Maiden Montana

Tales of a fly-shop girl. 

I graduated from college on a Friday and on Saturday my Dad and I drove across the country to my grandparents’ place in McAllister. I’d broken up with my boyfriend, so getting far away from home seemed like the escape I needed. I had visions of long, relaxing days on the lake with my grandfather, the silent still water and the rhythmic twitch of the fly rod to soothe my soul. I landed a job at the Madison River Fishing Company by sending in a resume and a picture of myself holding a trout. They called and asked me if I knew the basic knots or anything about flies. Yes, I know about flies and I can fold t-shirts—I’m hired. 

“So how did you get into fishing?” Here comes the monologue I have spouted countless times before. My grandfather came out here in the ’70s to fly fish. I came out here every summer of my life. I learned from my grandfather—he’s the best angler I know. Those are the high points. “Do you own a driftboat?” I ask in response. My mom told me to date a man with a driftboat so that he could row me down the river. She fly fishes, too.

Being the only girl in the shop means I’m in charge of folding all the colored shirts in the glass display. The boys are terrible at it and everything is wadded up and shoved in the sides. I fold the shirts using a clipboard and they look crisp and perfect—everyone is amazed. I throw away the empty Bud Light cans stashed around the counter, and occasionally get scolded because one was for my co-worker Matt’s dip-spit. I rearrange product and wipe up months of dust and dead flies. One afternoon, early in the summer, I sit behind the register waiting for the rush of guides to get off the river. They come in with their river reports, which are all lies. Suddenly I realize I’m being pelted with rubber bands from the upstairs window that overlooks the store. It’s my manager and co-worker Eric—I think I’m in.

Despite the fact that I’m basically a glorified maid at the shop, I can shoot the shit with the best of them. However, I’m constantly working to maintain my integrity as most men think my boyfriend catches the trout, and then hands it to me so I can take a cute picture for my Instagram. Yes, I can pick out flies. Yes, I have a favorite spot to fish. No, I’m not telling you where it is. No, I can’t row a driftboat—I’m too pretty for that.

“Where should we go fishing today?” is a question we get a hundred times a day at the shop, mostly by crotchety men who show up at 6:57am already in their waders. They stand outside chugging coffee and puffing on cigarettes. I go into that day’s speech for a man with coffee breath. “I’d float Varney to town. Watch out of that channel on the left side—it takes you away from the main channel and you have to be in a raft. 2X or 3X will work since the river is still a little muddy from runoff. Depends if you want to nymph or dry-fly fish, but a selection of buggers, turds, psycho prince nymphs, and maybe a golden chubby will work for you.” The spiel takes a while and I’ve answered every question. Right before he commits to my suggestions he turns to my co-worker Matt and asks, “What would you fish today, man?” Matt responds by saying, “I’d do exactly what she just said.” He nods and buys his flies. This happens all the time. Men come into the store to stroke their delicate egos by playing Stump the Fly Shop Girl.

Standing in the still water of Ennis Lake, I watch a fish methodically feed by the bank. My mind and body are calm; I have nothing to prove. The fish’s lips just barely break the surface as I purposefully pick my rod tip up, throwing the line out behind me. It loops around, softly dropping my fly by the bank. My heart stops. I hold my breath until I see a fish slurp my fly. My heart hammers, the rod tip bends, and the reel spins as I fight my catch. Eventually it tires of the fight and lets me pull it in close. I kneel down into the river to survey the graceful rainbow trout. Once I have freed the fly from its mouth I hold the trout in the water and thank him for letting me catch him before he swims back to the wild.

Tomorrow there will be more stupid questions. But today, there’s just fishing.