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The guide's life

Posted on 10 March 2016


By Dave Reese
The road to Montana was paved with good intentions, and Jenny Grossenbacher had good intentions when she arrived her over a dozen years ago.

After a stint traveling with the "Up with People" dance troupe she planned to return to school at the University of Texas and graduate - a fate that never happened. The group's Australian tour got cancelled, and it diverted to Montana, a fate that changed her life.

"I just fell in love with Montana," Grossenbacher says.

She's now in her 12th year as a professional flyfishing guide in the business that she and her husband, Brian, started in Bozeman. Through their business, Grossenbacher Guides, they get to fish the rivers of southwest Montana and their office, now, is places like the Gallatin River, the Madison, the Yellowstone, and the numerous spring creeks that well up on private land in the Gallatin and Paradise valleys.

Grossenbacher grew up in New Mexico, a state with similar outdoor bounty as Montana, so the outdoor guiding gig "was in my blood," she says.

The Grossenbachers were born into the profession of river guide - literally. The word grossenbacher means "big river" in German. Maybe that's why the Grossenbachers know they've found their little piece of heaven in Montana. "I think it's actually adding years to my life," Jenny says. "It keeps me fit and healthy."

She and Brian met as backpacking guides in New Mexico and went fishing on their dates. They now spend more days on the river than they'd ever dreamed of, but sometimes to their own dismay. It's kind of like the old adage where the cobbler's child wears no shoes; they rarely get to take their own children, daughters ages 4 and 8, flyfishing. 

"So many of our clients say we have a dream job," Grossenbacher says. "But I don't want any more summers where we're not taking our daughters fishing, and all they see is mom disappearing from the driveway with a boat trailer behind her."

The Grossenbachers are working on their second book about flyfishing called "The No Nonsense Flyfishing Guide to Montana." Their first publication was "The Life of a guide; a Year on the Water."

Over the years of operating their business, the Grossenbachers, both 38, have met some incredible people - and that's what keeps them going. "We have so many great clients we get to fish with each year," Jenny says. "We've told ourselves we're not going to do this all our lives, but then we realize how great it is."

Hers is more of a people job than it is a fishing job. With degrees in fish biology and philosophy, Grossenbacher can fish and ruminate with the best of clients; but if the clients aren't enjoying themselves, then the whole day is a bust, she says. "As long as people are into it, it's incredible," she says.

Spending six or eight hours a day in a drift boat with a couple gives you a unique perspective on people.

In guiding, whether it's skiing or flyfishing, you'll often get what's known as the cranky client. From her guide seat, she gets to use some of that philosophy degree she earned. It's a lot  like life, crammed into a day float. "In the beginning I felt like I was giving away a day of my life if I was stuck with a negative person in a boat," Jenny says. "But I've learned to view them and not let them change me or affect me in a negative way. The humor and the fun of it is just working with the people."

She sees how people - especially couples - interact with each other and their guide. Men mostly tune her out, while the women have a slower, more methodical pace. And if a client just can't get their act together and enjoy themself, she might just get to the point and  tell them it's her way or the highway.

Being a female lends an interesting aspect to a mostly male dominion of flyfishing. Maybe that's why she's requested by so many repeat clients, including men. "They tell me it's nice not to have that extra testosterone in the boat," she says.


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