There are two things you can get kicked out of Missoula for. 

 Not owning a Subaru, or not knowing how to fly fish. 

I have never owned a Subaru. Not that I’m against them, I just prefer trucks with actual 4WD. I owned an Isuzu Rodeo for a few years that could not break down or get stuck, no matter how hard I may have tried. My Rodeo took me from Sheridan, WY to Missoula more times than I can count with about 250,000 miles on her, without any issues. I did struggle through three Montana winters without a heater, but that was my own procrastination and lack of respect for my extremities. 

But I digress. 

Fly fishing. If Missoula were a human heart, fly fishing would be the vessels that carry life to and from this quaint college town. Microbrews would be the blood.

I have spin casted since I was, well, old enough to hold a Barbie push-button pole. I grew up learning how to fish on the Columbia River, Jameson Lake (NC Washington) and in the Pacific Ocean (Sekiu, WA). I moved to Missoula after 8th grade, and throughout high school, didn’t even give fly fishing a second thought. 

When I entered college, and after watching, and quoting, “A River Runs Through It” more times than I could count, I started seeing fly fishing everywhere. It was what all the cool kids were doing. But all of my pleas for my friends to take me out and teach me went unanswered. 

There were classes I could have taken for credit at the University of Montana for beginners (told you, lifeline) but two things stood in the way: a full journalism course load and my extreme social anxiety. So I put it off.

My 27th birthday rolled around, and my Dad came to town from Washington and asked what I wanted for it. All I could think was, “bills paid?” Until we went to Cabela’s. There they were. Fly fishing rods right by the front door. I decided right then that it was time to stop putting it off, depending on friends, and just teach my damn self. 

Jump ahead to about a week later. I saw a Sunday class offered by the Missoulian Angler Shop, and the limit was five people. Since my anxiety seems to be okay with five people, I signed myself up.

My social anxiety caught a break. Nobody else signed up for the class so it was just me and the instructor, Tom. We spent probably a good hour going over technique in the grass. I got talked to about not popping the line on my back cast. Multiple times. Then, we hit the water. On my first two casts, I had a fish on the line. Unfortunately, my first instinct was to rip the pole up to set the hook. Wrong. The second time I didn’t hold the tension in the line for long enough.  We hit the river for about another hour, to no avail. Then Tom took me back to the shop, taught me entomology (if only I had paid more attention in 3rd grade) and hooked me up with some flies. I’d say that was the best $25 I’ve spent in a while. 

Now all I can think about is fly fishing. I am still self-teaching and have come a long way from that girl in the grass. Meanwhile, my Ugly Stik sits in the corner collecting dust. I have a lot more to learn, and with that, a lot more mistakes to be made along the way. But hey, it makes for great storytelling. 

“Many of us would probably be better fishermen if we did not spend so much time watching and waiting for the world to become perfect.”  
― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories

If you’d like to check out the class I took, or take a fly tying class, or just want to get to know a great group of people, check out the Missoulian Angler in downtown Missoula.

Written by Kendra Cousineau

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