Traipsing around West Yellowstone in search of someone willing to talk, eventually led to an old fly shop on the main road. The shape of a timber awning, the air conditioning behind a timber door pry the summer heat off in layers. Inside, a young boy's face lights up as he turns over a lure in his small hands. His father boasts warmly to the old fisherman working the desk, “He loves fishing, can’t get enough of it.” A simple pride in the timeless joy of fishing saturates the air. The fidgeting childhood excitement to hold a fishing license, never quite lost on its way through life, is still glowing behind the smiling eyes of a veteran guide sitting behind the desk at Bob Jacklin’s Fly Shop. The West wall of the fly shop holds thousands of fly lures, each exquisitely handmade. The two story building is a sort of cathedral to fly fishing, drawing devotees from across the country. In it, Bob Jacklin himself stands as the grand priest.
As we spoke, he effortlessly fiddled with a reel. He was switching it from right to left, a task he rarely picked his eyes up from during the conversation. Bob excelled where he focused, so it’s no surprise that his lifelong pursuit of a single passion has yielded him so much. His store is filled with newspaper stories, trophies, and testaments to his dedication to the pastime. One article boasts of their local fishing legend catching his largest brown trout while filming a tutorial in the Madison River back in 2006. The town is proud to call him one of theirs, and it shows it with a nearly constant flow of articles and accolades. Early on though, being an easterner ruffled some feathers when he was trying to establish himself in the community.
The fences around joining the community were noticeable but porous for Bob as he became a fixture in the town. Sticklers here or there did little to keep him out and the rest of the community welcomed him with open arms. It wasn’t long before he was as local as anyone could get.
The town is low, flat, and culturally old west, leagues different from a town like Whitefish. But it’s again an account of a lucky infusion of tourist dollars, and a testament to the power and importance of aggressive reinvestment into community commons. The things Bob speaks most proudly about in town are the public facilities, services, and resources that they were able to conjure forth from a modest tax proposal. It is impressive to see even in ruby red Montana, the success story of a town hinging on a tax hike and the effective channeling of community resources.
On the other side of that community feel though, the town seems to hitch itself to an independent ideal. It happily hosts outsiders but cherishes its small town character. Even as tourists course through the town like a year round salmon run, West Yellowstone stays somehow contentedly apart, preserving its own sense of self. Like the fisherman, the town seems perfectly happy let alone with its thoughts, though an abundance of riches filling the river makes for a better day on the water.