12 Tips For Epic Fly Fishing Trips On The Cheap

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Louis Cahill

You may be poor, but you don’t have to fish like it.

Some of the greatest fly fishing adventures I’ve taken have cost me the least. I love fishing in exotic locations and spending time at great fishing lodges. Who wouldn’t? But that’s a fairly recent thing for me and primarily funded by my Nikon. Working for my fishing days has paid off for me, but that’s not an option for everyone.

I have never let a lack of funds get between me and great fly fishing. I’ve always figured out a way to get on the water and create some kind of epic adventure. Over the years I’ve figured out one or two tricks that make for great fly bum trips on the cheap. I’m going to share a few of them so you can do the same.

Team up

There’s nothing more helpful than a good fishing buddy, or two. Having good friends to share both costs and experience with will make your fishing trips a hundred times better. A buddy can do more than split the cost of gas. He might lend you a rod or take turns rowing the boat. He may have knowledge about water that you don’t. He may just tell a good story or be a good listener. Finding good, compatible friends to travel and fish with is the most important step you can take in having a truly epic trip.


Hotels cost money and do very little to enhance the fishing experience. Camping saves you a bundle and makes the trip a whole lot more special. Waking up on the river beats the hell out of a continental breakfast. Get your camping gear in order and go as light as possible. Less time messing with gear means more time fishing. I have gone so far as to buy an extra tent, sleeping bag and a few necessities which I keep at a friend’s house in Denver. If I find a cheap ticket I don’t even have to pay the baggage fees.


I drive to Idaho and Wyoming from Georgia on a regular basis. I don’t do it because I enjoy the scenery of western Kansas. I do it because it saves me a bundle. Gas is not cheap but it’s often at least as cheap as an airplane ticket. Driving allows me to take advantage of a whole host of cost-cutting measures.

I can carry all of my camping gear and even sleep in the truck sometimes. I tow my Adipose skiff which saves me renting a boat. I don’t have the expense of a rental car. It saves a fortune. I even have a power inverter in the truck to charge batteries or run small electronics. I’m pretty self-sufficient when I’m on the road.

I will frequently coordinate the drive with buddies who choose to fly. They help out with the gas money and I pick them up at the airport and we all save the cost of a rental car. Driving to your fishing destination just gives you a lot more options.

DSC6004Pack a cooler

Don’t waste money on eating in restaurants. Pack a cooler with food for the road. In fact, I usually have two. One for food and one for drinks. I hit the Costco and stock up, either before I leave or on the road where one is convenient. If you’re headed out west from the east, Denver is a great place to stock up. If you do fly to your destination, buy a cheap cooler. Click HERE to learn how to get the most out of a cheap cooler.

HERE is a great article on packing a cooler from the boys at STS.

Rent a U-haul

That’s right, that’s my U-Haul in the Scientific Anglers ads. I’ve been doing this for years. If you do fly to your fishing destination consider a U-Haul instead of a rental car. It’s cheaper than an SUV, it can handle the worst dirt roads, it sleeps four easily and it has a trailer hitch. You can’t beat it.

boatsRent a boat

There are lots of places to rent a drift boat or raft. Just because you can’t afford a guide doesn’t mean you can’t float. A rented boat split between three guys is pretty affordable. There are a couple of things to think about. Be sure you’re up to the job. Don’t go out on a new river in a rented boat if you don’t have good rowing skills. Don’t put on a river if you don’t know what’s down stream. Seriously, these two tips may save your life.

Most local fly shops can help you arrange a shuttle for your vehicle. They can also help you with float times and info on what to expect in the way of hatches and boat traffic. Be safe and be respectful of others. Boating is a big responsibility.

Check out Big Horn Boat Rentals

DSC_6147Fish where you have friends

Do you have friends who live in great fishing locations? Plan a trip with them. Most guys are eager to show off their local water and their knowledge will mean a big boost in productivity for you. Having a friend who knows the area and can make arrangements is an enormous help. You may even get invited to sleep on the couch. Be a good house guest. Bring beer, wash the dishes and try not to stare at your buddy’s wife.


Know as much as possible before you go. Read up, call a local fly shop, check out Google Earth and YouTube. There’s an awful lot of information out there on almost any fishing destination. Don’t go anywhere without a good road atlas or gazetteer. That IPhone or GPS is awesome until you drop it in the river. Sometimes old school is best.

