I was told to “get comfortable being uncomfortable” years ago, and this has become one of my mantras. I have repeated those words to myself many times during outdoor adventures, tough workouts, challenging professional projects and more. In fact, it was one of the reasons I decided to try winter fly-fishing in Big Sky, Montana.
I knew I was signing up for a challenge — cold hands and feet, exposure to nature’s elements, slow fish bites and the chance of no trout on the end of my line. But I pushed forward and reached out to Gallatin River Guides to take me on an excursion in this spectacular sporting haven. After all, if I was going to endure some suffering, it would at least be in a beautiful locale with higher odds of hooking something.
No doubt, Montana is stunning. The drive from the Bozeman airport to Big Sky includes plenty of eye candy, following the Gallatin River as it bends its way through the mountains. Within the hourlong drive, I spied a moose, bighorn sheep, bald eagles and more. My heart felt at home.
The Gallatin River has a deep history, having been discovered in the early 1800s by Lewis and Clark, who named it after U.S. Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin. Nearly a century later, it served as the backdrop for the movie A River Runs Through It, which put fly-fishing on everyone’s radar. (I did hear that lead actor Brad Pitt had a stand-in for his fly-casting, but I’m sure his skills have improved by now.) The river itself is one of the most picturesque waterways I’ve ever seen. It felt like I was dropped right into a postcard thanks to the combination of rushing water and snowcapped mountains.
Fly-fishing has a cult following, similar to golf. Aficionados are devoted year-round, from tying flies to practicing the rhythm of the cast. Fly-casting is not for the faint of heart, as it takes practice and dedication. Winter brings a unique set of challenges, as ice forms on the line and the eyelets of the rod. You need to stop frequently to clear the ice with your fingers — an added bonus for your already frozen hands.
On top of that, the trout bite seems to be less aggressive during the colder months. If they are hungry, they nibble on the fly with a gentle touch. I learned quickly that setting the hook too fast meant losing the battle. I was ecstatic to catch and release one trout that day with the help of my guide, Sam Rowe. But it wasn’t the number of fish caught that mattered; it was the joy of accepting challenges, learning from failures and leaning into the discomforts. I embraced all these hardships, as stretching past a comfort zone is scientifically proven to increase happiness.
These days, we enjoy a lot of modern comforts, but our ancestors had to work hard to feed their families by hunting and gathering. The trails they traveled were physically and mentally challenging, and it’s in our genes to persevere like they did. There is a sense of contentment that comes from accomplishing something difficult. Winter is a great time to adventure out into the natural elements to experience the tradition of getting comfortable being uncomfortable.
Now, I am not a total glutton for punishment. In addition to being a top sporting spot, Big Sky also boasts opulent accommodations where you can warm up after a cold day outdoors. Montage Big Sky features the perfect balance of luxury living and rugged modern mountain vibes. The resort’s plush suites, roaring fireplaces and incredible wild game offerings on its menus make it a prime post-fishing hang to thaw out and reflect on the day.
Outdoor adventures are made for building bravery and expanding our minds. A recipe for finding joy is to get comfortable being uncomfortable, grow from the experience and do it all over again. As it turns out, Big Sky, Montana, is the perfect destination to help you on this journey.
Laura Schara is a lifelong outdoor enthusiast and cohost of the television series Minnesota Bound.