Choosing the Right Reel for Trout Spey

Choosing the Right Reel for Trout Spey

The world of Spey gear is confusing.  It’s unfortunate, because I think that more people would be less intimidated, and be more excited to get into the 2-handed game if it wasn’t for all the odd lingo, seemingly mismatched tackle arrangements, line choices, etc.  Even something as simple as choosing the right reel to put on your new Trout Spey rod isn’t that obvious, because it turns out that putting a “4wt Reel” on a “4wt Trout Spey” IS NOT the right thing to do.  Yeah.  Annoying.  With this post, I’ll hopefully clear up some of the confusion related to reel selection.

First, let me lay out a few facts about Trout Spey gear, as is compares to your typical single handed gear.

  • 2-handed rods are longer and heavier than single-handed rods
  • Spey line systems are longer and bulkier/thicker than single-handed fly lines
  • For both single and 2-handed rods, a reel that “balances” the rod at or very near the point where you hold the rod for casting and fishing will make the rod feel “lighter in hand” and also reduce fatigue over a long day of casting and fishing.

The result of these facts is that a reel designed to pair with a 3, 4, or 5wt single-handed fly rod will NOT effectively pair with a 3, 4, or 5wt 2-handed rod respectively because the reel will not have enough line capacity to hold the longer/bulkier Spey line system, and will not be heavy enough to properly balance the longer and heavier 2-handed rod.

Like I said.  Annoying.

But all is not lost.

Remember that the goal is to find a reel that is large enough to hold a modern Spey line system and that is heavy enough to balance your 2-handed rod comfortably, so that it doesn’t feel “tip heavy” while casting and fishing.

Over the years I’ve been very fortunate to have access to a huge variety of 2-handed rods, and have noticed that overall there are a some simple guideline that can help a person choose the right reel for their 2-handed rod on the first try.  I’m not going to talk about brands, makes, models, arbor sizes, or drag mechanisms because everyone has their own preferences there.  Finding a good quality trout reel with a smooth drag these days isn’t hard. I’m simply going to talk about the numbers – line capacity and weight.  From there you can go and do your own research, or visit your favorite fly shop armed with the information you need to ask them the right questions.

Capacity Issues?  “Add 3”

Finding a reel with appropriate line capacity is by far the easier of the two tasks.  My rule of thumb for converting single-handed line capacity to Spey line capacity is to simply  “Add 3”.   An example will serve us well here.  Lets say I have a 4wt 2-handed rod that needs a reel.  I take the number 4 from the rod and “Add 3” and I get 7.  So, a reel designed to hold single hand lines in the 7wt size should provide adequate line capacity for the 4wt Spey lines. 

Many modern reels are listed as being good for multiple single-hand line weights with varying backing capacities.  In those instances, I always refer to the smaller of the two numbers.  So, a reel rated for a 7-wt or an 8-wt single-handed line is likely best for a 4-wt 2-handed rod.  This is a conservative approach that results in the selection of a heavier reel (more on that very soon) and extra capacity can always be filled up with extra backing.

Weight, Weight, Don’t Tell Me.

Finding a reel (that isn’t huge) with the correct weight to balance your 2-handed trout rod is by far the trickier of the tasks, and often the deciding factor in reel choice.  Some 2-handed rods are inherently lighter based on materials, while others require a heavier reel to balance them based on additional length alone.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a simple rule-of-thumb here.  That said, by casting and fishing a ton of rods, through trial and error, some math, and of course a spreadsheet, I’ve managed to come up with a table that summarizes reel weight and capacity pairings based on 2-handed trout rod weights and lengths.  This table has greatly simplified my own process of reel selection and suggestions for both myself and our customers at Big Sky Anglers.  I hope it helps you as well.


Spey Rod
Spey Rod Length
Matching Single-Handed
Reel Capacity
Matching Reel Target Weight
2-weight10’6” to 11’6”5-weight5.0 to 6.0
3-weight10’6” to 11’6”6-weight5.5 to 6.5
4-weight10’6” to 11’11”7-weight6.25 to 7.25
5-weight10’6” to 11’11”8-weight6.75 to 7.75
5-weight12’+8-weight7.25 to 8.5
*NOTE:  This table is relatively simple because the modern 2-handed trout rods don’t yet come in a wide range of lengths.  Modern 2-handed rods in weights from 6 to 9-wt come in lengths ranging from 10’6” to well over 13’, making the reel match even more complex.  If you’d like to see some of that info, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.


