. You can easily avoid where guides take their clients, but I have learned that these are not the ones crowding our rivers. Also its important to point out that most "tourists" do not get out beyond the normal "tourist spots", and they are very easy to avoid. Most locals, hard working folks that know the area and are exploiting for themselves (rightfully so!), have to get out on the weekends. Weekends, beginning in early March have trailheads and river access overflowing with area natives itching to get out to their favorite trail or stream. If you live and work in one of these great places on earth, and you enjoy solitude outdoors, it would be wise to ask your boss to work weekends!
Get an early start! Most fisherman that want to get the most out of their time on the water like to get out to the river early! Some of the best fishing of the day, certain times of the year, take place between sunup at 10am. Many easy going anglers are going to sleep in, and start fishing much later, continuing to to hit the evening hatches.
Avoid the popular areas! Sure, your favorite river or stretch may be the most popular, sought after stretch in one hundred miles, that would be a bummer! However, many of the most popular put ins, bridges, access, and parking lots are so overloaded with pressure, that unless you're the first angler to hit it that day, its just not something to pursue with heavy crowds and pressure.. You may be thinking that the stretches with nobody fishing cant be as good as the ones loaded with boats and waders, but that is FALSE! Most of these rivers and streams have thousands upon thousands of trout per mile, trust me, they are everywhere. You can do some things like simply fish these areas during the off season, or early mornings, and may increase your odds of success and enjoyment.
Fish out of season! It seems that July through August is the busiest time for trout fishing in Montana. Guides are booked everyday, every campground is taken, RV's and campers outnumber commuting vehicles. Mid to late summer is also the nicest time of year and experiences some of the best fishing (although I disagree on the latter, read on). This makes that time of year extremely hectic at the popular fishing rivers, lakes, streams, and accesses. The trout are at their all time most picky when it comes to preference feeding and certain flies. So you have highly pressured, extra finicky trout matched up with extremely high angler numbers and sure that can lead to a nice day sometimes, but for me that's a headache. Some of THE BEST trout fishing occurs when the weather is NASTY. That means mid march till early may, and October-November. During these times you have extraordinarily hungry fish loading up their stores for winter matched up with seemingly nonexistent crowds and pressure. As an ex walleye fisherman myself, I always led with the motto "The shittier the weather, the better the fishing" and "fish dont care if they get wet, they're already wet".
This one is similar to the previous tactic but one of my favorites! Sure, July to August in Montana is spectacularly gorgeous, and it rarely rains those months. However, any other month of the year is bound to throw some weather your way! Raining on a Saturday? Most easy going anglers are going to stay indoors, or maybe take a drive. Put on the rain gear and get out there for some great fishing. Snowing sideways, might as well get out there and experience the beauty of the gloom on a stretch of your favorite river all by yourself, or with a tail wagging friend. Just remember, the cold, the rain, and the wind will keep half the anglers off the water! Its not a bad thing to schedule a day on Depuy's or head up to the park when the weather is 'subpar' for some of the best fishing experiences.
Walk at least a mile from the rig! There are things an angler can do during the busy hours on a world class river or stream to beat the crowds and pressure. Just add anyone of the above tactics together, and experience even better odds of solitude! If you show up at an access to your favorite river and its full of people, you better plan on hiking out a ways if you want to experience easy going trout and less competition with people and more with the eagles. I always start AT LEAST a mile from the rig, and see what it looks like from there. Now, don't be surprised when there are a few others like you, escaping the hellish outdoor experience of the once a year fly fisherman and his two misbehaved setters ruining your honey hole, or the hollering and yelling of drunken worm drowners at the boat ramp. Typically once you're this far out from the madness, you can really spread out and slow down, enjoying your time there without the pressure or distraction.
As more and more people flock away from big cities to smaller, rural western locales, these small rivers and ecosystems will begin to feel the weight. You'll need to walk further and longer to get out there away from people, but this will also open new opportunities for the wanderlusting adventurer. I cant complain or deny my existence here, I am only a ten year resident here in the great state of Montana. These are some tips I learned to beat the crowds and I hope you too can enjoy a moment of peace as things grow and change. Tight lines! -Mike