Southwest Montana’s Big Fish Story
From reading river patterns to predicting how a trout will react, to choosing the perfect fly that will replicate the way an insect moves across the surface of the water, fly fishing is about controlling all the controllables while simultaneously flowing with the unique rhythm of the river.
In Montana, passerbys don’t ask about the weather, they ask what fly you’ve been tying. Talking fish and flies is a connector amongst the old and young, across political parties, and state lines. There’s not a bar or bench in Montana where you’re not sure to overhear a good, probably exaggerated, fish story.
Montana is home to numerous world-famous Blue Ribbon rivers, with thousands of miles of high quality trout water. It would take more than one lifetime to fish it all, but John Way, owner of the Tackle Shop in Ennis, Montana, is trying his darndest.
“I did not know that stories of life are often more like rivers than books.”Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It
He says when people ask him what his favorite river to fish in Montana is, it feels like they’re asking which is his favorite kid. “The answer depends on the day,” he laughs.
“But if I had one more day to fish in Montana for the rest of my life, I’d float the Blackfoot River. It’s where I cut my teeth in Montana fly fishing.”
A wet fish is a happy fish, and Montanans are just as passionate about the health of the rivers as they are about catching fish. For many native and threatened fish species, catch and release is the general law of the land - so visitors should be sure to do their homework before heading out on the water.
Some general rules for keeping fish and rivers healthy are:
• Land fish as quickly as possible so as not to exhaust them.
• Wet your hands before handling a fish - dry fingers can damage it.
• Remove the hook as quickly and cleanly as possible, and keep the fish submerged except to snap a quick photo.
• Check in with local tackle shops or with FWP for up-to-date information on Hoot owl fishing restrictions and for other best practices.
If you’re just getting started, John Way suggests bringing along these three flies: A Bead Head Prince Nymph, a Chubby Chernobyl size 12, and a Parachute Adams.
There’s nothing quite like the stillness of a morning on the river, standing knee-deep in cold, moving water, and the attention it brings to the present moment. If you come to Montana, you’ll find that a river still runs through it, and that Norman Maclean had it right all along.