Great!  There it is, all in a simple table.  You will see, however, that when you go out looking for reels that match the table perfectly the choices are actually rather few.  If you have a favorite reel, or brand that you like to support, you simply may not end up finding a perfect match.  That’s where tinkering can come into play.  Generally speaking, the issue you will run into is a reel that has enough capacity, but is simply too light for a give 2-handed rod.  The easiest way to add weight is to simply buy the next bigger size reel.  You’ll achieve more weight from having more metal and from spooling it with more backing.  There is no such thing as too much backing!  Another way to dial in reel weight is to add lead-core trolling line like Cortland LC-17 onto the reel first, before spooling on backing.  As a guide, LC-17 weighs 17 grains per foot, so, 25-feet of LC-17 weight approximately 1 ounce.

As a final word, I would like to mention that some reel manufacturers have caught onto the popularity of Trout Spey and are now making reels designed specifically to pair with light 2-handed rods.  These reels strike a balance between overall size, aesthetics, line capacity, and weight.  Generally speaking they are mid-arbor designs with less porting in the frame and with full cage designs that keep thin shooting lines from inadvertently getting into places where you don’t want them.  I’m personally looking forward to a time when more reel makers offer Trout Spey specific reels.  It will make gear selection a lot simpler, for sure, and who doesn’t like buying a new reel from time to time!

Take care and Fish On,


Spring Angling & Lodging Packages

Spring Angling & Lodging Packages

The best kept secret in Big Sky Country

Are you itching to get outside and get after some trout fishing this spring? Don’t forget that we have angling packages available throughout the year, but there is no greater value than the packages we offer in the early season.  For dates before Memorial Day we have packages that start out at $1699 for a 2 days’ fishing/3 nights’ lodging, double occupancy.  That’s about $850 per angler for a terrific weekend’s angling pursuit. Stay longer and fish more days if you’d like, we can accommodate and have various packages available.

Our early angling opportunities are primarily located on  the Henry’s Fork in Idaho, and the Madison River in Montana. Both offer great pre-runoff fishing, and are a solid choice prior to Memorial Day. Early season hatches of spring baetis, march browns, caddis, and salmonflies can be found from April through May.

CLICK HERE to read an article by BSA co-owner Jonathan Heames, and learn why he looks forward to Spring fishing on the Henry’s Fork all winter long. 

Our Golden Stone Inn is well designed for the Covid-conscious traveler with individual cabins available and plenty of room to spread out.  Every room has its own entrance to the outside and is well appointed with the comforts you’d expect to enjoy after a day’s fishing.  The Golden Stone Inn is located in West Yellowstone and makes a great starting point for the day’s adventures whether you are headed into Montana’s Madison Valley or to the Henry’s Fork in nearby Idaho. 

For those anglers wishing to take a day to rest and visit Yellowstone National Park  (closed to fishing until the first Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, we can accommodate that as well.  We have a staff guide that offers guided tours into Yellowstone and the early season is an excellent time to visit the park, especially for wildlife viewing.  The cooler weather has the wildlife active during the daytime hours, the larger carnivores are still snacking on winter kills, and the bison are in the midst of their calving season, a dynamic time in our nation’s first national park. 

Call us today at (406) 646-7801 to talk about Spring fishing and lodging packages. Once you experience Spring fishing in Big Sky Country we’re sure you will dream about it all winter too!

Winter-Run Steelhead – Olympic National Park, WA

Winter-Run Steelhead – Olympic National Park, WA

Fish for winter-run steelhead in the pristine waters of Olympic National Park with our good friends at Evergreen Outfitters, February 15-20, 2021.

Winding through towering stands of Douglas Fir and Giant Spruce, the glacier-fed rivers of Washington’s Olympic Penisula boast wild, winter-run steelhead, with some fish pushing into the 15-20 lb range and even larger. 

Only a handful of operations are permitted to guide in Olympic National Park, and fewer still are allowed to float the Park’s famed waters like the Hoh and the Queets. 

Big Sky Anglers’ guide Jared Cady hails from Washington State, and has been guiding winter steelhead on the Olympic Peninsula for more than a decade. Jared’s personable, hard-working, knowledgeable style of guiding has earned him a reputation as one of the region’s top steelhead guides, and his jam-packed calendar shows it. 

