Summer Fly Fishing in Montana
Every weekend in the summer, Ben and I pack up our gear, our dogs and head to the river.
Before I moved to Montana, I never thought fly fishing would be my hobby, but I happened to marry Mr. River Runs Through It. Ben lives for the river; it calls his name. He was a fly fishing guide for 25 years, and now he restores ponds and streams. Fly fishing is our love, and we have each other for company.
Wade and float
Montana is a world-renowned fly fishing destination because our rivers and wildernesses are beautiful. Plus, we have bountiful land access compared to other states, and our water is public. You can anchor, sit on a sandy beach to have lunch, and walk up the bank, as long as you stay below the high-water mark.
The sport of fly fishing is a special kind of challenge. In Montana, you either wade fish, walk into the river and cast from a single spot; or float a river fishing as you go. Both methods take skill. You have to cast your fly in precisely the right spot and have the patience to wait. Plus, if you're floating, your partner on the oars is maneuvering the boat in a way so that you, the angler, stays in an advantageous fishing position while keeping you both away from rocks and other dangers.
Ben and I prefer to fly fish while floating. There is so much country to see when you travel by boat. In the summer, our main rivers get overrun with guides and their clients, but fortunately, Ben has been fishing in Montana his entire life and knows stretches of rivers that don't see many people. But solitude sometimes means we'll have a tough day, like our last trip. We had to portage our boat four times with two dogs in tow! But still, we had a blast and caught a ton of fish. Our floats are all-dayers because while a car can traverse, say 8-10 miles in a few minutes, by a windy river, that it's an 8+ hour float. Especially if you get out to enjoy the scenery, have lunch, and wade fish some juicy-looking spots.
Speaking of wade fishing, that's a bit different. You walk and fish areas not accessible by boats, such as shallow streams, high mountain lakes, and out-of-the-way places in the backwoods. The fun is honing in on "fishy looking water" and casting your luck over and over. Fish love to sit in opportunistic feeding areas such as close to the bank under a tree where bugs are likely to fall. So, if you want to get away from people, skip the main river congestion and hike to where you can catch fish that aren't constantly being spooked.
Catch and release
Think of it; you're floating on a raft through one of Montana's national forests. The wildlife is incredibly active. You cast your rod towards the bank just so your fly slides under the tree onto the water surface. Then - bam! You got a fish on. Hurry, set the hook and strip in line. It's a big one, "Louie," as our friends and we say. Your partner on the oars anchors, so the raft stops, you get your net and bring Louie in. Snap, flash, a quick picture (this one has to be documented). Then, release Louie back to the rushing water. That is Montana catch and release fly fishing. You can do this all day, and you do.
Montana rivers are full of wild trout; we stopped stocking fish in 1974. So to keep a healthy fish population, catch and release is an essential practice for anglers to follow. We are stewards of our land. It's our job to protect what we enjoy. Plus, fly fishing is vital to Montana's economy; the sport brings in 10s of millions of dollars each year. So, yes, have fun while you fish, but remember to quickly release the fish back into the water to keep the fish population plentiful for years to come.
Ben and I fish up and down the western part of the state. West of the continental divide, we mainly catch trout - brown, westslope cutthroat, rainbow, and brook. But you'll also find some walleye, pike, whitefish, plus some other varieties. Catch and release is a waiting game; sometimes, nothing wants to bite. It depends on weather conditions, the skill of the angler, what fly you've tied on, and if the fish are in the mood. But waiting makes it even more fun because when a fish goes for your fly, you have to be ready to set the hook - it can catch you by surprise! Ben and I have fishing days where were catching fish left and right, slow days when nothing is biting, rainy days, scorching hot days, and days where the wind blows you back as you're trying to row forward. It doesn't matter - fly fishing is exciting.
Each time we wind down our float preparing to go home, we think to ourselves, "summer in Montana is amazing." So amazing that I've found that camera pictures just don't do this place justice. That's why I paint the rivers and fish of Montana on hats. I want to share the home I love with others. You always wear a hat while flying fishing to keep the sun and heat off, plus, to make sure you don't snag yourself in the head when you cast - ouch! My unique fly fishing hats are the perfect gift for that someone who always has a rod in hand. Each snapback hat embodies Montana's wild and beautiful waters.
So with our dogs in tow and our friends by our side, we laugh our way down the river. I draw painting inspiration from that laughter, from the trees on the bank blowing in the wind, and from the huge trout swimming around the bottom looking for something to eat. Other than painting, fly fishing is my love.