MISSOULA – One hot Saturday morning in early August, University of Montana law students Henry Charpentier and Lukas Vining cast out lines on the Missouri River to unwind from their respective summer internships. Without a cloud in the sky, they had a perfect view of the trico hatch on the water.
Unfortunately, trico are miniscule insects, and this meant that the fish could easily spot the anglers. Even under ideal circumstances, the fish don’t always rise.
“But bad fishing makes for good conversation,” said Charpentier, and what with their final year of law school approaching, they weren’t devoid of topics.
Floating in Vining’s drift boat from Wolf Creek Bridge to the Dearborn access point, they discussed their experience as law students, as Montanans, as fishermen. They talked about the time they lost to COVID and their place in the law community they hoped to help build. They spoke of how they wanted to create a legacy within the law school surrounding their shared love of fishing and how they might achieve it.
From that riverside conversation grew the Fly Fishing Society, an independent student organization at UM’s Alexander Blewett III School of Law, which has amassed over 15 members since its conception in the fall semester of 2022.
Led by Charpentier, a Billings native who himself grew up fly-fishing, the Fly Fishing Society has fished rivers, held lecturers and volunteered for banquets since its conception. While their winter activities have been limited to fly tying and dreaming of the perfect trout, the FFS has big plans for warm weather.
While many lawyers across the country unwind after a long day with a round of golf, Montanan lawyers float the state’s abundant waterways with fishing rods in hand. However, the Fly Fishing Society doesn’t just fish: They work to ensure future generations of law students can fly-fish to unwind as well.
Partnered with national nonprofit Trout Unlimited – an organization with over 300,000 members that focus on protecting and restoring trout and salmon populations – FFS focuses on policy aiming to protect rivers and streams from pollution.
“They’ve done a lot of work here in Missoula with Rock Creek and the Clark Fork, getting rid of the mine tailings that were here decades ago and creating a suitable habitat for fish,” said Charpentier of the local WestSlope Chapter of Trout Unlimited. “It comes up a lot in Montana with fights over stream access laws or fishing regulations, so there’s a lot of opportunity to provide state or federal commentary.”
Beyond environmental activities, FFS is also looking to stretch their casting prowess toward some healthy competition; with spring all but here, Charpentier is working to organize a fishing competition against the Fly Fishing Society at Montana State University. As for what that may look like?
“You award point totals based on the species of fish and then size caught – say a rainbow is worth five points but a brown is worth seven, something like that,” says Charpentier predicting an ultimately victory for his team no matter the competition.
“This is the only law school in the country where you can fly-fish 200 yards from campus,” he said.