Welcome to our new series, Driver’s Shred, where we help Luno community members turn everyday cars, vans, and trucks into adventure mobiles. Each Driver’s Shred article will focus on tips, tricks, and gear recommendations that enable you to camp comfortably while crushing a specific sport or activity. Simply put, our mission is to help you camp, shred, and repeat. So grab your pens and pencils, because class is in session—and this time around, our focus is on fly-fishing.
There are few things in life as gratifying as a fly-fishing road trip. It just doesn’t get better than car camping along the banks of a wild river, fishing to your heart’s content, and cracking cold ones by the campfire with your road trip buddies. Seriously–is there more to life?
Of course, if you fail to properly prepare for a fly-fishing trip, it can quickly go south–and we don’t mean down to Baja to chase Dorado. Bring the wrong flies, and you’ll come up empty-handed. Come under-gunned, and your favorite fly rod might snap in two the second you hook into a hog. Forget to buy permits, and Ranger Rick might slap you with a hefty fine. You get the picture.
Luckily, you’re in the right place. In this episode of Driver’s Shred, we’re here to help you make the most of your next fly-fishing road trip by turning your car, truck, or van into the ultimate fly-fishing base camp. We’ll break down everything from pre-trip planning and permitting to efficient rod storage and on-the-road organization hacks. Together, these tips and tricks will increase your chances of catching fish and camping comfortably. So, without further ado, let’s dive in so you can hit the road–and hit the river.
1. Fly Fishing Pre-Trip Research
Whether you’re targeting monsters in a saltwater bay or relatively tiny trout on alpine creeks, it pays to do your research before a fly-fishing road trip. Here are a few things we like to look into before exploring a new fly-fishing destination:
Weather and Water Conditions
Nothing ruins a fly-fishing adventure like poor timing. You don’t want to show up to raging, muddy, unfishable run-off, or an ultra-low river in peak summer with an overheated, stressed, and unhealthy fish population that can’t handle fishing pressure. Read up on your destination, follow local fly shops and guiding outfits on social media, nerd out on CFS readings, and follow the weather as your trip gets closer–all of this will help you time and execute your trip like a pro.
Pro Tip: Don’t be scared of a little precip. Cloudy skies or a light drizzle can really turn on the bite.
Fishing Regulations and Seasons
Fishing regulations can be complex, and change year after year. It’s mission-critical to know relevant regulations on your road trip, both to avoid incurring unnecessary fines and unintentionally harming delicate riparian zones. Here are a few examples of potential regulations you’ll find when fishing a new zone:
- Trout fishing on a certain river may be allowed, while salmon/steelhead fishing could be forbidden or require a special permit.
- Fishing with barbed hooks may be banned.
- Keeping your catch may be illegal, especially in high-pressure fisheries.
These regulations can vary, both from destination to destination and month to month. As such, we always recommend you research regulations by visiting state fish and game websites ahead of your trip. And when you’re on the road, it doesn’t hurt to confirm your research with local fly shop employees. Last but not least, when you’re heading to the water, keep an eye out for official signage with regulatory notices.
Ever had a ranger ask to see your fishing license when you don’t have one? It’s not fun. Make sure you have a permit to avoid these awkward (and potentially costly) encounters. Remember, permitting is handled by state governments, so even if you have a California license, you’ll need a Colorado license for a trip to the Rockies, or vice versa.
Also, keep in mind that certain species require additional paperwork beyond your normal fishing license. For instance, if you’re targeting steelhead in California, you need a steelhead report card. Again, check state government websites to get a solid understanding of necessary permits prior to hitting the road.
Pro Tip: Don’t procrastinate until you arrive at the river to buy a permit online. Where there’s good fishing, there’s often a lack of wifi. Instead, purchase permits online ahead of your trip, or at a local fly shop before you leave the realm of cell service. And don’t forget to take a photo or screenshot of your permit, in case you forget it or you’re out of service.
Fly Rod And Fly Selection
Knowing what rod weights and flies you’ll be needing ahead of your trip is valuable beta.
