Tag: Montana

Look to Montana for habitat restoration and fishy inspiration

I just came back from an enlightening trip to Butte, Montana, ground zero for turn-of-the-century copper extraction, just as Thomas Edison discovered electricity and the USA wired the entire country to go from candles to light bulbs. Millions of miles of copper wire came from ore extracted in Butte. As a result, tons of extremely toxic mining waste polluted the area’s water and fouled the landscape, killing off thousands of trees.

Butte gets rich, then goes bust

Richest Hill on EarthButte got rich and richer, then went bust. One hundred-plus years of mining left 10,000 miles (not a typo) of mines beneath the city. At one point, more than 100,000 souls called it home, many Irish immigrants; mining shifts worked around the clock, and Charlie Chaplin complained he’d “never worked that hard in his life” because of having to play to multiple shifts of miners as they got off their shifts. Today, the population has decreased to around 34,000, up 4,000 in the last decade.

Better times ahead

Butte is experiencing a bit of a Renaissance, with a freshly minted film festival, good spots to stay and to eat, close airport access to the Big Hole, one of America’s premier freestone rivers, fly rods designed by women, for women, and a fine local bourbon.

As I fly fished my way around the area, the LA was on my mind. I caught cutthroat trout in Silverbow Creek, where wading would have been dangerous just a few decades ago.

A beautiful Cutty, caught at a former Superfund cleanup site. (Jim Burns)

Environmental Protection Agency officials declared it a Superfund cleanup site in 1983.

So, for inspiration about what our river could become as it loses its concrete straitjacket, check out this video. Next carp you catch, squint your eyes and see what it might become.


See you on the river, Jim Burns



Earth quotes: Norman Maclean

Norman Maclean penned the classic "A River Runs Through It." (Courtesy Confluence Press)

If it’s been a while since you read “A River Runs Through It,” or if you’ve never read the engrossing tale before, this fall would be a good time to pick up this thin volume. Throughout its pages, Maclean proves his worth, and it’s a mystery to me why he remains one of our most underrated American writers. The movie is good, but not nearly the equal of the book. Here’s the opening paragraph from the book, which won a Pulitzer in 1977:

“In our family there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in western Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others. He told us about Christ’s disciples being fisherman, and we were left to assume, as my brother and I did, that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fisherman, and that John, the favorite, was a dry-fly fisherman.”

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Quick Mends: Oil spill fouls Yellowstone River

Dirty water: An oil spill befouls Yellowstone River. (Courtesy Natural Resources Defense Council)

According to emergency officials, a break in an Exxon oil pipeline caused the spill into the Yellowstone River Friday that has so far spewed thousands of gallons into the water, endangering residents, wild life and, of course, the rainbow trout for which Montana is famous. In fact, trout fishing is a $400 million business in that state.

The spill occurred near Billings, 100 miles below Yellowstone National Park and its prized fishing waters, which draw 11 million visitors a year to a state with a population of just 980,000, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Billings Gazette features updates on the event, while CNN has video coverage.

See you on the river, Jim Burns