River Girls

Green Crocs, French pedicures, and gray hair? Yup. We’re the River Girls. Or sometimes “Val’s Pals,” named after the woman who got the ball rolling. Between us we have at least 75 years of fishing experience—all over the world. Don’t be fooled by our less-than-girlish figures or our other passion—eating. When it’s not about the fishing, it’s about the food.

Eight of us have been going on a fishing trip for a week together for about eight years. We’re retired schoolteachers, a weaver, some skiers, a writer, and someone who likes to sing along with “oldies” on the radio. We share fishing, eating, card games, each other’s company, and fishing stories. Some of us are particular and take more care with fly selection than others. We all are particular about reading the water. Most of us work at perfecting our craft at one time or another during the year. Some of us see more fly shops than shoe shops.

We wake up to our own world once a year—our own Brigadoon—beside a Montana river. We relish the sound of clear, cold water rushing to the sea, kingfisher songs, and wind in the pines. We’ve fished the Ruby, the Beaverhead, and the Big Hole. My favorite places? The Yellowstone or Firehole.

I secure a blue-winged olive to my line with a double surgeon’s knot, wade into the cold water, and feel it compress around my calves. Husbands, children, and daily lives don’t intrude here. My booted feet slip here and there on moss-furred silver and copper-colored rocks. I catch a couple of willow branches, distracted by yellow wings and the song of a warbler, then ease into the rhythm of the movement of the water. I let the outside world wander away like the stream flowing beyond me. Time stops with the slap of a cutthroat rising to my fly near the opposite bank. I reel him in, slip him into my net. I dip my hand into icy water then reach for him. His sides heave, then he's almost still while I hold his speckled body. The telltale red-orange slash under his throat moves with his pulse. I slide the hook out of his mouth, hold him for a few moments to make sure he is okay, and then release him.“Wow, look at that beauty!” one of the River Girls calls out from around the bend.

We split up after giving the fish a chance to rest, and when the shadows stretch across the sage-covered hills, we head off for new water. We stir fish stories into the casserole we make for dinner and raise glasses to another day of angling in crystal water. We make plans to get together during the rest of the summer, but somehow time slips by and we’re planning the next year’s trip while our boots are still wet.

Carolyn Hopper has been fishing on and off since she was nine. Her first “pole” was a spinning rod, but don’t hold that against her—she's fished with a fly rod for the last 40 years.