Heed the call of Western trout waters
by Jason D.B. Kauffman, Women Out West Magazine, Summer 2008
There’s no better moment to be out fly-fishing on a Western free-flowing river than during that last sacred hour before sunset. It’s a magical time made all the more bittersweet by the ephemeral nature of the day’s last light ricocheting across riffles and silent back eddies.
Just like the brilliance of autumns past, the steady cast across a clear mountain stream at the end of the day is not to be forgotten, but tucked away as a benchmark against cabin fever during the cold winter months ahead.
Perhaps it’s along the open riverbanks of the Madison River, the sun’s fading rays casting brilliant reds and pinks against the high snow-capped peaks of Montana’s Lee Metcalf Wilderness to the east. Or maybe it occurs down south on either fork of the Snake River, the beginnings of these fabled fisheries pouring out of Henry’s Lake beneath eastern Idaho’s Henry’s Lake Mountains, the other arising from out of Yellowstone National Park before flowing southward through Wyoming’s astonishing Jackson Hole and on to Idaho’s matchless Swan Valley.
These are just the start. Western fly-fishers have a lifetime of last-hour experiences out on the Blackfoot, Middle Fork of the Salmon, Selway, Silver Creek, Gallatin, Yellowstone, Green and other magnificent rivers and streams.
Western fly-fishing destinations
In just about every destination mountain town in the West—whether it’s Jackson, Wyo., Bozeman, Mont., or Sun Valley, Idaho—licensed outfitters stand ready and able to provide fly-fishing adventures out on their own favorite home waters. And it doesn’t matter if you’re the most experienced fly-fisher or have never experienced the wonderful sport before—female fly-fishers have the pick of the lot when it comes to choosing a fly-fishing guide in the region.
Most Western fly-fishing outfitting companies have female guides on staff who are as equally capable of taking an experienced guest out for an exhausting dawn-to-dusk pursuit of that wily trout, or simply instructing a first-timer on how to tie a fly on and make that first cast. Although supremely challenging, this is a sport whose incremental successes are both confidence builders and an enticement to learn more at the same time. There’s really nothing else like casting towards a boil on the surface of a calm stretch of water, seeing the fly land just where it’s intended and feeling that sharp tug on the end of the line for the very first time. There’s a reason the word “addiction” is part of the vocabulary of every fly-fishing enthusiast.
It’s a sensation female fly-fishing guides like Gayle Whittenberg of Billings, Mont., understand well. A co-owner with her husband of Montana Troutfitters, a combination fly-fishing gear shop and outfitting service situated on Main Street in downtown Bozeman, Whittenberg takes women out to fish on many of Montana’s fabled trout streams and rivers. She also understands the many reasons behind the sport’s pull. “Fly-fishing will take you to some of the most beautiful spots in the world,” she said.
Fly-fishing is a total body sport that demands the utmost of attention, Whittenberg added. “You use your eyesight to see a rising fish. You have to use your ears, your nose.” Lastly, you have to use your brain for this thinking person’s activity, she said. “Put it all together, and it’s poetry in motion for me.”
Whittenberg is the person behind one of Montana Troutfitters’ specialized guide services, Lady Troutfitters. She said the service caters to both experienced women fly fishers and beginners who want to learn the great sport. Lady Troutfitter’s female guide staff can take guests out fly-fishing either in a drift boat or by walking and wading. They also provide fly-fishing instruction for women interested in the sport, whether in groups or as individuals. Lady Troutfitters can also pair guests up with their staff of female guides.
Fly-fishing is more than just the catch, Whittenberg said. Wading along the banks of a Western river as the sun is low in the sky near dawn or dusk has a way of renewing a person’s spirit, she said. “I get all this energy back when I’m out in an environment like that.”
It’s that healing aspect of fly-fishing that’s behind a nationwide women’s organization devoted to taking women who have survived or are currently battling breast cancer out to fly-fish on rivers throughout the country. Called Casting for Recovery, the nonprofit organization is based in Manchester, VT. Founded in 1996, Casting for Recovery is a support and educational program for breast cancer survivors. Through two-and-a-half-day retreats, the sport of fly-fishing is used to promote physical, emotional and spiritual healing.
In 2008, the organization is offering 37 fly-fishing retreats in 27 different states. This summer, Whittenberg helped organize a new retreat in June at the 320 Ranch near Big Sky, Mont. The lead casting instructor for the retreat, she said the experience was absolutely fantastic. As someone who is also involved in advancing research in medicine—her other passion beyond fly-fishing—she said taking part in the retreat was “a natural for me.”
