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Question: Some buddies and I are planning a week-long trip to Montana and Yellowstone next August, flying in and out of Bozeman. There are six of us. Any tips on traveling with a group on a fly-fishing trip?
Peter M., Chicago, IL
Answer: Traveling as a group can be a blast, but there are many pitfalls. Any time your ability to have fun depends on other people doing the right thing, the potential for frustration (or worse) is there. One important variable is how closely knit the group is. Are these all close friends or just guys from your club whom you see once a month? Don’t leave yourself open to unwanted surprises once you’re on the ground in Big Sky Country. In the middle of a trip is not the time to find out that Bob, who always seemed like a decent fellow, is a real whiner or snores like a grizzly or becomes an angry drunk after two beers. So make sure you know as much as possible about your traveling companions before you get on that plane.
Having seen such groups of traveling anglers from both ends—as a member of a group and as a guide catering to them—I do have some advice, which can be broken into two categories: logistics and group management.
Let’s start with logistics:
- Plan and agree on an itinerary as early as possible. It’s much easier to get folks to agree when you’ve all got plenty of time to make decisions. When you’re burning fishing hours because the group can’t decide to go to the Madison or the Lamar, no one wins.
- Before you leave, establish who is rooming with whom and, if you’re fishing with guides, who’s fishing with whom. Maybe you’ll want a rotating schedule, which is also fine. Again, it’s just another way to avoid potential conflicts. As a guide, I often heard grousing from group members who “got stuck” rooming or fishing with so-and-so. Head this kind of thing off at the pass.
- Make sure that everyone packs as light as possible. Sure, you’ll want to be prepared for all weather and conditions, but you’re on a fishing trip—it’s okay to wear clothes (yes, even underwear) two days in a row. Moving 6 guys and their gear from place to place is a hassle, but you can make it easier by packing light.
- Go out and buy some fluorescent tape, and wrap some around the handle of every bag that belongs to someone in your group. That way, when you’re at the baggage carousel it’s not every man for himself. Two of you can stand back and watch the gear, letting two grab the stuff off the carousel, while two go get the rental cars. Plus, for the rest of the trip, you won’t accidentally leave a bag behind anywhere because the fluorescent tape will stand out.
- Establish one guy as the banker, and have everyone throw $100 in the pot. This is for stuff that everyone pays for equally, such as gas, park entry fees, water, etc. It’s a pain in the butt to have to collect from six guys every time you want to buy something you’ll all use. Any money left over at the end of the trip gets divided equally. Similarly, if you run out, everyone can throw in another $50.
- To avoid conflicts, let everyone pay for his own meals and booze. That way, Mr. Surf-and-Turf isn’t subsidized by Mr. Caesar Salad.
- If you’re fishing with guides, agree on a tipping policy that you’ll all follow, so no one ends up looking like a cheapskate by mistake.
- Establish codes of behavior, especially about drinking. I know, this sounds like a rule for children, but you’d be surprised how many times I’ve stood next to the van with pissed-off anglers while we waited for their still-hammered buddy to get his crap together and stumble out to the parking lot. If you went to bed at 10 and got up at 6, you don’t want to have to wait for someone who stayed up until 2 a.m. doing shots and then slept through the alarm. You also do not want to sit in a car with this person for any length of time, either; trust me. (I knew one group that lost a whole day of fishing because one member rolled their rental car during a drunken, late-night joyride. Oops.)
Traveling and fishing in a group can be a real blast, full of camaraderie, storytelling, and shared experience. You can ensure that all goes well by planning ahead as much as possible. Good luck!