Fly-fishing with KynsLee Scott
Last year KynsLee Scott wanted to organize a Women’s Fly Fishing Night at Blackfoot River Outfitters. She approached her boss, longtime outfitter and fly shop owner John Herzer, with the idea. Over the last decade John had noticed more women walking into his fly shop and saw the event as a great opportunity to galvanize this interest. He gave KynsLee the go-ahead but recalled thinking that there “might be 20 women who would show up.”
As a guide for 25 years, John knew firsthand how male-centric the fly fishing world could be. John’s business partner is his wife, Terri Raugland. Terri was one of the earliest female guides in the area—not an easy task in a macho sport. John remembers that especially in their early years, he and Raugland would travel to sports shows to reach out to prospective clients and would have photos out on the table, including pictures of Raugland smiling and holding a large native westslope cutthroat trout. More times than not, someone would stop at the table, look at the picture, look up at Terri, look at the picture, and ask:
“Did you catch that?”
To which Terri would respond, “No, my husband let me hold it.”
By 2016, thanks to groundbreaking women such as Terri and their protégés such as KynsLee, far more women were taking to the rivers with fly rods. Nonetheless, if John was surprised when KynsLee said there were 80 women signed up for the event, he was flabbergasted when 350 showed up to the shop that day.
KynsLee remembered that night fondly as “the proudest moment of my career.” She knew that women were tired of learning how to fly fish from their boyfriends and husbands:
“They wanted to learn from women,” KynsLee said, “and they wanted to learn hands-on.”
From a young age fish and rivers and thin nine-foot rods have coursed through KynsLee like blood flows through most of us—fast and constant. When she was 9 years old, she watched her dad reel in a record Pacific Blue Marlin in Hawaii and became hooked on fishing. Growing up in Helena, KynsLee fished Montana’s wild and scenic rivers and began teaching fishing in the summers while attending the University of Montana. However, it wasn’t until she walked into Blackfoot River Outfitters six years ago that her career as a fly fishing guide took off.
It was under John’s tutelage that KynsLee learned that “guiding is much more than just catching fish.”
“Anybody can be a good guide when the fishing is good,” Herzer explained. “But what people get out of the day goes above and beyond the fishing. It’s all about building relationships.
“Sometimes you need to be a psychologist, a marriage counselor, a family counselor. You need to be able to discern what the client’s desires are right away. You can never be down—ever.”
Over her years working in the shop and on the river, KynsLee has developed an attunement of how to build these relationships with clients and leave them with some knowledge of the riverine ecosystems they’re passing through. KynsLee believes that as people learn about everything the fish depend on for their survival they begin to care more about conserving the resource. Conservation has become one of Kynslee’s greatest passions:
“I would argue that guides are the greatest conservationists on the river. Guides aren’t in it to make a ton of money; they’re in it for love of it. And our river systems need love.”
To get more people caring for our rivers KynsLee would like to get more people out on the river fly fishing, but to accomplish that she needs to break down a major preconception of the sport: the connotation of fly fishing as an expensive, elitist sport.
“It’s really not expensive. You can start with some cheap gear, and then over time you can invest,” she said. “It’s like if you get into mountain biking, you can start with a really basic bike and if you like it, eventually you can get a nicer bike.”
KynsLee recently moved to Ellensburg, Washington, to take the next step in her guiding career: fishing for steelhead. Already, she misses the friendliness she had become accustomed to on Western Montana rivers. In many ways, she’s starting from scratch: It’s hard to find any women who guide steelhead fishing, thus people seem to be “less welcoming” to her presence. But KynsLee—with a beaming smile and upbeat attitude—is always up to the challenge of making fly fishing more welcoming to everyone. Once she’s finished her work in Washington, she’s promised she’ll return to the rivers—the Blackfoot, the Bitterroot, the Clark Fork—that she calls home.