A Guiding Life

Sarah Clark reflects on her life as a fishing guide.

In the high-water year of 2011, the Yellowstone was running higher than normal well into September. While floating a section of the lower ‘Stone near the Sheep Mountain FAS, fishing guide Sarah Clark came upon a startling scene: two men on an island, soaked top to bottom, one doubled over at the water’s edge vomiting. Their boat was nowhere to be found. Digging hard against the current, Clark made for the island and called out to the men, who turned out to be father and son. Clark loaded the men and their dog into her boat and rowed them to safety. “Their boat is probably still at the bottom of the river,” Clark says, laughing as she remembers the chaotic scene. “They’re lucky they didn’t drown.”

Just another day in the life of a southwest Montana fly-fishing guide. “Whether it’s running out of gas with a car full of clients, or saving people on the river, every day is an adventure,” says Clark.

Originally working in community health, Clark always harbored a deep passion for fishing, and in 2007 she made the jump to guiding and instructing full-time. Building on her background, she encourages people to seek the mental health that fly fishing offers. “I empty my mind of everything going on while I’m on the river,” Clark says. “I only think of fishing.” In today’s fast-paced world, that’s rare—and valuable.

Beyond the personal benefits and mental health fishing brings, Clark also believes it fosters community development. While her on-river accomplishments would make any fly fisher envious, Clark is proudest of her work with women, much of it in classrooms.

“I want to be an available resource for other women,” says Clark, who hosts an annual Women’s Night at the River’s Edge called Chica de Mayo. Last year, over 80 ladies showed up.

It isn’t only the women in the community that Clark is influencing. She also works with Trout Unlimited and makes a conscious effort to support sustainable fishing practices. Clark sees the population in the valley growing and knows that is it up to guides and fly fishers like her to step up and educate people.

“98% of fly fishers care about the health of rivers and want to do it right,” Clark says. “Tourists aren’t resistant, they are just ignorant of the issues. Guiding is a great opportunity to talk about our resources and build support for local conservation efforts.”

Clark’s passion for fishing and Montana’s rivers is obvious, and sharing her passion has become her life—in fact, she says, it saved her. “Fly fishing saved me from a boring life,” she explains. “It has made my life a richer one.”