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Catching up with the 2021 River Development School

On the Madison River in the heart of Montana, a group of women learned fly fishing techniques from professional guides to continue their journey of becoming life-long anglers.

Surrounded by multiple mountain ranges, the small town of Ennis is built around a love for fly fishing on the free-flowing Madison River. With ample opportunity to catch rainbow trout, brown trout, and native mountain whitefish it was a clear choice for the setting of the first-ever SheJumps River Development School.

In an effort to build a better place to belong for all women and girls, we collaborated with Brown Folks Fishing to offer a scholarship opportunity for the River Development School. We are working with Brown Folks Fishing to address the historical exclusion of Women of Color in different spaces, but specifically the outdoors and fishing. Thank you to Yeti and Patagonia for their investment in this scholarship.

One of the aims of the River Development School was to teach beginner and intermediate anglers the skills needed to become autonomous on the river. “I began fishing in 2017 on a trip with my dad,” said Caroline, who learned to fish on the storm drains, local ponds, and creeks in Dallas, Texas. Now living in Jackson, Wyoming, her passion has only grown. “I’m not yet comfortable to go solo - my goal is to be comfortable on my home water.”

Hayley, another participant local to Ennis, had similar sentiments. “I've been fishing half a dozen times from a boat, pretty much on this stretch of the Madison [River]. I want to become more proficient and more independent on the river, as well as get my kids into it.”

After the online classes with Hilary Hutcheson and Whitney Milhoan earlier in the spring, the in-person class on the Madison River focused on casting, rigging, knots, and more for two entire days.

For Haley, learning the knots was a huge part of gaining independence on the river. The fly fishing specific knots include the clinch, double surgeon’s, and blood knot - all important to know for an angler’s rig.

Knots were only a portion of the hands-on learning experience. The next step was casting alongside the seasoned anglers and instructors Heather Hodson of United Women on the Fly and Whitney Milhoan. After asking the participants what they were interested in learning on the boat, it was settled that casting streamers would be the task.

"I've been so intimated of streamers for so long because of the possibility of whacking yourself or another person on the boat," explained Caroline. Using streamers is an active technique that covers a good portion of the river. The heavy streamers imitate smaller, bait-like aquatic creatures which trout eat. After the streamer is cast and hits the water, the line is then retrieved in various intervals. "It was nerve-racking. Our guide had us practicing the entire day with streamers, so by the end, we were all confident."

This technique also led Caroline to catch the biggest trout of her life, coming in at 20 inches. "I got a bit emotional. I wish my dad were there, but I sent him a photo instead," she added.

Size doesn't always matter. Hayley noted that she caught around four to five little baby rainbows herself. "I had not considered a fly fishing course before, but this one was an obvious yes. From the online clinic to in-person, it was amazing. Every instructor and every participant was amazing. It offered something from beginnings to experts," said Hayley. "My mom and friend have experience fly fishing internationally and still learned a lot from this."

The in-person guided trip was notably not quite long enough for the participants.

“There was a lot of information in a short amount of time,” said Caroline. “I wish it was longer because it was a very special opportunity to meet other women in this male-dominated space.”

“I agree with Caroline; it should be longer,” added Haley. “I’m interested in the October trip to follow-up with the same women and instructors with Hilary and Whitney. I was surprised and delighted with the experience of meeting this diverse group of women. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the social aspect as much as I did!”

River Finishing School is the next step in the SheJumps River School Series. The event takes place on the Wise River in Montana from October 7th-9th. The course continues where the Development School left off by continuing to teach the participants tools needed in order to become an independent angler on the river.

Photos courtesy of Christy Pelland


SheJumps is an inclusive organization. We welcome all women and girls (transgender and cisgender) as well as non-binary people who identify with the women’s community. SheJumps strives to be an ally in the fight against racism and acknowledges that our events and programs take place on traditional, unceded Indigenous lands.

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