Montana Women’s Fly Fishing School
By Kelsey Dzintars EBS CONTRIBUTOR
It was a snowy spring morning at Gallatin River Guides. Five women gathered around a table filled with fruit, pastries and coffee in the Big Sky, Montana fly shop, studying slides with photos and illustrations of different river-flows. Kara Tripp, our instructor and owner of the women’s based fly-fishing company, Damsel Fly Fishing, explained how to read the river, where fish will be in the current, and why.
An hour later we “wadered up” at Reynolds Pass on the Upper Madison River and divided into groups of two and three to put our newfound knowledge to the test.
I slid into the river, wavering against the heavy current on the slippery rocks like a newborn deer trying to stand. I thought about what I had just learned in the classroom, now looking at the boulders and riffles as structures and seams where I would attempt to place my fly. To my total surprise, I immediately set my hook into a small rainbow. This was the first time I had caught a fish utilizing strategy rather than trial and error, and I was officially hooked myself.
Over the past several years, women have flocked to the traditionally male-dominated sport of fly fishing. According to the 2018 Special Report on Fishing conducted by the Outdoor Foundation, 31 percent of the nearly 6.8 million Americans who participate in fly fishing are female.
Fly-fishing outfitters and outdoor retailers have taken note of the trend. In 2015, Montana companies Gallatin River Guides, Simms and Montana Fishing Outfitters teamed up to create the Montana Women’s Fly Fishing School, the first and only of its kind in southwest Montana designed and run by women. In 2019 the school has offered 18 sessions from March to October.
Gallatin River Guides’ former owner, Pat Straub, saw the demand firsthand. “At our fly shop, we would constantly see women coming in with a high level of interest, but many felt like they were uneducated or intimidated by fly fishing,” Straub said. “We started with Gallatin River Gals, our free weekly fishing gatherings for women. The excitement that created morphed into many women asking for a longer experience, and voilà, the Montana Women’s Fly Fishing School was born.”
During the three-day course, beginners and intermediate anglers learn essential skills like tying knots, reading the river, casting, basic entomology and fly pattern selection. Each day begins with classroom instruction followed by application on Montana’s world-famous waters, including the Gallatin, Madison and Yellowstone rivers.
Tripp is enthusiastic about getting more women involved in her lifelong passion. “When I started fly fishing 17 years ago, I didn’t know any other girls that liked fly fishing like I did,” Tripp said. “I don’t need a bunch of fancy data to tell me that women fly fishing is the fastest growing niche. Why? Because its fun, and in the words of Cyndi Lauper, women ‘… just wanna have fun.’”
At the end of the nine-hour day, we relaxed with hot toddies and French fries at the Gallatin Riverhouse Grill south of Big Sky, relating strategies of the day and stories of our lives. A few days on the river with experienced fisherwomen gave me the camaraderie and confidence I needed to graduate to the next level in my new favorite sport.
A version of this story was originally published in the summer 2016 edition of Mountain Outlaw magazine.
Remaining school dates for 2019:
August 15-17, 22-24
September 5-7, 19-21, 26-28
October 3-5, 17-19
Register online at montanawomensflyfishingschool.com