It’s rare for Jared to have prime availability during peak season on the Peninsula, but these are unusual times, and this is your opportunity to experience some of the finest fly fishing for winter-run steelhead in the lower 48 states. 

Guide Rates are $550 per day. Lodging packages at Kalaoch Lodge are available starting at $276 per night. Vampire tours available on a first come first serve basis. 

Take advantage of this rare opportunity to experience Olympic Peninsula’s winter-run steelhead on the fly! Get in touch with Jared Cady today for more information!

Jared Cady

Evergreen Outfitters

(253) 302-6828

Big Sky Anglers 2020 Holiday Gift Guide

Big Sky Anglers 2020 Holiday Gift Guide

Hello there and Happy Holidays from all of us here in Big Sky Anglers. We walked around the shop and picked out some of the best gifts we could find hoping to help you take away the guess work for that angler in your life. If you don’t see something here, please give us a shout and we will do our best to find what you’re looking for.


Cody Richardson License Plate Trout

We love these pieces! They celebrate one of the great rites of passage among trout anglers – road tripping across Montana or the entire western United States and fishing every chance we get! Every license plate art piece is handmade and is unique. Yours will look very similar to those in the images but will not be exactly the same as the photo example. If you’d like to give us a call we can share more detail about each piece. Options include a trout featuring either Vintage Montana Tags or Plates from States across the Mountain West.

All trout are 35″ x 21″

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Toti Palmer Handmade/Hand Painted Leather Fly Wallet

Made by our good friend and artist Toti Palmer in San Martin De Los Andes, Patagonia, Argentina. Toti makes these beautiful wallets from a single piece of leather and hand paints each brown trout making it a one of a kind piece. Each wallet has been treated with a leather finish that protects it from fading or damage. Don’t miss a chance to own this truly unique item. Quantities are limited.

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Stickable Art from Mimi Matsuda, Nate Karnes, Casey Underwood, and Drew Wilson

Stickers, not just for kids these days! Perfect little gifts for darn near everyone in your family. Check out all of our stickers online for a wide variety of options.

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Abby Pafrath Art 4 All Hats

Wearable art from phenomenally talented artist Abby Pafrath out of Jackson, Wyoming. Her designs include Unisex as well as Women’s and Kids hats!

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BSA Custom Rod, Reel, & Line Packages

Over the past year we have been working hard here at the shop to pull together a few of our very favorite Rod, Reel, and Line combinations that we believe match not only our personal fishing styles and aesthetic preferences, but also those of many of our customers as well. From small streams to big rivers, ponds and lakes, single hand, Spey, and more, we love sharing our favorite gear with folks. For this holiday season we’ve put together two very special kits featuring incredible rods made right here in the west (Montana and Colorado) and custom colored and engraved Nautilus X-series reels that will make any trout angler blush. We also are doing a special discount on our own Ultimate Rocky Mountain Starter Kit, as well as the regular amazing prices on the Echo Gecko Kit for the kiddos and Echo Base Kits for those looking to just get going in the sport at a great price.

Winston Pure / Custom Nautilus X-Series with Big Sky Anglers Logo

When the Winston Pure series came out we couldn’t wait to fish it here in Yellowstone Country. From the 8ft 4wt to the 9ft 5wt, this rod is sweet perfection complete with the Winston feel. We have fished it on the big rivers in Montana and Idaho as well as the small streams throughout YNP, Idaho and Montana; the Pure Series has quickly become one of those green sticks we will reference for years to come. The Pure series is very accurate at distances out to 45 feet and beyond, mends with ease and plays those larger trout all the way to the net. We paired the Pure with a Nautilus X series reel in the size to balance the selected rod, with custom colors and BSA engraving.

As our Holiday Special, we are throwing in an SA Amplitude Smooth Trout fly line, 20lb Rio Dacron backing, BSA Trucker Hat, BSA pin and a BSA sticker for free.

If you have questions about which rod is best for you, give the shop a call and ask for Joe, Jonathan or Justin.

