For a student going to school at Montana’s land grant university, the two weeks following Thanksgiving were some of the most stressful of the fall semester. The misleadingly dubbed “dead” week and the following week of final exams can become overwhelming for students taking a full course load on top of work and other extracurricular time-burners. As the stress built, the weekend that separates these two grueling weeks was a time most students spent glued to a chair while deep in study.

While my academic circumstance was comparable, I made sure to take time off from studying to fixate my attention on scaring fish with feathers and glue. Peers may view ditching study guides for trout streams as immature, but I disagree. It’s clear that the outdoors can be just as beneficial to my final grades as the library.

While I packed up the pickup early this morning, I figured I’d be fine with just a down coat over my shirt. The National Weather Service suggested weather would be in the high thirties and partly sunny with snow settling in come late morning. As I rolled out of town, I saw the squalls of snow start to crawl over the mountains from the Southwest and over the Gallatin Valley.

Trading the stale air of ancient campus halls for what I would imagine as the most enjoyable air on God’s green earth was enough to remind myself that I made the right choice to invade the local stream. At the pull out, the newly risen sun somehow made the freezing air feel warm. Snow dusting the cacti that covered the streamside landscape continued to confuse my senses.

Working downstream, I fished a small streamer called the “sculpzilla,” hoping to catch a few hungry trout eager for a good meal before winter fully settled in. This stream produced a number of great fishing excursions earlier in the fall, and was one of the few spots with open water that was close enough to campus to make it back by noon. Betting on past success, I followed the current, working each hole and run methodically, hoping to rouse one of the fish this greater river system has become famous for.  

The serenity of fishing this stream reminded me why I decided to attend school here in the first place. While academics sealed the deal, I can’t help but admit the ability to fish these quality waters on a whim made MSU stand out from the rest. 

I continued to practice my casting, as I could not move a single fish besides the schools of whitefish revealing themselves from under the ice shelves. A muskrat swimming past me was the only other creature present until a few hours later, when I landed my only fish of the day. Reeling in the chunky cutbow measuring in the upper teens was well worth the struggle of messing with frozen guides. 

As I often feel after fall and winter fishing, I was relieved to get back to the truck despite the impending study session. In years past, this temporary escape from reality would have increased my stress level because of the perceived time waste. This year, I knew a fishing trip would be beneficial to my success come finals. Stress will of course return as I get back to campus, but after a morning on the water, the stress diminished and my mind cleared. 

A morning getting skunked on the creek beats any in the library. As I write about this last trip, I am already beginning to think about my next trip into the field. Rarely am I eagerly thinking about the next trip to the library. As the spring semester winds on and the fishing improves, I encourage you to take an opportunity to relieve some school related stress and enjoy the wonderful outdoor recreation that Bozeman has to offer.

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