Be flexible

A good plan is one that can change. Good fishing is all about responding to conditions. Moving to another drainage or even another state can be the key to success. Don’t get married to a plan. Fish smart.

Find local informants

Figuring out new water can be tough. A little help from a knowledgeable local can really shorten the learning curve. Talk with the guys you meet on the river or in the camp ground. Be generous with you beer and don’t be pushy. Someone may throw you a bone that makes your trip. You may even make a new friend.

Explore close to home

You don’t have to travel to have an adventure. All of us have a list of local streams we’ve been meaning to fish. Maybe just pull out the topo map and try something completely unknown. I used to do that every fall. I’d go out for three or four days with no plan. Just camp and fish where the road took me. Those were some of the best trips ever.

_DSF0718-EditDon’t judge your trip by numbers or size of fish

It’s not always about the size or the numbers. There are a lot of ways for a trip to be a success. Maybe you learn a new river or catch a new species. Maybe it’s about the camping or the scenery. Maybe you try a new way of fishing or just spend some time with old friends. Be open to new experiences and don’t judge your trip solely on the fishing.

I hope this helps you get out and make some epic memories. Don’t let a thin wallet get between you and your life. Get out and fish.

Here are some other articles that may help.


10 Tips to Keep You Catching Fish During Your Fly Fishing Travels

DIY Bahamas Bonefish, with the Family

Tying On The Road

Be Prepared For Colorado’s Black Canyon

Pack Your Gear in Half The Space

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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14 thoughts on “12 Tips For Epic Fly Fishing Trips On The Cheap

  1. Hey Louis, Jeff in OR here:

    With the exception of the camping thing I have done pretty much everything in the list. However, I have not thought of the U-Haul thing. Great Idea! Usually when I am on an extended fishing trip I have a heck of a time cramming everything I need in my Jeep & by the time I am loaded there is only room left for me.

    I promised myself when I got out of the Army that there were 3 things I was never going to do again. Wear green, stand in long lines, and sleep on the ground. The U-Haul solves the sleeping on the ground issue AND I can take lots more stuff along. And as you stated, it is a heck of a lot cheaper than renting an RV or SUV. AND you are not likely to run the risk of an extra charge for getting it a little dirty.

    Even old dogs can learn new tricks !!

  2. Any tips for camping in a U Haul truck? My friends and I rent an RV for a couple of big trips a year and it’s pretty high-dollar…. I put a pencil to it and we could pull off the U Haul for a MUCH cheaper price… Rig the back door so it will not latch while inside? Small screen to cover the back door when cracked? Cots?

  3. Makes no sense to rent a Uhaul, they may be cheaper per day than a rental SUV, but lets say you are going on a 2,500 mile trip. Since 2,500 miles is the max for Enterprise (one of the cheaper rental places).

    2,500 mile trip in a 10′ Uhaul would run just over $2,200. The mileage fee alone would be $1,400. Gas would be around $450 at 12 miles per gallon.

    The same 2,500 miles in a rental SUV would be around $880. Since the 2,500 miles are free, and the car would get such a better miles per gallon.

    Uhauls may be cheaper on paper and per day, but the per mile fee would add up quickly. I would have owed Uhaul on my last trip around $4,130 in mile fees alone but luckily my SUV rental included unlimited miles.

  4. Great tips on budget fly fishing trips, thanks. Is there such a thing as a multi-state fishing license? Do most (some) states have reciprocity with licenses? Thanks a lot and keep posting these great stories and ideas.

    • Some places. There are reciprocity agreements for resident license holders. VA and NC for example, or at least that’s how it was when I lived there. I’m not aware of any such arrangements for nonresident licenses. Honestly fishing licenses are the last place I try to save money. License fees generally go to support fisheries and I’m ok with that.

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  7. You can also rent a boat. There are travel agency these days that actually providing boat trips. That includes different tour package that you will truly enjoy the whole time.

  8. I am glad to know that I have been in line with what you recommend. Any person who will follow this will definitely get a big help on the trip.

  9. Thanks for the reminder that a little bit of research can be instrumental in making a fly fishing trip as enjoyable as possible. I’d like to take my son to one soon because he will be visiting me for a few weeks. Having some quality time together would surely be great for the both of us.

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