Thursday, March 8, 2012

Excellent trouting

Gazing upon turn-of-the-20th-Century photos of Belgrade, Montana tonight, it struck me how quickly towns evolve while landscapes stay the same. It made me wonder what the rivers around here were like before browns and rainbows. Chock full of massive cutthroat and grayling? Sprinkled with a few small whitefish?
Clay and Brady in their primes (c.1904)
(incidentally, if you own the rights to the original photo, let me know and I'll make it right).

It reminded me of an old book I came across that gave basically the first popularized accounts of fishing in America, entitled: The angler's guide book and tourist's gazeteer of the fishing waters of the United States and Canada, published in 1886.

Here are some samples regarding Montana:

Butte - Big Hole r. 30m. Deer Lodge r. 18m. (known today as the Clark Fork of the Columbia); first best; trout and grayling are the principal varieties; worms, minnows, and art. flies used. June to October best; there are no hotels at fishing waters; excursions are made from Butte; boats and bait can be had at fishing grounds. 200 lbs of trout reported as a days catch for five rods. Other waters easily reached give superior fishing for trout....

...Dillon - Beaverhead r. 1/2m.; grayling and whitefish are principal varieties; grub bait in winter and grasshoppers in warm weather; all months good except May and June; hotels $2 p.d.; There are some small creeks 10 to 15 miles where trout are caught from May to November (coincidentally, our current small stream open season); guides and boats not needed...

...Gallatin - Gallatin r., Madison r., and Jefferson r.,; first best: trout, grayling and whitefish; all numerous; grasshopper usual bait; July, August, September and October best; hotels $10 p. w; excellent trouting...

...Livingston - Yellowstone r. 1/4 m.; trout and grayling; trout most numerous; art. flies used mostly; July, August and September best; hotels at reasonable prices; boats at $2 p.d. The fishing in the Yellowstone is simply magnificent. A bug, locally known as the "trout fly", which resembles the common "thousand legs", is the most killing lure. These bugs lie under the stones along shore and can be gathered by the hand-full. Query: Is it the helgramite or dobson of the East?

And that's just the beginning. Some of the waters were said to hold brook trout already. They used "bird meat", beef, bacon and "fat pork" as bait. "Indians and half-breeds as guides at reasonable prices...excellent fishing for large trout...will satisfy the most greedy angler..." The Big Blackfoot was already famous, being referenced as "celebrated waters" and a "noted fishery".  And at most places, flies were already being used. 

In 1886, fly fishing was well on it's way to what it's become.


This book was the prototype for the Flyfisher's Guides that now support me. Makes you wonder if it was really as good as they made it sound, or if they were peddling trout as we do today. My guess is that it was better than they made it sound, and we'll likely never see such fluvial wealth again.

3 comments:

Joshua Bergan said...

For more great fly-fishing heritage, I recommend Fly-fishing Pioneers and Legends of the Northwest and Tarpon.

Nate Schweber said...

Awesome (and kinda' sad) post

Joshua Bergan said...

Thanks Nate.