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Scott Centric / Custom Nautilus X-Series with Big Sky Anglers Logo

At long last, Scott has released the much anticipated followup to their incredible Radian series.  The Centric! Scott put the feel in fast action rods. Now they have taken it to the next level. The Centric is a snappy rod; it recovers well and is very accurate with small dries at a distance. This will be a fantastic tool for chasing Hebgen gulpers, jamming dry droppers to the banks on the Madison or picking up long line on the Ranch to relocate your fly in a better lane. This is a faster action rod with plenty of soul.

We’ve paired the 5 and 6wt Centrics with custom colored and engraved Nautilus X-series reels, in matching sizes.

As a Holiday Special, we are throwing in an SA Amplitude Smooth Infinity fly line, 20lb Rio Dacron backing, BSA Trucker Hat, BSA pin and a BSA sticker for free.

If you have questions about which rod is best for you, give the shop a call and ask for Joe, Jonathan or Justin.

<< Click Here To Shop Online >>

Big Sky Anglers Ultimate Rocky Mountain Starter Kit

The Ultimate Rocky Mountain Starter Kit is the culmination of many years of us here at Big Sky Anglers helping people get out on the water and making sure they have everything they need to fish all the main water types and techniques typically used in our region.  One of the main things that sets this outfit apart from other combos is that it includes two extra spools and variety of fly lines, not just a simple floating line. Having three different fly lines (floating, sink tip, and full sinking) is a game changer when it comes to catching fish in all water types/depths with a fun variety of techniques. In the kit, we have also included many other essentials items like a leader and tippet, dry fly floatant, forceps, nippers, some of our favorite flies including dries, nymphs, and streamers. We even throw in a great all around pocket guide to fly fishing written by MT legend Gary Lafontaine. For those looking for a trout specific outfit we recommend the 9ft 5wt and for those who looking for a kit that can handle both trout and bass we recommend the 9ft 6wt. If you plan to mainly fish for bass or panfish, please contact us at the shop and we can customize the fly selection and tippet/leader to match the fishing you will be doing. Everything will be set up at the shop prior to shipping making it easy for you to get out on the water!

The total value of this kit is $461 but we are offering it as a Holiday Special for only $399!

Included in the Kit:

Echo Base Rod (9ft 5 or 6 wt 4 pc rod with rod sock, tube, and lifetime warrantly) $90; Lamson Liquid 3 Pack (Reeland 2 extra Spools) $180; Weight Forward Floating Fly Line (to match rod) $30, Scientific Anglers Wet Cel sink tip line $35, Scientific Anglers Wet Cel full sinking line $35; 300 yards 20lb Rio Dacron backing (100 yards per spool) $15; 12 assorted flies $30: 1 Fly floatant $6; 1 spool 4x Rio tippet $5; 1 leader $5; 1 Airlock strike Indicator $3; 1 Nipper $7; 1 Forcep $7; Gary Lafontaine Beginner Fly Fishing Book  $13

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Echo Gecko Kit

The absolute best rod on the market for your little ones is the Echo Gecko. The kit comes with a case, rod, reel and fly line. Don’t be alarmed when you feel the urge to take this out of your child’s hand because you like it too!

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Orvis Clearwater 9ft 5wt Kit

The Clearwater 5-Weight 9′ Fly Rod is a standard for western rivers and bigger eastern water. Not only does it have the length to reach out and control drifts and the power to reach far banks, but the line weight to handle big trout and light bass. Firing a big streamer up and across a big river and reaching out to mend the line and control the drift is right in this rod’s wheelhouse. Throwing big attractors with droppers, or big hoppers in the early fall is the perfect task for this rod. If big water and big flies are called for, then the Clearwater 905-4 is the weapon of choice at a price that will keep a lot of travel money in your pocket.

Rod outfit includes:

  • Clearwater 905-4 fly rod
  • Clearwater II reel
  • Clearwater 5-Weight fly line
  • 100 yds. 20-lb. Dacron® backing
  • Rod tube

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Simms Goods

Long known as the makers of the best waders around, Simms also produces some of the best, and handiest other products that we carry at Big Sky Anglers. Among our favorites are the Dry Creek Simple Pack (Justin’s personal go-to pack for all day trips, both fishing and otherwise), their folding Wading Staff (always handy on the rugged Madison, or out in steelhead country), and the Everyday Beanie (which keeps the noggin warm and doubles as a backup reel bag in a pinch).

