Recently, on a hot, sunny day at the Gallatin River Lodge in Bozeman, Montana, I laid stretched out on my yoga mat in the soft grass beneath a verdant canopy of trees as an instructor led myself and a group of women through a restorative yoga practice after a long day of float fishing with the Gallatin River Guides on the Yellowstone River. That residual buzzing feeling one experiences after hours of intense focus and physicality outside gradually slowed and settled in my body as we practiced a series of gentle stretches, self-massage techniques, and breathwork.
From the perspective of an observer, fly fishing doesn’t look all that rigorous, more of a relaxing outdoor pastime that appears almost effortless—at least, that’s what I had come to believe from my experience watching seasoned anglers artfully cast their line for hours with an unrelenting sangfroid. But after spending half the day competing against changing winds and quick-moving water while dodging wayward hooks in the scorching Montana sun, I was utterly exhausted, but not unsuccessful.
Out on the river that day, I'd done well to catch at least ten bulgy-eyed mountain whitefish, according to my fishing partner and the leader of our much-needed recovery session, Lindsay Kocka, who was no doubt trying to cheer me up after also witnessing my short-lived, adrenaline-fueled encounter with a very large rainbow trout.
But Kocka, a movement teacher and fly fishing instructor who founded Wade in Wellness, doesn’t really care if you catch a fish. Well, she does, but it’s not the first priority. To her, the holistic experience that fly fishing provides—moving confidently through variable terrain and attuning yourself to the natural world—is the end goal.
“I really like teaching people how to catch fish, but I like the holistic experience more,” says Kocka, referring to her unique methodology, which seamlessly combines yoga, functional mobility, and strength training with mindfulness exercises to help women anglers feel more confident and connected to their body outside and on the water.
Although she’s now based in the country’s fly fishing capital of Montana, Kocka is a Minnesota native who grew up as an avid outdoorswoman. She fished casually with a rod and spinner reel until the graceful, meditative art of casting caught her attention. She was already a yoga and mindfulness instructor at the time, and the obvious parallel between the seemingly disparate pursuits were immediately attractive.
“I thought, this looks beautiful, peaceful, and meditative, and it felt like a seamless transition from my interest in mindful movement practice and loving the outdoors,” says Kocka. “It’s something you can do solo and with people, which is unique in that it can be a social or introspective sport.”
"I felt it’s important that people are comfortable talking about their bodies while fly fishing."
An emerging love of the mind-body experience that fly fishing provides sent Kocka diving headfirst into these new waters. She ended up dating a fellow angler who shared her passion, but when the relationship ended, she realized she hadn’t truly learned many of these skills on her own. “I realized I didn’t know as much as I wanted to be able to fish on my own,” she explains. “I got more involved with local fly fishing organizations, and my experience in the Minneapolis area was that it was very male-dominated, which was fine, but it didn’t necessarily feel like a social environment that I wanted to hang out in regularly.”
Kocka isn't alone in her experience—a 2022 study conducted by the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation (RBFF) showed that despite female participation being at an all-time high of 19.8 million, one in four lapsed anglers cited not having anyone to go with as a barrier to fishing, and 40% of women anglers feel a women’s fishing club would help them go more often. Other major barriers include feeling disrespected by the male fishing community, unwelcome in retail and outdoor spaces, and even unsafe on their own. These statistics and Kocka’s firsthand experience underscore the need for women to have a community in fly fishing that's supportive and welcoming, whether they are experienced or just beginning.
For Kocka, that community manifested in the form of the Fly Fishing Women of Minnesota, where she heard female anglers voice their concerns about safely moving through outdoor spaces.
“There were physical components of fly fishing that were a bit of a barrier for them, like fear of falling down and not being able to get back up,” says Kocka. “I was kind of struck that nobody else was talking about this publicly; we all have bodies, and we are using our bodies while we’re doing this thing, so why aren’t we talking about these experiences?”
That sparked an idea. At the time, Kocka was the director of yoga and fitness programming at a group of rock climbing gyms, where she spent several years working with competitive and professional rock climbers. After being furloughed at the start of the pandemic in 2020, she packed up and relocated to Bozeman, where she found a sweet spot at the intersection of mindful movement and fly fishing.
“The years exclusively developing programs and working with the competitive and professional rock climbing community is a large part of what set the stage as I began building programming specifically for fly anglers,” she explains. “I identified a large degree of carry-over from one sport to the next, predominantly in areas such as grip, hand, and elbow health, active range shoulder and hip mobility, dynamic natural movement in the outdoor space, and overall mind-body integration.”
She coined her method “Fluent Movement on the Fly" to encapsulate the way she coaches practitioners to build balance and proprioception (an awareness of the position and movement of the body) to get up, over, under, and around obstacles, and to improve joint mobility and durability and breath mechanics through a mindful movement practice. While this might sound complicated and even esoteric, Kocka’s physiological approach to empowering women to confidently adventure outside is actually quite impactful—and backed by science.
In the same study by RBFF, active female anglers reported fishing increased their patience and perseverance, improved feelings of peace and calm, and reduced anxiety. But the most profound finding revealed that 87% felt that they had a sense of self-worth. These are powerful anecdotes in their own right that also align with recent studies proving the positive impact regular movement has on the brain, cognition, and emotional health. “Fly fishing is inherently an embodied practice,” says Kocka. “That happens for a lot of people automatically, but not everybody, so this can also equip them with tools to help them feel more empowered in their body.”
At Gallatin River Lodge, the practice Kocka took us through was simple yet so effective in rejuvenating our cashed-out bodies and minds. While this is most certainly not how I get to end every outdoor pursuit in my regular life, it reminded me of how necessary it is to balance out the intensity that is often attached to adventure sports with levity and lightheartedness.
I’ll admit, as an active woman who frequently participates in outdoor pursuits, sometimes alongside men, there tends to be an unspoken pressure to perform that can lead to burnout, injury from bad decision making, exclusivity, and disinterest in some who would otherwise thrive in different circumstances. But you can’t make that choice if you’re unaware of the options—a narrative that Kocka wants to change through education and community.
“There’s this idea that you have to be super strong or you’re weak because of X, Y, and Z reasons,” says Kocka. “I felt it’s important that people are comfortable talking about their bodies while fly fishing, and make it a little less taboo to say, 'I am afraid to cross this river by myself, will you lock arms with me?'”
Through her Wade and Wellness retreats and educational programs with partners such as Take Me Fishing and Patagonia, Kocka facilitates this locking of arms—literally and metaphorically. Whether it’s a river cleanup or fly casting as mindful movement practice, she is intentional about focusing on the inherent therapeutic benefits of fly fishing based on the central belief that to take care of others and the environment requires you to take care of yourself. “For me,” she says, “that begins with the healthy human.”