Jenny Grossenbacher is a local legend—she’s been an expert guide, a stalwart steward, and a passionate advocate. She’s out of the guiding game now, and that’s your loss. We caught up with Jenny recently; here’s a bit of her story.
CAST: How did you end up fly fishing in Bozeman?
JG: As an employee at a Scout ranch, I fell in love with New Mexico and I started fly fishing, trying to catch my now-husband Brian’s eye. That’s where I met him—we were both backpacking guides. He grew up fly fishing and was crazy about it. Any day off he had, he’d be fishing, so that would be our date.
On our way to Bozeman for the first time, we drove through Billings and it was dumping snow. It didn’t look like much. He couldn’t see the mountains and was looking at me like I was crazy. The next morning we looked out the window and the Bridgers were covered in snow and it was just gorgeous. He proposed to me here in Bozeman. That was in September of 1990 and we’ve been here ever since.
When we first moved here, neither of us had money. He picked up trash after the Bobcat football games and I worked for $4 an hour just so we could live here and fish. It was magical. It’s crazy the things people do to live here. While working at a residence hall on campus, Brian made a contact with Lone Mountain Ranch. We both spent a few years there, then went out on our own.
CAST: You guided full-time after that. What changed?
JG: We had our two daughters and were fortunate to have grandparents in town, to take care of the girls while we were out guiding. But we’d leave before they were awake and they were asleep before we got home, and we were like, “This sucks.” They’re on vacation and we’re leaving every morning and I remember one of the girls saying, “Will you take us today, Mom?” It was like a knife to my heart. I started cutting back, but it’s hard to guide part-time. It was a natural transition when we were asked to write a book, Fly Fishing Montana. The photography budget was so small that Brian thought, “I’ll just buy a camera and I’ll take the photos.” And the rest is history. [Brian and Jenny now run a successful fly-fishing photography business.]
CAST: If you could tell everyone heading out to fish in Bozeman one thing, what would it be?
JG: I’m huge on stream etiquette. I want solitude on the river and I think it’s huge whether you’re a guide or not. We have miles and miles of excellent fishing. Even if you get to a spot you were set on fishing, if someone’s there, just move on. Respect the visual boundary and give people space.
CAST: What’s the biggest threat to fisheries in southwest Montana?
JG: It’s probably ignorance of how to handle yourself in the river and how to treat the fish—the simple things like wetting your hands before you touch them. I’d teach people to hold their breath as they released their fish and think how they felt. It’s about being one with the river and keeping in mind that we’re all tied together. I think just educating ourselves to the importance of knowing the river, what’s in there, and respecting all the animals that utilize that corridor. Educating yourself about the other users of the river, from wildlife to private landowners to farmers. I think we address that by coming together as a community to support our rivers. It’s treating our rivers with respect and learning their value.
CAST: Most memorable Bozeman-area fish?
JG: We were on the Yellowstone, it was the weekend and very busy and these two black labs kept following us all day long. My clients caught a really nice cutthroat and we pulled over to land it and re-rig. The labs dove off the bank, swam over to the boat, and started scratching the side. These dogs were skin and bones, so I thought, “I’ll get them to the boat ramp and someone will claim ’em.” A guy at the take-out said he’d seen them 30 miles upstream. I called the local vets and put ads in the paper. My clients said, “You should name them Thelma and Louise—sisters on the run!” We found the owners, they didn’t want them, and at that point we were relieved because we were so attached to them. It was one of those feelings where they chose me, so it wasn’t so much that cutthroat but the whole event. So that was my favorite fish.