Big Sky Anglers Apparel and Logo Gear

Beanies from Simms, Orvis, and Ouray

Want to keep your noggin warmer this winter? Well here ya go! Our very own black BSA stocking hat, the Orvis camo beanie and the Simms CBP Merino Beanie in hunter orange. Both the BSA Stocking hat and Simms orange beanie stretch over ball caps with ease.

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BSA Classic Stack Logo Hoody

This is the perfect layer to knock down the chill during those “cold” Texas winters. We absolutely love hooded sweatshirts here in Yellowstone Country and find them to be the perfect layer anytime of the year.

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Fishing Hats

Everyone loves a good fishing hat, some even believe that their hat has special powers bringing them luck on the river. Good fish karma starts with you, but a sexy hat never hurts either! Joe made the Dope Rope hat famous in the shop this summer, but when friend of BSA and musician Sam Hunt wore it while recording it took things to all together new level. We have a host of fishy hats online, check them out.

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Bud Lilly’s & Big Sky Anglers LS T-shirt and Sticker

This T-shirt pays homage to not only the roots of the modern Big Sky Anglers fly shop, but also the roots of modern fly fishing and outfitting in the west.  Bud Lilly laid the groundwork far essentially everything we do today, from promoting fly fishing as a means to enjoy nature, to providing the best gear available, and maintaining a strong conservation ethic.  Every time we pull one of these shirts on we remember all that Bud did for our sport. The classic Bud Lilly’s trout logo stands proud on the back of this shirt, with a small BSA logo on the front chest. For the holidays, we are throwing in one of our classic Bud Lilly stickers with ever shirt.

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Hydro Flasks

For cold or warm beverages, Hydro Flask can’t be beat. Most of our guide staff uses these on our guide trip each day to help reduce the waste of plastic bottles. Pitch in and do the same!

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Zippo Lighters

We find that having a lighter is an essential piece of gear while fishing, both on foot and in the drift boat, and Zippo lighters are as classy as they come.

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Sili Pints Drinkwear

Beers, cocktails and wine all taste better from Sili Pint, at least we think so. What we really like about them is their unbreakableness. Have one too many and drop your drink? No problem, at least you didn’t break the glass!

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Big Sky Anglers Sticker Packs

These are, by far, our most popular BSA stickers in the shop. These are perfect for your rod tube, hyrdo flask, cooler or the side of your rig. For the holiday season we have introduced a brand new, never before seen sticker – the BSA Beard sticker.

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Big Sky Anglers & Bud Lilly’s Trout Shop Pins

This gift is a perfect stocking stuffer for the angler in your life. Justin found a few more old school Bud Lilly’s pin and we paired those with our BSA pin and packaged everything up in a BSA fly puck and a BSA Sticker.

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Fly Selections

Who doesn’t love flies? Without flies, we are just plain old fishing. We help a ton of anglers throughout the season here on the corner of Madison and Canyon and with out a doubt, one of the questions we field is “can you help us with a selection of flies for the area?”. So after talking with the staff we pulled together these selections to help make the decision a little easier on you this Holiday Season.

Guides Choice Fly Selection

This little gift is perfect stocking stuffer for the anglers in your life. Come Christmas morning they will appreciate you even more!

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BSA Loaded Fly Selections

The sheer number of fly patterns that are available these days can be seen as both a blessing and a curse. For the angler coming to our area, the variety of water types, hatches, and fishing situations can make fly selection intimidating. We love all the flies, of course, but we also understand that it is really nice to get what you need in a simple, condensed, effective package. That’s where our custom BSA Fly Selections are perfect. Grab and go, and cover most of the situations you are likely to encounter!

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2020 BSA Streamer Box – Our guides and shop staff love to fish streamers on their days off and so we asked them to walk through the fly bins and pull some of their favorites. This selection of 21 streamers comes with a free waterproof slit foam fly box, a BSA sticker and a BSA pin.

Flies include 3 each of: #4 Black BFE, #6 Olive/White Double Bunny, #4 BLK/Olive Dirty Dumpster, #6 Coffey’s Sparkle Minnow Sculpin, #6 Thin Mint, #6 Crystal Bugger, #6 Jr’s Golden Shiner

2020 BSA Nymph Box – We love a great bead headed nymph around here at BSA and while we prefer to fish dry flies, there are just times when nymphing is a better tactic. This selection will get it done time and time again no matter if you’re fishing here in Yellowstone Country or anywhere in Rocky Mountains. This selection of 30 nymphs comes with a free waterproof triangle slit foam fly box, a BSA sticker, and a BSA pin.

