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Twin Bridges, Montana

Area Angler Serves Up Fish Tales
By Perry Backus of The Montana Standard

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Jerry Kustich - fly fishing near Twin BridgesThere's more to fishing than catching a fish. 

That was a lesson Jerry Kustich of Twin Bridges discovered early in his childhood. Since then he's spent the best part of his life searching for all the nuances that go along with wetting a fly or perfecting a cast along that perfect stretch of river. 

And now, in his new book, "At the River's Edge; Lessons Learned in a Life of Fly Fishing," Kustich shares experiences, lessons and encounters that he's had along the way. 

In a series of short stories, Kustich takes the reader to rivers across the country, introduces them to characters he's met along the shoreline and provides a glimpse into a lifestyle that raises fly fishing to a near religious experience. 

"Ever wonder what it would be like to live the life of a full-time fishermen?" asks Glenn Brackett, the master bamboo rod builder with Winston Rod, in the book's foreword. "Well, Jerry lives that life. It is a life of purpose and passion -- a powerful love affair with fish and fishing. Whether he casts his line across water or upon paper, he is forever fishing." 

Kustich, 56, and his wife, Debra, have lived the past 19 years on one of Twin Bridge's few back streets. Soon after arriving there, he went to work for Winston Rod -- in part drawn to the promise of the freedom to leave at a moment's notice when word came of an impending caddis hatch. It didn't take long for Kustich to begin to think of the small Montana town as the epicenter of his fly fishing universe. 

He developed a list of fishing trips, starting with ones that would take an hour, then a day and two days, then three. 

"I began to draw in my mind concentric circles around the town,'' Kustich said. "I worked hard to get to that point ... that it now stretches from coast to coast. Twin Bridges is a great nucleus." 

Over the last 30 years, Kustich worked to ensure he averaged 150 days a year in search of that perfect stream or the perfect hatch. Last year, he figures he spent 36 days on the road in pursuit of that dream. All of that fishing and driving gave him plenty of time to think, to wonder, and to begin to formulate the series of stories that were to become his first foray into creating a novel on the lifestyle that surrounds fly fishing. 

Already known locally for a series of weekly nature columns that appeared in The Montana Standard, Kustich also recently co-authored a book with his brother, Rick, called "Fly Fishing for Great Lakes Steelhead: An Advanced Look at an Emerging Fishery." 

"This book was different,'' he said. "These were stories that have been with me for years. When I was driving along, I'd be writing them in my mind. They were formulated long before I ever wrote them down."

Unlike many books on fishing that dwell on the mechanics of casting a fly or choosing the right rod, Kustich's book ponders the journey that comes with living with your eyes wide open. 

"Ever since I was a kid, I dreamed about catching that cutthroat in that enchanting little creek behind the house that didn't really exist," he said. "Fishing to me is more about the time spent thinking about the adventure that's to come than the actual time spent catching a fish." 

"Unfortunately, I think too many people miss that these days. They hop on a plane, get off at Bozeman and go to some lodge, where their every wish is catered to, and then they go out and catch a lot of fish. But what they miss are the experiences along the way." 

"They're moving too fast to see," said Kustich. His book offers readers the chance to take a moment, slow down and enjoy the little things that so many now rush by. "It's all about living a significant life," he said. "There are masses of humanity out there who put in their time and just occupy some dead space ... they forget to pay attention to all the detail that surrounds them."

So many make their choices based on money -- "what am I going to get out of it?" -- and they miss the things that are really important, said Kustich. 

"I set a goal for myself on my 40th birthday to make $10,000 that year. I'd never done that before," he said. "I've always found a way to make money when I needed it. I've always found a way to get by and still enjoy my life."

"I always say that I'm very successful," said Kustich. "I've accomplished my goals. They may not be very lofty goals, but they were the ones I set out to accomplish."

"The irony of the whole thing is that I may discover that I've accomplished far more than I ever intended," he said. "The message of this book is not so much that people should live their lives centered on fishing, but that they should try to live their lives doing what they really want to do."

Copyright Perry Backus and the Montana Standard, reproduced by permission.


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