Friendship & Fishing

Rimrock River Sisters are always up for fun on the fly

“Set!” Joni Thompson, 65, remembers her young son yelling at her as she looks back on one of the first days she and her son, Ryan, fished together. The young boy was urging her to pull up her line. “Mom, what are you doing? You got a fish. Set!”

Joni and Ryan were fly fishing on a stream in Colorado. Being novice anglers didn’t bother the two. It was another experience that Joni, as a single mom, wanted Ryan to experience. He took it seriously and ultimately became a fishing guide, now spending summers guiding along Montana’s pristine rivers.

But on that day, over 20 years ago, Joni recalls not even thinking about the fish at the end of her line. Her attention had been captured by the beautiful bald eagle that was gliding by in a clear and cloudless sky.

As she tells her story, her friends laugh in appreciation, recalling their own memories of being outdoors, enjoying and appreciating the beauty, the quiet and the sounds of nature.

“It’s so peaceful,” Joni says. “There’s a natural rhythm with nature that just occurs when you’re fishing.”

It’s been proven that nature can provide natural stress relief. Being outdoors boosts endorphin levels and dopamine, both of which promote happiness. Time outside can also lower heart rate and blood pressure.

But for these four friends, it’s not just the medical benefits of fly fishing, or how their body is reacting internally, it’s the art of fly fishing and the excitement of catching and landing a fish.

“I’ve been absolutely overwhelmed by the beauty of being on a river,” Karen Page, 87, adds. “Even as often as I fish, I still get that feeling of awe just being on a river and challenging myself to catch a fish.”

Karen has been fishing for the better part of the last 40 years. It’s something she’s passionate about. “I started fishing when fishing meant a bamboo rod and worms,” she says with a laugh. “I loved it, but when I was introduced to fly fishing – well, I found my passion.”

Karen, along with friend and fellow fisher woman Kris Spanjian, are both founding members of the recently formed Rimrock River Sisters, a Billings women’s group that’s a spinoff from Magic City Fly Fishermen and Trout Unlimited. Joni and another fly fishing friend, Deb Mattern, just joined. 

Their mission is simple: Gather with like-minded women who either love to fly fish or would love to learn.

“There’s something incredible about fly fishing,” Kris, 65, says. “You mimic the fish’s food, entice it to eat, feel it dancing, and then pull on the line and the rod, reel it in and then release it back to the wild.”

The others nod in agreement. Kris was an anesthesiologist and spent much of her medical career in the intensive care unit at St. Vincent Healthcare. For her, fly fishing became a way to release the stress she endured at work.

“It’s a close connection with a living, wild thing,” she says. “It reminds you that we are all a part of this wild world.”

It wasn’t a stressful career that caused Joni to search for solace in fly fishing, but a distraction from her health issues. Joni was diagnosed with breast cancer in January of 2023. Her prognosis is good, but during treatment she often wondered if she’d ever regain her active lifestyle.

“I remember just sitting there thinking, ‘My life is over,’” Joni says. “’What can I do now?’” It was about the same time that she heard about “Casting for Recovery,” a support group that provides healing outdoor retreats for women with breast cancer. When she was accepted, she suddenly had something to look forward to that wasn’t medically related.

Attending the retreat sparked an interest in becoming more competent with her skills, which was topped when her son outfitted her for Mother’s Day with the gear she needed. She was set to learn the sport.

“It’s been a life saver for me,” she says.

“It’s true,” Kris agrees. “People can be in a low place, but when they have to concentrate on something — a technique, a goal or an effort, the stuff that’s been clogging up their head and stealing all their attention goes away. For many, it’s one of the only ways they release all of that.”

Also a breast cancer survivor, Deb, 72, is 28 years post cancer. But for her fly fishing is more than a common pastime with other survivors and her friends. She just enjoys being outdoors and improving her skills. That’s one reason she’s part of Rimrock River Sisters.

“I have so enjoyed fishing,” she says. “I want other women to learn the craft of fly fishing and enjoy it as much as we do.”

“Our ultimate goal is to have fun,” Joni says. “If we aren’t having fun, what’s the point?”

As the women share their fishing stories, they also chat about some of the upcoming events taking place this summer with the newly formed organization. Rimrock River Sisters is planning sessions including basic fly fishing to tying flies, hoping to appeal to all levels and ages of women, exposing them to what will hopefully become a lifelong hobby.

“It’s more than just fishing,” Deb says. “We are making friends and doing things together. Fishing gets us outside and having fun.”

Karen adds, “It’s not always about catching a fish. There’s so much more to it.”

“That’s B.S.,” Kris pipes in. “I really, really like catching fish!”

The other three join in her laughter.

With summer in full swing and the rivers and streams beckoning fishermen, the women are excited to be part of a sport that gives them a lot of satisfaction. 

Kris tops it off, “Fishing can take you places that will teach you things and heal your soul.” 

FOR MORE INFORMATION, follow Rimrock River Sisters on Facebook. You can also learn more about Casting for Recovery by visiting


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