Flies include 3 each of: #8 Black Rubber Legs, #12 Tan/Brown Rubber Legs, #14 Tungsten Micro Stone, #12 BH King Prince, #16 B’ Mean Machine Orange, #16 Tungsten Spanish Bullet Quill, #14 Tungsten Pheasant Tail, #16 Tungsten Holo-Point Red Jig, #14 Jake’s Tungsten Double Money Brown, #14 Tungsten Hare and Copper

2020 BSA Dry fly Box – Fishing with a dry fly is how most, if not all of us at BSA prefer to fish when it is a potentially successful option. From the big Western streams like the Henry’s Fork, Madison or the Yellowstone, to the little streams throughout Yellowstone Country that will remain unnamed here the flies in this selection will take care of you. This selection of 33 dries comes with a free waterproof 5 row slit foam fly box, a BSA sticker, and a BSA pin.

Flies include 3 each of: #6 Water Walker Salmonfly, #10 Henry’s Fork Golden Stone, #12 Missing Link Green Drake, #14 Jojo’s Rusty Spinner, #14 Mo River Halo Caddis, #16 Missing Link Caddis, #16 Parawulff Adams, #12 Arrick’s Ant BLK/CIN, #14 BSA Pink Lightning Legs, #14 Royal Wulff Cripple, #14 Jojos Chubbinator

2020 Big Bug Box – We start fishing big giant dry flies around these parts starting in early May and fish them with success all the way through the end of July. The shear amount of big stone flies in our local water is mind blowing and this box represents not only those, but also the bigger hoppers. We will often drop a nymph off these big bugs and so this box pairs nicely with the 2020 BSA Nymph Box. This selection of 30 big bugs comes with a free waterproof 5 row slit foam fly box, a BSA sticker, and a BSA pin.

Flies include 3 each of: #6 Water Walker Salmonfly, #8 Water Walker Salmonfly, #4 Henry’s Fork Salmonfly, #8 Henry’s Fork Salmonfly, #6 Royal Stone Walker, #6 Henry’s Fork Golden Stone, #10Henry’s Fork Golden Stone, #6 Water Walker Golden, #8 Water Walker Golden, #10 Chubby Black and Tan

Argentina Travel Update – 11/19/2020

Argentina Travel Update – 11/19/2020

We have recently fielded a number of phone calls here at Big Sky Anglers asking about fishing in Argentina/Chile this upcoming 2020/21 season. The time is right for an update on travel to Argentina, including the Patagonia regions.

Due to COVID related restrictions, our groups that were scheduled to fish Patagonia this November and December and January have been rescheduled for late 2021/2022.

As of now, we are hopeful that we will be able to safely, effectively, and legally travel to Argentina from February through April. That said, there is a lot that has to happen internally in Argentina before this is an option. Rest assured, we are in close touch with friends and partners throughout Argentina on an almost daily basis, and we are keeping a close eye on what has been developing down south.

Argentina’s fishing season recently opened to Argentine resident anglers, but many provinces throughout Argentina are still not allowing Argentines to move from one province to another. There is a plan in place to allow Argentine residents to travel to Patagonia from other provinces, but this new plan is in its infancy. There is currently no official date in place for when foreign visitors can travel to Argentina, that we have been able to find. Any dates being published are based on speculation. For our friends down south in the fishing business these next couple of months will likely determine if Argentina will open its doors to foreign tourists in 2021.

We here at Big Sky Anglers will gladly visit with you about the current state of affairs in Argentina relating to foreigners traveling in 2021 and going forward. If things do look like they are opening up to foreigners there a number of outfitters/lodges that we work with who will be in a position to operate and provide the fantastic experiences they are known for. If you are interested in visiting more about fishing in Argentina please call Justin, Joe, or Jonathan at the Shop: 406-646-7801. And, we will be sure to provide another update on our blog when we have more solid information in hand.

In the meantime we will be sharing pictures of our close Argentine friends experiencing some great early season fishing with almost no angling pressure.

If you are interested in doing some research on travel restrictions on your own, the following websites may come in handy.

Boca Fever!