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George Grant History                

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Who Is George Grant

George Grant was born in 1906. To say that things were tough in Butte, Montana in 1906 would be an understatement. Very few people went fishing in those days, because there was little transporation and few roads to get to the rivers. In 1927 George started his fishing career when he was working at Armstead, Montana (now Clark Canyon Dam). In those days people didn't fish because it was fun; they fished because it provided food. No fish were released intentionally.

"During the Great Depression," Mr. Grant says, "a wonderful thing happened...I lost my job. I didn't look for another because there weren't any. Instead I rented a cabin at Dewey and there began my love affair with the Big Hole River." George was among the first to speak up for the fish, to try to preserve for them the water and water quality essential to their existence. Even as early as the 1930's he was telling people that a trout is too valuable to kill after catching it.

George devoted his life to studying the twin arts of fly fishing and fly tying. A creative and innovative fly tier, he became world-renowned for his "woven hair hackle" flies. George's hair hackle flies are difficult to tie. Because the process is so time-consuming, he was forced to charge high prices for his flies, and he certainly never got rich selling them! In his essays on fly-tying, he consistently maintains that fly-tying is an art, just as legitimate in its own way as painting or sculpture. Like all artists, those who tie flies should resist the pressure to merely copy patterns that have been created by others. And they should resist the pressure to compromise quality in order to mass produce flies more quickly or more cheaply. The fly-tying artist studies an organism with his or her own eyes, and invents a fly that will closely imitate the natural's colors, shapes, and textures. The fly-tying artist is guided by the needs of imitation, durability, and function, whether or not the resulting process happens to be time-consuming or the materials happen to be costly.

George held a number of jobs in the Butte area, including bookkeeper, fishing tackle buyer, and tackle shop owner. He retired in 1967 at age 61. Having preached for many years the value of clean water and wild trout, he now had time to write and publish The River Rat, which began as chapter newsletter for the "Rocky Mountain River Rats," the Trout Unlimited Chapter in the Butte area. As its fame and influence spread, The River Rat was adopted as the official newsletter of the Montana Council of Trout Unlimited.

At an age when most people are slowing down, George carried this project almost entirely on his own shoulders. He wrote many of the articles, typed all of them by hand, scrounged for advertising, and mailed The River Rat to anyone who would read it: anglers, fly shop owners, conservationists, and politicians. Although published on a shoestring, it developed a wide audience around the country, with a reputation for honest, hard-hitting, and courageous articles. The River Rat advocated for wild trout, gave people around the country straight information about threats to Montana's rivers, and mobilized readers when it came time to fight. In 1975 George almost singlehandedly derailed the proposed Reichle Dam, a bureaucratic boondoggle that would have flooded ten miles of the lower Big Hole. George was instrumental in the adoption of the Montana Streambed Preservation Act. And he pioneered the ten mile trophy trout section of the Big Hole from Divide to Melrose.

While George's accomplishments as a fly tier and conservationist have become well known, he is under-appreciated as an essayist. The essays he wrote during this period, mostly for The River Rat, are a delightful and impressive body of work, showing the influence of one of his favorite writers, Aldo Leopold. In the early 1970's George also wrote two excellent books, Montana Trout Flies and The Master Fly Weaver. Both are now highly prized by those fortunate enough to own copies. Some of George's essays are currently being reprinted in a series in The Montana Standard. Many others are available for purchase from the Big Hole River Foundation, P.O. Box 3894, Butte, MT 59702.

In 1973 Mr. Grant was awarded the Federation of Fly Fishermen Buz Buszek award for excellence in fly tying, and in 1992 he was awarded the Chevron Conservation Award, in recognition of a lifetime devoted to defending and improving the Big Hole River.

Some years ago the Butte chapter of Trout Unlimited adopted George's name, and our chapter's logo (which you can see on the back page of this newsletter) is based on the "Black Creeper," perhaps George's most famous fly pattern. Over the years he has sold flies to raise more than $75,000 for conservation groups including The Big Hole River Foundation, which he founded in 1988, in order to preserve and enhance the free flowing character of the Big Hole River, protect its watershed and wild trout fishery.

While George has achieved remarkable things as a conservationist, fly tier, and essayist, the essence of the man is the spirit (spirituality) he brought to fishing and especially to his beloved Big Hole River. He lived quietly and modestly while courageously preaching conservation, before conservation was even a passing thought in the minds of most anglers. George preached about the healing powers of solitude and quiet hours spent fishing. He understood fishing as a pursuit that defined his being...his relationship to the world around him. We are all richer for it.

- Bill Janecke & Todd Collins


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Last modified: June 10, 1998