By ANDY LINDBERG/Montana State News
“Peaceful, relaxing, intimate… a time to talk, and a time to listen”
That’s how Montana native, guide and river activist Henry Emack describes his life-long affair with fly-fishing.
Ask anyone casting a fly rod around the Rocky Mountain West, and they may tell you the same thing. But for some, especially those living right here in Gallatin Valley, fly fishing is more than a pastime, it’s a tradition rooted in family and state culture.
Made special by its clear, crisp mountain rivers, old growth forests and beautiful surroundings, Montana boasts some of the best fly fishing in the lower 48, with an impressive number of blue ribbon streams, a designation reserved only for rivers of exceptional quality.
“Its a cultural tradition that has really come to define who I am as a person,” Emack says, “and something that is really integral in making this community so special.”
For Emack, this tradition can be traced back to the early 1900’s, when his ancestors, new to the area, were reliant on the rivers as a source of food. Pleasure grew from a task that was once a chore, and the Emack family began a tradition that would influence their family to this day.
Emack began his fly-fishing career at the age of 4, when his parents gave him his first rod: a hand-me-down 7’9” 5 weight, ironically long for the 4-year-old Emack who today only stands 5-foot-11. Growing up on the small rivers and tributaries around the valley, Emack quickly learned the ins of local fishing lore. That tiny rod would lead Emack to a career rich in personal gains and experience, something invaluable in the world of fly-fishing.
After attending Montana State University, and graduating with a degree in Fish and Wildlife management, Emack has traveled around the world, guiding clients and fishing some of the world’s most exclusive and remote trout streams.
In addition to all the time spent fishing around the world, Emack hasn’t had any shortage of time tending to his local waters.
“I am incredibly lucky to be where I am today. The ability to do what you love as a career is something everyone aims for…. I am truly grateful to be where I am today: with my family and on the river five days a week.”
Gaining experience through traveling, he says, is something that has made him increasingly aware of the global issues that surround the fly fishing industry.
“The industry has a lot to learn about the ethical treatment of rivers and their fragile inhabitants, but major steps have been made in the last 10 years.”
The last 10 years have given way to some of the biggest conservation efforts to un-dam rivers and keep life moving freely from source to finish, something Emack says is already working to protect our rivers.
Now 33, Emack is continuing to carry on the family tradition by teaching his own kids some important lessons about ethical fly-fishing.
“The most important thing I can do for my kids is ensure they have the same level of awareness I had when I was growing up.… While the fishing has definitely changed, the fishermen in the area sure as hell haven’t.”
In his many years of experience on the rio or on the river, Emack has seen a lot of things that have shaped him both on and off the river. Preservation of both the fish and their dwindling habitat is something that has been a topic of concern for the Emack family as the valley’s population continues to rise and the rivers see increased use.
With habitat destruction at an all time high due to climate change and loss of public fishing access, Emack has focused his efforts toward more vulnerable watersheds. By counting “redds,” or trout spawning beds, Emack and other FWP volunteers can predict a variety statistics that help officials protect likelihood of survival.
“We’re huge on river restoration projects, the only way to ensure these rivers will be fishable for future generations, is to act now to stop habitat deterioration and population decline… we have a dedicated and diverse team of community volunteers who understand the value of caring for these precious waterways.”
Emack says that none of this would’ve been possible without the fishermen who came before, and illustrated the importance of protecting the fish and their habitat.
“There’s just something about being out on the water, something about placing that fly gently on top on the water, that you can’t find anywhere else.”
– Edited by Eric Joondeph