On the rod side of the equation, you’ll want to choose your weapon wisely. Do you need a dexterous three-weight for technical creeks? Or will a more powerful six-weight help you chase trophy trout? Oftentimes, we’ll bring multiple rods, just to have multiple options on the water.
And on the fly side? Well, if you like to tie your own flies, you’ll want to get a head start well before your trip. That said, we still love to drop by local shops for beta and flies, even if our fly boxes are overflowing.
Pro Tip: Your trip might be a good excuse to add a rod to your quiver. And if so, you’ll want to practice with that new addition before your trip. That leads us to our next tip…
2. Fly Fishing Pre-Trip Practice
If you don’t get out on the river much at home, there’s no shame in practicing your cast in the backyard or even at a local park. We like to practice casting on grass–it’s easier on your line than dirt or concrete. Just make sure you remove your fly–because your line is weighted, you don’t actually need a fly to practice casting. And you don’t want to hook a stranger, even if you’re single and trying to get that special someone's attention.
If you do get out on the river at home, practice casts that might come in handy on your trip. If you’re heading to big water or planning on bringing a heavier line, practice your double-hauls. Exploring wooded creeks? Work on your roll casts–or even experiment with your bow and arrow casts.
Pro Tip: While everyone loves to practice distance casts, make sure you’re working on that accuracy and delicate presentation, too.
3. Fly Fishing Camping Tips
While fly-fishing should be the primary focus of your planning, don’t forget to consider the car camping portion of your trip, too. Luckily, good fishing areas usually have solid free camping and paid campgrounds nearby.
While reservable paid campgrounds can be a smart move along popular rivers on busy weekends, we always lean toward free car camping. Why? Well, one of the many benefits of the Luno Air Mattress is that you don’t need to visit a campground at all. Since you’re not pitching a tent, and instead you’re in an enclosed cabin on wheels, you can camp comfortably in any BLM pull-off, a Walmart parking lot, or even a rest stop.
Another perk of using a Luno Air Mattress is that you can prep your sleep setup in your driveway at home, so when you do arrive at the river, you’re ready to fish and don’t need to worry about setting up camp. After the sun goes down, you can find a place to park for the night and hit the hay within minutes, so you’re well-rested and ready for a sunrise session come morning!
Pro Tip: When we’re on a fly-fishing trip, we like to use apps like The Dyrt Pro and iOverlander to find free camping. Want to learn more tricks about how to find cost-free car camping? Check out our comprehensive guide on the subject here.
4. Be Self Sufficient
The best fly-fishing is often found miles from civilization. And once you’ve arrived at camp, you might not want to leave again. After all, any time you spend running errands is time you could spend on the water. In addition to packing plenty of food, here are a few essential pieces of gear that’ll help you be self-sufficient and take your car camping game to the next level:
- A high-quality cooler that can keep your perishables–and brewskis–chilled for days on end. We’re partial to Yeti, although RTIC is a good option if you’re looking to save some dough.
- A solid water filtration system, so you don’t have to worry about rationing water. We like group systems from MSR and LifeStraw. Grayl Filter bottles are sweet, too–you can fill them up straight out of the river and sip safely without worrying about bacteria.
- A mattress that fits in the back of your rig and is comfortable, rugged, and built for life on the backroads. We’ve got you covered there with our award-winning Luno Air Mattress.
For more car camping tips and tricks, check out our Ultimate Guide To Car Camping–it breaks down everything from gear storage and camp cooking to winter camping and car camping safety.
5. Swing By Local Fly Shops
Regardless if you’re a rookie or a veteran, the fly shop is a must-visit pit stop. You can stock up on essentials, purchase permits, or ask shop staff what flies are working and load up accordingly.
Pro Tip: If you’re exploring new water and only have a limited time to fish, you might not want to figure it out on your own. Hire a local guide to show you the ropes. They’ll inevitably teach you skills that you can employ on your own–and they might also have a boat that’ll allow you to cover more water.
6. Bring Backups–Of Pretty Much Everything
Again, the best fly-fishing is often miles from civilization. The closest fly shop can be 30 minutes, an hour, or more away from camp–that’s a mission you won’t want to take just for some splitshot.
