A couple years ago, we ran a series called “Trout Bum of the Week,” in which we highlighted some of the guys living the good life. . .of a sort. (See the bottom of this post for a link to the previous installments.) This is our second round of profiles. Most of the subjects are guides who have turned their passion into a vocation, spending their time in an outdoor “office” that may include a drift boat, gorgeous mountain scenery, and crystal clear water. Others do have day jobs but manage to spend every other available minute on the water with a fly rod in hand. Whether you aspire to one lifestyle or the other, it’s illuminating to explore the different paths these men and women have taken on their way to achieving “trout bum” status.
Maggie Mae Stone guides at Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky, Montana. She’s a native Montanan who spends the off season working as a school counselor in Whitehall, Montana, a stone’s throw from the Jefferson River.
1. When did you start fly fishing?
I grew up in the little town of Harrison, Montana, just a few miles away from the Lower Madison River. My family spent a lot of time camping around the North Meadow Creek area, where my brother and I would explore all the high mountain lakes, spin fishing for rainbows and brookies. It wasn’t until my freshman year in high school when I picked up a fly rod. My PE teacher provided several units on outdoor sports, and one of them happened to be fly fishing. She arranged for a day out on the Madison River with a local guide, where we learned about various flies and casting techniques. I remember being mesmerized by the realistic fly patterns and falling in love with the finesse of the guide’s flawless cast. My first couple of casts were far from what I witnessed, but I will never forget the guide’s words: “You are a natural!” Now as a school counselor, I see a lot of children who would rather play their video games or computers than go outside and experience nature. My goal is to work toward getting our youth involved in outdoor sports, such as fly fishing. I believe my counseling background provides an advantage for me to build rapport with a client and make them feel comfortable with a rather intimidating, male-dominated sport.
2. What’s your favorite water?
Anyone from Montana will tell you that this is a very difficult question to answer as we are extremely fortunate to be surrounded by epic waters. While my summers are dedicated to guiding, winter is my time. The Lower Ruby River offers tight water, diverse structure, technical fishing, and a huge population of powerful browns. Encountering another angler in a day’s fishing is rare. The Ruby is also the first river where I landed my first brown trout on a fly rod. A successful winter Ruby fishing trip always ends with a few rounds of whiskey at Chicks Bar.
3. What’s your favorite fish to chase with a fly rod and why?
The fall browns that run out of Hebgen Lake and into Yellowstone Park. It is the highlight of my year and provides some of the most beautiful and spunky browns I have ever seen. You can stand silently in the water and witness gigantic airborne browns strutting their stuff!
4. What’s your most memorable fly-fishing moment?
My most Memorable moment also happens to be one of my favorite stories to tell as a novice guide. I was requested to take a father and his daughter out for two days of fishing, with one condition: his daughter, who didn’t particularly love fishing, catch a fish, but not just any fish, a Page Six chick’s fish! Given that this was my first guided float trip of my career, the pressure was on. First fish, whitefish. Second fish another whitefish, damn. Third fish, after almost two hours of no fish in muddy water and high temps, we managed to snag a 19-inch’ brown. Photo quality, the day was saved. The best part was at the take-out, where two guides approached our boat and asked how the fishing had been. They expressed to us that they had not caught anything all day. It was probably my first real time feeling confident as a female guide in the land of testosterone.
5. What’s your most forgettable fly-fishing moment?
My most forgettable moment is one that actually taught me—or should I say scared me—into being much more careful when wading in any water. I was fishing my favorite section of the Ruby River, where a specific pool holds a large proportion of beautiful browns, and I was getting ready to cross over to the other side of the river. If you have ever fished the Ruby, you know it is pretty skinny water and not much of a concern when it comes to wading it; however I was witnessing rising fish on the other side and getting very excited, and not paying attention to where I was stepping. I feel every angler experiences that one moment of “Oh crap!”, when you make the wrong step and lose balance and control. I was swept away and headed right toward a small log jam. Most anglers will probably also admit to being more concerned with their rod or phone being lost as they try to swim out of the scary dilemma. My husband was wearing the Go-Pro during this little mess up, capturing the entire event. It’s still hard to watch.
6. What do you love most about fly-fishing?
The answer to this question has changed for me about a dozen times, so I will provide the most current answer I can give. A couple years ago, I would have responded with “catching the biggest fish” or “catching the most fish.” Now as a guide, I have been a part of something much bigger than just catching a ton of fish. I have fished with many unique individuals who all have different stories: One woman who had survived cancer and had never caught a fish, one little boy who needed his fishing scout badge, a couple who had survived a divorce because of a shared hobby of fishing bringing them closer together, two German boys who did not speak English but through fishing had broken our language barrier. The list is endless of how fishing has changed my perspective on life and what I love most about it. To sum it up, I love that I get to share my knowledge of what I love the most with people who are excited to learn, while in turn learning from them.
7. What’s your favorite piece of gear and why?
My favorite piece of gear would have to be my purple Orvis Safe Passage Sling Pack. Yes, I am still a girly girl who loves to accessories even while fishing; notice my first descriptive word was purple. The sling pack is perfect for holding all my gear, while lying comfortably across my shoulder and back, completely out of the way of casting and wading. It is easily accessible with many different pockets for all my gear, including attachment points for my pliers and even my tippet. I cannot stress enough that when it comes to being a woman and fishing products, there is just not a lot out there geared towards women. I am proud to say that Orvis has worked hard to accommodate women with products such as this sling pack.
8. What’s your go-to fly when nothing else is working?
We all have those days where we just can’t find that magic fly and nothing is working. If you look in my fly box at any given time, you will find an overstock of midges, San Juan worms, Rubber Legs, and Lightning Bugs, as these patterns seem to work all year long. My favorite fly to tie on when I have no idea what the fish are biting on is the Pink Soft Hackle Fire Bead. It is a perfect fly to trail off your point fly and seems to produce fish during any season with its flashy, bright colors.
9. What was your favorite fly-fishing trip?
This is another question that is difficult to answer as I can honestly say I have never been on a fly fishing trip that I didn’t love. I guess if I had to pick one, I would pick my first time floating the North Platte in Wyoming. It was also my first time with a professional guide. I was so nervous; once again, the thought of fishing with an experienced guide can be extremely intimidating, I will be the first to admit this. I decided to suck it up and overcome my fear. After the first cast, he anchored the drift boat and critiqued my cast on how I used too much of my body in my cast and that I would be quickly worn out if I kept casting that way. We continued on, and I caught the first fish of the day. It was huge, and I was excited to say the least. I set that hook so hard I nearly fell out of the boat, which was another rookie mistake, according to the guide. He yelled at me to get my ass in the leg braces and settle down. This may sound as if I am explaining my least favorite trip, but I have a point, I promise. The next fish, I did the same thing, freaked out with excitement and even screamed a little. Again, I got the evil eye. After fish number 40 (!), I had it down: I was casting better, I had a controlled hook set, and I was thoroughly enjoying his critique and suggestions. I learned to not take fishing so seriously and to just listen to my guide instead of getting uptight and thinking I knew everything. My point is that every trip offers the opportunity to grow as an angler. Your guide is just that—your guide—and keeping an open mind will do nothing but pay off. He was tough, but was also a significant influence in my fishing development, and I am actually friends with him to this day.
10. What’s your next dream destination?
Louisiana Bull Redfish, for big fish on big streamers! I can’t think of a better way to beat the winter blues.