When Bob Jacklin was 13 years old, he bought his first fly rod — a $13 length of fiberglass wrapped in hope.
He really wanted a bamboo rod, but it was out of his price range. A friend could afford bamboo, though, and eventually Jacklin bought it from his friend. Fifty-three years later, he still has that first bamboo rod.
The story could be a metaphor for Jacklin's life: When he finds something he likes, he sticks to it. Take fly fishing, for example. At 66 he still enjoys teaching, fishing and fly tying after a lifetime of pursuing those crafts.
"I may have more enthusiasm now then when I was 13," he said.
Jacklin will share his expertise and enthusiasm with those who attend the Magic City Fly Fishers' sixth annual Fly Fishing Expo on Saturday at the Holiday Inn Convention Center. He will give two presentations during the free expo, which runs from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and he is also the featured speaker at the group's banquet Saturday night.
Other programs by noted local anglers will feature fly-tying demonstrations and workshops, fly-casting instruction, fly-fishing seminars and programs, fly fishing and tying products and a children's fly-tying lesson and demonstration.
The expo is a great time to learn more about fly-tying, a skill anyone can learn, Jacklin said. He began tying and selling flies when he was 17.
"It's creative, it's artistic, and the trout will tell you if it's a good fly or not," he said.
Jacklin helped kick off the first Billings expo, and he's looking forward to seeing how things have changed in six years.
Go west, young man
Change was what Jacklin was seeking when he first visited Montana in 1967, fresh out of the Army. A New Jersey boy — he still speaks with the accent — he drove west in a Volkswagen Beetle to fish in Yellowstone National Park.
"I had never seen anything west of the Delaware River," he said.
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What he found in the area and in the people he met hooked him hard. It helped that the fishing was good.
"Montana probably has the finest all-around trout fishing in the lower 48," he said. "We're so lucky in Montana."
In 1974, after working for noted fly shop owner and guide Bud Lilly for years, Jacklin put down roots and opened his own fly shop in West Yellowstone.
Since then, Jacklin has donated countless hours to promoting fly fishing and teaching fly casting and tying to generations of anglers. He credits local anglers, fly shops and fishing groups for spreading the allure of angling to Billings children.
It's not an easy task, since there are so many other activities children can put their energy into.
"We have to get them hooked on fishing first," Jacklin advised. "Then you soft-sell the fly fishing."
He said children are ready to fly fish when they indicate an interest. Then he suggested keeping them intrigued by tying on a nymph and letting them catch whitefish from a river or creek.
"I think you have to get them into fish," he said. "They need that reinforcement. We all like dry-fly fishing, but using a wet fly they have a better chance of catching something."
Jacklin is living proof that fishing in general, and fly fishing in particular, can be a lifetime pursuit that continues to offer challenges across decades. It also provides the opportunity to visit beautiful places and meet interesting people.
"This has been a rewarding life and career," Jacklin said. "I haven't made a lot of money, but what I've made, I made while I was fishing."