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Montana: Fly Fishing and the Energy That Runs Through It

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted July 10, 2017

Dawn breaks on a summer morning along Montana’s Blackfoot River. A group of veteran fly-fishing anglers finds a good spot to start their day and watches as the rising sun sparkles on the easy-moving water. Taking in the stillness around them, they spot an elk drinking from the other side and begin connecting flies to lines at the end of graphite rods.

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It’s truly a scene right out of the film, “A River Runs Through It.” And while the Blackfoot’s rocks might not have cryptic messages secreted under them, the thrilling anticipation for fly fishing at daybreak, felt by Norman and Paul Maclean in the movie, is palpable. Indeed, fly fishing enthusiasts in Montana and across the country hunger for the experience year after year. Energy makes a sport nearly as old as Montana’s craggy mountain peaks a modern-day source of idyllic joy. It’s what energy does: More than just serving as fuels, natural gas and oil improve the experiences of so many of the summer things we enjoy.


Fly fishing demands a lot of skill, as well as learning how to master its specialized equipment. You don’t just stagger into a Montana river or stream and start pulling in succulent trout. Yet, thanks to natural gas and oil, the equipment itself is strong and reliable.

Take the rod. It’s one of the most important pieces of an angler’s equipment, featuring a number of smaller, yet equally important components. Rods often are made from graphite or fiberglass (and sometimes bamboo). The graphite in a rod is made of carbon fibers manufactured from coal tar, petroleum pitch or Polyacrylonitrile, a synthetic fiber also obtained from petroleum. These modern fly rods are durable but lightweight, with a flexibility that enhances a fly angler’s every cast.

Extending out from the rod and attached to the reel is the fly line, consisting of a braided nylon or dacron core – both derived from petroleum. The line is then coated with PVC, which helps it to sink in the water at varying rates depending on the angler’s needs. This PVC coating is a thermoplastic comprised of industrial grade salt and carbon, which is made using natural gas or oil.

Fastened to the line is the leader and tippet. These nearly invisible attachments connect to the fly to help the angler keep the line straight and avoid scaring away the fish – which, of course, is the main idea. These materials are often made from monofilament, commonly constructed from nylon, which, once again, is derived from petroleum. The leader and tippet come in many sizes depending on the fish the angler is trying to catch and what the environment is like.

Shareable: Montana Fly Fishing

Once the fishing rod is assembled with all its parts, the anglers step out into the water with their water-proof boots that stretch from their feet to chest, also called waders. This waterproof ensemble is usually made from vulcanized rubber, which is principally derived from crude oil, but can also be made from PVC, neoprene or Gore-Tex. Some anglers prefer to float down the river on inflatable rafts or boats. In that case, they often don a pair of short, rubber wading boots (made from petroleum) rather than the whole suit.

Fly fishing can take time and patience. As an angler slowly casts a line upstream, he or she must make sure the fly at the end looks like a real bug as it moves with the current. And they must always be ready with a fishing net in case something bites. These nets, made in a variety of ways for many types of fishing, are usually made of artificial polyamides derived from petroleum, like nylon.

Again, in this moment, standing along a Montana stream casting a line, the Macleans come to mind. This beautiful state, with its many rivers and ample wildlife, brings back memories of fishing with family and friends for locals and visitors alike. But fly fishing is also more than a relaxing day off for many Montanans. There is an art to fly fishing and it can be a way of life, like it was for the Macleans.

Take the Smith River in White Sulphur Springs, where sport fishing brought in $3.3 million in local revenue and $821,802 in state and local taxes in 2013. And that’s only one 59-mile river. Across the rest of Montana, there are more than 169,000 miles of flowing rivers.

Excursion companies in Montana get especially busy during the summer months, planning trips for both those wanting to fly fish for the first time and experienced anglers who return every year. For instance, local Bozeman guide company Montana Angler Fly Fishing runs around 2,500 fishing trips per season across the southwestern part of the state, guiding visitors along more than 30 rivers and streams.

And whether you’re venturing down river in early June for brown trout, or chasing giant salmon in early July, natural gas and oil are there to help you land that one great catch.

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Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.