When I took over as Manager here at Montana Troutfitters, one of the responsibilities put on my plate was to provide writing for Bozeman Magazine during the spring and summer months. At the beginning of the season this doesn’t seem like a difficult task: provide insightful articles regarding fly fishing in Southwest Montana. Fast forward a few months to the heat of summer, tired as hell, and trying to find a topic that hasn’t been beat to death or covered by every fly fisherman turned writer (there’s a lot of them) becomes a daunting task. Instead of giving you another of the many articles on streamer fishing in the fall or chasing big fall brown trout, I’m going to reflect on the industry and people we have the privilege of interacting with over the course of the year.
Those of us who work in the fly fishing industry and more specifically fly shops, are extremely lucky. For the most part we see people at their best, we are the good part of their day. People don’t come to the shop to complain about their job, about their truck breaking down, or about the mortgage payment they have to make. They come to talk about the big fish they missed, the massive caddis hatch they fished the day before, or about an idea for a fly pattern they’re tying. While you may not realize it, if you have a good day, it makes us feel good. When we hear about our customers having a good day on the river it makes our day and sometimes even our week.
Another amazing part about working in the fly shop is that we see all types of people. The unique thing about our sport is that it isn’t limited to one body type, one age bracket, a specific social class, or a certain region. Fly angling may boast the most diverse demographic of any sport out there and we witness it every day in the shop. We have guys covered head to toe in tattoo’s tying their own flies and fishing five days a week, we have 20 year old ladies bringing in pictures of 23 inch brown trout they caught by themselves on the Yellowstone, and we have 1st time anglers who are just excited to catch fish. We have old timers who have been fishing for 50 plus years, and we see guides who make their living on the water. It’s a mixed bag of personalities and it makes our job fun and interesting, and we learn things from every person who walks in the door.
Like Montana has its seasons, the shop has its own. With each season we see a completely different customer base, while we do have our year round customers there is a palpable difference throughout the year. In the spring we get a lot of the hardcore local anglers and college students fishing between classes and after school or work. In the summer we have tourists who are excited to be in Montana and fish all of the amazing rivers in our area, (no matter how you look at it Bozeman is driven by tourism), and we absolutely appreciate that. In the fall we get some of our college crowd back mixed with anglers traveling here to chase big fall fish and our local customers thin out to scours the hills for deer, elk, and birds. In the winter we have our local group of fly tiers who we hardly see any other time of year, but during the winter, we’ll see them two or three times a week when they need tying material or want to talk about a new pattern they’re tying. Just like our seasons change in Montana so do our clientele in the shop, we appreciate all of them and it keeps us sane.
The sport is changing, and it’s changing for the better. Each year we see more and more young people picking up fly rods and having fun on the river. More youth organizations are incorporating fishing into their curriculums. The amount of fisherwomen we’ve seen in the shop has been incredible this year. No longer is fly fishing a “men’s only” sport and that has been reflected in the number of companies offering women’s specific lines of fishing gear and the presence of female anglers on pro staffs and in the media. In another effort to grow the sports demographics, companies are offering more and more affordable fishing packages to get beginners out on the water. The overall feel of fly fishing has morphed from an elitist, high-brow atmosphere to one of acceptance and excitement. I’ve run into more happy, genuinely stoked people on the river this year than ever before. New fishing techniques are being coined and old ones are being retaught to an eager, open-minded crowd. It is a good time to be a fly angler.
When I look back on the summer and think of all the early mornings, in the shop at 5 am to get guide trips out the door and late evenings putting together fly orders to keep the bins stocked, it makes one realize that it is in fact worth it. Because in the end we’re all out there for the same reasons, to escape life, to relax in the melodic tune of rushing water over river rock, for that feeling you get when the sun first crests the mountains and warms you on a cold morning, the sight and sounds of rising fish, the perfect cast, the perfect drift, and the perfect fish. Fly fishing is an escape, an opportunity to leave your problems at the truck and wade away into a better place. Whatever it is for you, it’s sure as hell cheaper than therapy.
Maybe I’m just worn down and getting sentimental, maybe I’m just thinking about it more. Long story short, thanks to everyone in the industry, everyone in the sport, and everyone in Bozeman for making the sport better, more enjoyable, and more accepting, I hope to see you on the river!
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