Individual taste in books varies as much as the favorite rod or fly.  With that in mind, we hope to review books and videos from the ever-growing fly fishing world, and share them with you.  Books will be the best of all worlds, new and old.  Many of the old books are now available in reprint, and the wisdom contained is timely today.  Others can be found in second-hand book stores, or by mail order dealers. As we find videos we feel are outstanding they will be included. Be assured, reviews are based on what we have actually read, and due to that fact, may not appear weekly.

July 16th, 2001

Montana's Last Best River:
The Big Hole and Its People

By Pat Munday
Published by The Lyons Press

Reviewed by Paul Vang, Butte, Montana

It should come as no surprise that the Big Hole is close to my heart. I had my first look at the Big Hole back in 1986. We were still living in eastern North Dakota at the time, and decided, for our next vacation, to take a look at more of Montana.

We spent a few days on the Missouri River, then we went over Rogers Pass and down the Blackfoot River, up the Seeley-Swan, and then to the Glacier National Park area. Above Hungry Horse Reservoir we camped in frigid rain and attempted to see the Park, which, that day, was socked in with heavy snow and pea soup fog. We fled to the upper Bitterroot, and then came over Lost Trail Pass.

We visited the Big Hole Battlefield, drove through Wisdom and Wise River, and finally took the Interstate into Butte. From this first look at this corner of southwestern Montana, I decided that, "We could live here." When the right job opening came up a year later, I didn't hesitate.

Since then, I have spent a lot of time roaming the Big Hole area, from headwaters creeks to the cottonwoods of the lower river. I've fished the waters, hunted for deer and waterfowl in the bottomlands, and grouse in the uplands. I've caught fish. I've been skunked a few times. Heaven knows we've swatted mosquitoes. I've had a couple face-offs with lower river rattlesnakes, and had anxious moments after one of them bit our son. I could keep going on in this vein. Let's just say that if someone were to ask if I have a "home water," I'd say, without hesitation, "It's the Big Hole."

Montana's Last Best River

These last few weeks, I've had the rare opportunity to get a sneak preview of a book that is still a couple months from publication. Montana's Last Best River: The Big Hole and its People is a first book by Montana Tech professor Pat Munday. Though Lyons Press is publishing it, it's a production of the Big Hole River Foundation, and all proceeds from the sale of the book will go to the Foundation.

What kind of book is it?

First of all, it's a large format book, what we usually refer to as a 'coffee table book.' Though I haven't seen the finished product, it's going to be a book that will fill your lap as you browse through it, admiring spectacular photography of the Big Hole area, as well as historical photographs from the early days of the homesteaders and early ranchers.

Books should have more than pretty pictures. This book is much more than that. It's an intimate look at the geography of the Big Hole area. It's a history of the Native Americans who lived and traveled through the area, long before Lewis & Clark and the Corps of Discovery explored the headwaters of the Missouri River system.

The 19th and 20th Centuries brought change to the Big Hole. After the Lewis & Clark expedition came the trappers and mountain men, the miners, the heartbreak of the Nez Perce struggle, and, finally, homesteaders and the development of ranching and a agricultural economy in tune with the land.

Finally, the book addresses the Big Hole as a fishing and recreational resource. From the early days when fish were trapped to feed hungry miners in Butte, to the days of fish hatcheries on the river's banks. Finally, it takes a look at today's river as a unique and nationally important treasure, one of the few rivers left that is free-flowing throughout its course.

Above all, the book is full of the stories of remarkable people. Pioneers, miners, ranchers, and conservationists. It includes early educators, such as the late Margaret Hagenbarth, who taught school in Jackson in the 1930s, and went on to serve as Beaverhead County's Superintendent of Schools in the 1940s.

Another remarkable person's story is that of George Grant, who, over his long and productive life, has made immeasurable contributions to the development of a conservation ethic in modern fishing. He has been a creative fly designer, author, and businessman. Finally, when many people of his advanced age are willing to be spectators, he had the foresight to create the Big Hole River Foundation, and to try to be an agent for preserving the best of the Big Hole heritage.

Pat Munday's book is an important contribution towards creating an understanding of our part of Montana and the living treasure that is the Big Hole.

Trust me. If the Big Hole is important to you, you'll want this book. ~ Paul Vang

Montana's Last Best River: The Big Hole and Its People
160 pages, Full-color photographs
12" x 9"
Hardcover, $40.00 U.S
ISBN 1-58574-331-3
Published by The Lyons Press.
May be ordered directly from the Big Hole River Foundation, ( special editions available.

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