Messenger - Vol. 2, No. 3, Page 25
Summer 1993
Alumni Profile: Flyfishing Montana's swift cold rivers

     Many rivers run through western Montana, and Greg and Carol Mentzer,
both Delaware '72, have cast flies, leaders and lines in most of them.
     For the past 20 years, the two Delaware school teachers have spent
their summers fly fishing for wild trout. And what was a personal angling
odyssey became full-time summer employment eight years ago when they became
licensed fishing outfitters. From their base lodge in Craig, Mont., the
Mentzers now guide two select clients per week to spring creeks and
mountain streams, where they can fish and release rainbow, brown and
cutthroat trout.
     Greg, who teaches elementary science at Tatnall School in Wilmington,
Del., first tried fly fishing on a small pond in nearby Pennsylvania for
sunnies and bass and then moved to White Clay Creek in Delaware. "These
were like pet fish," he says. "It wasn't the experience I was looking for,
plus I didn't get the sense of solitude I was seeking."
     A member of Trout Unlimited, he says he believes that the water in
Delaware is marginal for trout anyway. "It's too warm and there is no
evidence that there has been a naturally reproducing trout here," he says.
     Friends urged the couple to try the limestone streams in the
Cumberland Valley of Pennsylvania, and they cast lines into the Big Spring,
Letort and Yellow Breeches. "Of course, everyone there told us we should
have been fishing those streams 30 years earlier," Greg says, "because by
the time we arrived, the banks were crowded with fishermen and the streams
were less productive."
     "I don't enjoy competing with maybe 50 other fishermen for a spot," he
says. "When I am fishing, I like to forget about everything else.
     "Fishing for me is like a religious experience. What I am interested
in is solitude and an opportunity to interact with nature. That can mean
watching a blue heron stalking dinner in the shallows during the evening or
hearing a beaver splashing the water with his tail as I drift by on my boat
at night. I fish to have an opportunity to be alone in a beautiful place
and maybe experience one of these things."
     Since Carol, a mathematics teacher in the Christina School District,
also had her summers free, the Mentzers began to spend their vacations
camping and fishing throughout the Northwestern U.S. and Canada.
     Finding themselves spending more and more time in Montana, the
Mentzers decided by the early '80s to develop a business around their
favorite recreational sport. Greg received his outfitters license in 1985
and since 1986, the Montana River Guides spend from mid-July to the end of
August escorting fishing enthusiasts to special spots in the state on the
Missouri River, Yellowstone National Park streams, several private mountain
lakes near Livingston and the acclaimed De Puy's Spring Creek.
     Clients, who are generally from the East Coast, are housed in guest
ranches, with some breakfasts and dinners at the Mentzer lodge. For a fee
of $1,845 per person, they navigate large rivers in a MacKenzie River Boat,
wade small streams or float in tubes on mountain lakes. They are urged to
bring their own rods, with extra line for "the hot fish."
     "I tell all clients to have a reel with 75 yards of backing in
addition to the 90-foot fly line," says Greg. "I remember one client from
Baltimore who made an upstream cast and the fish instantly ate the fly. He
set the hook and it was a hot fish. As the fish started to make a run, I
asked the client if he had backing. 'Oh, yes,' he says. So, we let the fish
run. The next thing I hear is a 'ping,' which can only be good news for the
fish. The client had been thrifty, adding only 10 feet of monofilament,
because he had never needed all that length in Maryland streams."
     Greg says he doesn't teach casting with "a four-count rhythm between
10 and 2 p.m.," as suggested by the elder Maclean in the popular movie, A
River Runs Through It. "In that film, they used the traditional, fixed
elbow," he says. "With the old way, you were told to put a book under the
elbow, but, if you remember in the film, one brother broke free and began
rhythmic casting. Everyone thinks of casting as a continuous arcing motion,
but I want to see elbow, wrist and rod tip moving in a straight line."
     Carol, who learned casting in Montana from Lee and Joan Wulff,
well-known fly fishing personalities, acts as guide in Yellowstone Park and
DePuy's Creek. She says she grew up ocean fishing with her family off Cape
May and Wildwood, N.J. "I remember always wanting to be there when the
boats came in, and I still have photographs of me helping my grandfather to
fillet the flounder and cut up squid. Even as a child, it was a satisfying
experience to catch a fish."
     Today, she particularly enjoys the camaraderie of fishing companions,
both male and female. "I enjoy sharing my catch with Greg, who is also my
best friend as well as my husband and business partner. You can't ask for
much more in a relationship," she adds.
     Fish stories about tremendously large river trout are just not true,
the Mentzers say, pointing out that the average fish for the Missouri River
is 15 to 17 inches. And yet, Carol has the ultimate fish story from a float
tube fishing trip on Mission Lake in the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
     "There was a group of three women and three men. We had drifted far
apart but our voices carry well over water," she recalls. "I fought that
fish for 20 minutes, calling for everyone to come help. My line went
straight down and came to a halt. I knew this was the fish of the day, so I
dropped my line and the fish came up.
     "That fish took up the whole net, easily a 23-inch, 7-pound trout. The
men still didn't come, although one woman did help with the net. I knew I
had outfished them all this time, but they never believed me-until the
photograph came back."
                                   -Cornelia Weil