The Casting for Recovery concept is unique. First, the sport of fly-fishing and the gentle casting techniques acquired during a retreat provide a motion for joint and soft tissue stretching in areas where women may have had radiation or surgery. Secondly, the rhythm of casting the line and being in a natural setting relieves everyday stress and provides a sense of calm. “Just getting them away from their disease for a few days,” Whittenberg explained.
Today, more than 800 volunteers help support Casting for Recovery retreats in their communities. These volunteers help the organization achieve another of its primary goals, to provide the retreats to participants for free. Donations from private individuals and businesses also make this possible, Casting for Recovery’s communications director Kate Fox explained. “We do fundraising to do that.”
The objective of many women’s fly-fishing clinics isn’t just to bring someone into the sport so they’ll keep coming back for guided services. At Sturtevants Mountain Outfitters located mid-way up the valley of the Big Wood River in Ketchum, Idaho, lead female guide Debbie Boyd teaches beginning fly-fishers the skills they need to eventually take part in the sport on their own. Participants in Sturtevants’ FlyGirls Women’s fly-fishing clinics are instructed in everything they’ll need to know to catch that feisty trout. “From setting up the rods to casting. Just all the aspects necessary to go on your own and catch fish,” Boyd said.
Of course, for those women who simply want to hire a guide to take them out for a day on the river, guides like Boyd at there for them as well. More and more women are becoming attracted to the sport, and that is in turn creating a greater need for female guides, the 23-year veteran fly-fisher said. “Women guides are becoming more and more popular.”
Boyd believes it’s the simplicity of fly-fishing that draws women to the beautiful sport. “It’s attractive to women because it’s such a graceful and meditative sport. You don’t think of anything while you’re on the river.”
Find a place to wet your line
Just about every Western mountain town destination will list at least one fly-fishing outfitter, club or organization in the local yellow pages. Here are just a few to get you started:
Casting for Recovery, Manchester, VT.
This organization offers two-and-a-half-day fly-fishing retreats for women who have survived or are currently battling breast cancer. Throughout the West, Casting for Recovery offers free retreats in states stretching from Alaska to Colorado. Although the deadlines to apply for one of the 37 retreats the organization is offering in 2008 have mostly passed, Casting for Recovery is already working on its list of retreats for 2009. All experience levels are welcome. For more information about Casting for Recovery, including a retreat schedule, go to their Web site at www.castingforrecovery.org or call them at (802) 362-9181.
Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman, Mont.
This combination fly-fishing gear shop and outfitting service offers a service called Lady Troutfitters, which caters to experienced women fly fishers and beginners who want to learn the great sport. Ask for Montana Troutfitters co-owner Gayle Whittenberg for more information about Lady Troutfitters. All experience levels are welcome. For more information, go to the company’s Web site at www.troutfitters.com or call them at (406) 587-4707 or toll free at 1 (800) 646-7847.
Reel Women Fly Fishing Adventures, Willow Creek, Mont.
This fly-fishing outfitter company has been offering women’s only adventures in the West since in 1992. They now offer fly-fishing trips and schools on rivers in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, as well as in Alberta. All experience levels are welcome. This summer, they’ll be offering weeklong “camp trips” for women at Chico Hot Springs from September 21-28 and on the Bow River near Calgary, Alberta, from August 23-29. They also offer two- and three-day fly-fishing schools. Reel Women is also offering a three-day fly-fishing camp at the Amangani Hotel in Jackson Hole from October 4-8. For more information on the many services Reel Women Fly Fishing Adventures offers, go to their Web site at www.reel-women.com or call them at (406) 285-5218.
Sturtevants Mountain Outfitters, Ketchum, Idaho
As part of their popular FlyGirls Women’s fly-fishing clinics, Sturtevants offers weekend fly-fishing instruction for women in Idaho’s scenic Sun Valley area. For 2008, the women’s only fly-fishing clinics will take place on July 11-13, August 1-3, August 22-24 and September 5-7. Led by lead guide Debbie Boyd, the clinics are perfect for all skill levels. Sturtevants also offers guide services with female guides on the area’s wonderful streams and rivers, including renowned Silver Creek and the lovely Big Wood River. For more information on the fly-fishing activities provided by Sturtevants, go to their Web site at www.sturtos.com or call them at (208) 726-4512.
Silver Creek Outfitters, Ketchum, Idaho
A famous name in the outfitting world, Silver Creek Outfitters offers a variety of guided fly-fishing packages throughout the year. Whether it’s summer-time rainbows, fall browns, wintertime nymph or midge fishing, or spring steelhead, Silver Creek is licensed to guide on all local waters in south central Idaho. They also provide Introduction to Fly-Fishing for Women courses each summer. For more information, go to their Web site at www.silver-creek.com or call them at (208) 726-5282 or toll free at 1 (800) 732-5687.