Trout Bum of the Week XVII: Tim Linehan

A New Hampshire boy by birth, Tim Linehan has been in northwestern Montana for more than two decades.
All photos courtesy Tim Linehan

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.

Tim Linehan operates Linehan Outfitting Company, in Troy, Montana, where he has been based since 1992. He is also the 2013 Orvis-Endorsed Fly-Fishing Guide of the Year, an honor that is no surprise when you consider that, in the reviews section of, all 106 people who reviewed Tim’s services say that they’d recommend him to others, and 105 people gave him 5 stars. (The lone dissenter offered four stars, which ain’t too shabby.)

1. When did you start fly fishing?

I grew up in New London, New Hampshire, and like many New England kids, hunting and fishing were sincere interests. Through my teens, I was still using a spinning rod, and then for my sixteenth birthday, my folks gave me a Berkley fly rod/reel combination and that was the start of it all.

I remember being ridiculously self-conscious about my casting and didn’t even care if I caught a fish. I would head down to the end of Pleasant Lake and cast off the rocks and pray that none of my friends would drive by and see me struggling with my cast.

Tim shows off a gorgeous native bull trout.

2. What’s your favorite water?
My favorite water. . .I pose this question to myself from time to time, considering the old “if I only had one day left” scenario, and have to say my home river. It’s a tributary of the Kootenai and I’m still very protective and would rather withhold the name. It’s not a big river, doesn’t have big fish, is subject to drastic seasonal variations, and to that end, only really fishes well for a couple months in the late spring/early summer. But its essence is much more about just going fishing instead of catching a bunch of big donkeys, sticking them hard, pinning them, roping them, or whatever. It’s about fishing a size 14 Royal Wulff with a 2-eight and catching stunningly gorgeous wild and native (and I do mean native) 8- to 12-inch rainbows with gill plates the color of ripe apples—all in the middle of a dense, coniferous, boreal forest that smells like Christmas every day.

3. What’s your favorite fly rod quarry and why?
This one is easy. My favorite fly-rod quarry is permit because they test everything about you including patience, tackle, casting, knots, strategy, emotions, and the ability to contain rod-breaking frustration. Additionally, my wife, Joanne, is crazy for permit too, so if she mentions heading for the salt, I’m all in!

4. What’s your most memorable fly-fishing moment?
My most memorable fly-fishing moment would definitely be the first fish I caught. I was still learning to cast—struggling to cast, actually—and hadn’t really considered catching fish as part of the entire experience yet. But I was standing on the rocks at the end of the little lake I grew up near, flailing away one day and the next thing I know I made a pretty decent thirty-foot cast and the leader actually straightened out. Next thing I know, I get a hit. I had absolutely no idea how to hook a fish on a dry fly, so I reared back with the tip of the rod and literally jerked a little brookie over my head, only to see it land on the double yellow line in the road behind me. To this day, I believe I could hear it sizzling, what with the heat of pavement.

The Orvis 2013 Fly-Fishing Guide of the Year, Linehan enjoys sharing his fishery with clients.

5. What’s your most forgettable fly-fishing moment?
I’d have to say in Belize at Turneffe Flats Lodge hunting permit with my wife. Dubs was poling from the platform, Joanne was standing in the bow with the rod ready, and I was standing next to her. After a while, we saw a fish, and it looked like we were going to get a good shot. Dubs immediately told Joanne to get ready. I immediately told her to strip more line off the reel. Dubs told her to wait until the fish was about sixty feet away before she dropped the fly. I told her to start false casting. Dubs told her to wait. I told her he’s getting close! Dubs told her to relax. I told her to be sure to lead the fish by about twenty feet. Dubs told her to lead the fish by about ten feet. Just as I was about to tell her to start casting, she dropped the rod to her side, turned to me, and said through clenched teeth and rather loudly, “There’s only one f!#%&@%! guide in this boat, and it’s not you!” Needless to say I got the point.

6. What do you love most about fly-fishing?
There are too many things to list regarding what I love most about fly fishing, but for the most part, I love that it quiets the noise and static in my head. I’m a classic ADHD type, and when I’m guiding or fishing, my mind is still and I’m comfortable with the world around me. It makes me feel like I’m from somewhere, and it makes me feel like I have a purpose in life instead of feeling like I’m just a meteor flying aimlessly in space. It’s the same feeling I get when I’m slipping through the timber still-hunting a big whitetail buck or bull elk.

7. What’s your favorite piece of gear and why?
Definitely at this particular point in time my Sonic waders. I believe they’re the finest wader on the market. They’re comfortable, cut to fit, have the perfect waterproof front pocket for the iPhone, are extremely durable, and they don’t leak.

That’s the smile of a man who loves his work.

8. What’s your go-to fly when nothing else is working?
My go-to fly when nothing else is working is a size 8 black Woolly Bugger. Some years ago, I was fortunate to work on a project for Trout Unlimited that included fishing around the country. Obviously, when you’re fishing different rivers under different conditions and times of the year, you’ll face a variety of situations. There were times when the fishing was slower than slow. But I’d vary the way I fished a black Bugger and more often than not, I’d move a few fish. It took me a long time to learn how to properly dead-drift a big Bugger since it’s longer than a nymph and therefore more influenced by the vagaries of currents than, say, a size 12 beadhead nymph. I also like that a Bugger is an extremely versatile sub-surface fly. It can be fished with action, dead-drifted, without action, by stripping, by varying the speed of retrieve, etc., which makes it my favorite go-to fly when nothing else is happening.

9. What was your favorite fly-fishing trip?
My favorite fly fishing trip to date was the first time my wife Joanne and I went to Belize and really got into permit. It opened up a whole new world.

10. What’s your next dream destination?
My next dream destination is without a doubt Kamchatka. I love that in many ways it’s one of the last truly wild places left on the globe.

14 thoughts on “Trout Bum of the Week XVII: Tim Linehan”

  1. Tim, will always remember fising the Box canyon with you and Todd T. and having that “river runs through it” moment. And later fishing with you in Libby with my family. Take care, and our best to Joanne. You surely deserve the honor. David and Nora Rosenberg

  2. I will never forget the first Orvis Guide Rendezvous I attended in 2009, because of Tim Linehan and his team of guides. I was welcomed to their table, treated like a member of the family, and reflected on this each time I had a client on the boat thereafter. Tim’s clients feel the same way too. Proud to be your friend and peer, Tim Linehan.

  3. Tim…I can still see you standing behind the Elkins (NH) post office casting your first fly rod…it was grey and whipped about like a cattail stem in a wind, a gift from your mother….and I remember fondly those years of paddling in our canoes on Pleasant Lake at sundown hunting cruising landlocked salmon that were feeding in the film….you have a great life now…but you’ve earned every minute of it….Congrats…..David Seybold

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