When we’re on a fly-fishing road trip, we like to bring extras of damn near everything. A backup rod, reel, net–all smart plays. Same goes for smaller essentials–nippers, hemostats, etc. And of course, you can never have too many leaders or spools of tippet on hand. A backup stash of splitshot, floatant, etc. is a good idea, too. We even like to keep a backup flybox in the car, in case your main stash goes for a swim.
7. Fly Fishing Road-Trip Rod Storage
When exploring a river, you’re often bouncing from pull-off to pull-off, trying to find a productive hole. If you break down your rod and put it together every time you head to a new spot, you won’t make it far–although you may make yourself go crazy. Rod storage that allows you to keep your rod built on the road is a game-changer. There are a few good options out there, among them:
- Rooftop boxes and tubes, like this one from Thule or Riversmith. These are sweet, as you can store four rods on your roof rack, making them perfect for you and your road trip crew. This is yet another reason why we recommend fly fishers go with a Luno Air Mattress as opposed to a rooftop tent–you free up your roof rack for gear storage!
- These RodMounts stick to the hood of your vehicle via suction cups and can hold multiple rods. While we’re not super confident using these holders at high speeds, they’re perfect for cruising along the river and hunting for your next hole.
- The Luno Cargo Hammock fits most SUVs and hatchbacks, and it turns unused vehicle ceiling space into valuable storage. This is an unexpectedly rad option, as you can store a bunch of built rods inside the car, protecting them from high speeds, the elements, and opportunistic theft. That said, it’s possible some longer rods won’t fit, although this depends on the length and design of your vehicle.
8. Keep Fishing Gear Separate And Easily Accessible
Keeping your fishing gear separate from your camping gear will help you stay organized on the road. It’ll also help you transition quickly from camping mode to fishing mode, and vice versa. Here are a few tips in this regard:
- Use clear plastic bins to organize your gear. Clear bins allow you to keep an eye on your gear, so you don’t have to rip apart your car looking for that streamer fly box or your favorite insulated coffee mug. Milk crates also work great if you have a few lying around, although you do have to be wary of smaller gear slipping through the cracks.
- Try out our favorite fly fishing duffel. Just like those clear plastic bins, our Mesh Gear Duffel is see-through and helps anglers stay organized on the road. Plus, it’s a great way to store damp fishing waders and boots. The mesh fabric lets grimy gear air out–no need to ferment your fly fishing duds. Last but not least, it boasts heavy-duty webbing handles that are in it for the long haul, making it easy to lug loads from car to camp to river canyon and back again.
- Employ micro-organization tactics. Don’t just chuck a bunch of fishing gear into a big bin. Use smaller boxes, bins, or bags within the bin. Or, try using boxes that have dividers, like these options from SidioCrate.
- Our Seatback Organizers are also a nifty tool to help you keep an eye on smaller essentials. We usually keep our phone, wallet, keys, headlamps, etc. in these organization stations, but on a fly-fishing trip, we might use a pocket for spare nippers, a multi-tool, that container of flies we just bought from the fly shop, etc.
9. Keep Wet Waders And Boots Outside
Dank, damp waders and boots can stink up your sleeping area–fast. Our advice? Store them outside of your vehicle. We designed our Gear & Shoe Storage Bag with this purpose in mind–it sports microfiber-lined magnets on the back of the bag, so you can secure it to the exterior of your vehicle without scratching your paint job. A mesh bottom lets wet gear drip dry and air out, while the flap protects drying gear from rain and morning dew.
There’s Always More Water To Explore–And More To Learn
We hope these tips and tricks help you plan and execute the fly-fishing road trips of your dreams, but this list is by no means an exhaustive one. That’s one of the beauties of fly-fishing, though–there’s always more to master. To continue learning, keep fishing with experienced friends, book guided trips to learn from the pros, and study via YouTube, fly-fishing books, or even fly-fishing courses and private lessons. Most of all, keep road-tripping and hitting new rivers–that firsthand experience is invaluable. Plus, it’s a ton of fun.
Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you on the river,
The Luno Crew