I'm out West, in Montana, fishing this week, trying a variety of rivers, some of which I've fished before, some not.
Being here beginning the third week of July usually puts the odds in your favor, in terms of river levels and flows. By then, the fast water resulting from the spring and summer melting of mountain snow pack has settled down, and the rivers are fishable.
That's also the case this summer, though conditions on most rivers are just now settling down. The good news is there was tremendous snow throughout much of the Rockies last winter, and most reservoirs are full. Most ranchers also are happy, because there is plenty of water for their crops.
However, the heavy runoff from the mountains has slowed fishing until the last week or so.
Now, as is typical this time of year in the West, day upon day seems hot, sunny - and a great time to fish.
Here are ways on five rivers you can get by on your own, on the cheap, and begin anew in this region the learning process that all fishing, ultimately, is:
Bighorn River: This is ground zero for many visiting Montana trout anglers, about 90 percent of whom, at least in their first trips here, hire guides. That's great. But at about $375 or more a day, expenses add up. A couple of alternatives: Walk and wade, seeking access, especially, at drift boat launch and takeout sites. Plenty of information regarding flies, techniques, etc., is available at local fly shops in Fort Smith, Mont., where flies and other gear also can be purchased. Another tip: Rent your own drift boat. The cost here is typically about $100 a day, but a boat can carry three anglers (one of whom would row). Be cautious in times of high water, however - but don't worry (generally) because if the water is real high and fast, no one will rent you a boat.
Yellowstone River: Again, a guide and boat are a great way to go. But there are access points at various locations (a couple of good Montana fly fishing books are widely available), including along the freeway between Big Timber, Mont., and Bozeman, Mont. Fly shops in Big Timber, Livingston and Bozeman can give you more information, including entry points upstream, closer to Yellowstone National Park.
Big Blackfoot River: Plenty of access points for walking and wading exist on this river, which was the focal-point stream for the book, "A River Runs Through It.'' This stream is farther west, however, not far from Missoula, Mont., near which the Big Blackfoot flows into the Clark Fork River. This is about as pretty a stream as you'll find, though fishing right now is a little tough, in part because of three large salmon fly hatches, which apparently have kept some trout from taking artificials. Again, local fly shops have information that will help you be successful.
Madison River: For visiting anglers looking to save money, renting a drift boat (again, about $100 a day) might be the best way to go. Not every shop will do this, but if you do some checking, and are flexible about your entry points (rental boats are available, among other places, at Cameron, Mont.), you can get a boat and a low-buck way to fish, for three people, one of America's iconic rivers - and one that is known as the world's largest riffle.
Gallatin River: A great river that can be fished between Bozeman, Mont., and West Yellowstone, Mont., at any of a number of public access points. This is generally a fast river that can be a difficult place to place a fly correctly. But there are sufficient numbers of quieter spots to fish, and all are easy to access by the public, either below or above Big Sky, Mont.
It's all fun.
Admittedly, doing it on your own takes more time, and, initially, at least, will result in fewer fish taken than a guide will get you.
But in the end, you'll learn more by being your own boss.