“Fishing in the Bitterroot,” the new exhibit at the Ravalli County Museum, is set for a grand opening this week.
Museum director Michelle Nowling said the hallway leading to the fishing room, with mounted trout and historical photos, had been in place for years, and plans to add more information and historical artifacts were in place. in the works since before she became director of the museum.
She said there have been many conversations about the exhibit, created in cooperation with Bitterroot Trout Unlimited, which opens Thursday.
“It ended with some wonderful reels, flies and rods, mostly from Chuck Stranahan,” Nowling said. “He has worked closely with our staff at Bitterroot Education Collection to collect items and much of this information comes directly from him explaining what these items are.”
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Nowling thanks Collections Manager Katie Ramstead, Exhibits Designer Julie Bethman and Archivist Bill Whitfield for their meticulous work.
BRTU and the RC Museum worked for over a year to build the exhibit which features old and historic fly fishing gear, like Russell waders, fly boxes and a collection of historic flies tied in Missoula.
There’s also a handy magnetic moving diorama to learn trout types and create a healthy trout habitat, a fun mix-and-match challenge of placing the right heads with the right tails, and a dressed mannequin for fishing. fly, with creel basket, hat and boots. There is a library that the BRTU will stock with historical and current fly fishing books for patrons to borrow.
The exhibit is also filled with great photography related to fishing. The main one shows the thrill of fishing and was taken by the museum’s famous photographer, Ernst Peterson.
Chuck Stranahan, TU member and recipient of the BRTU Gold Trout Award for his conservation efforts, donated beautiful old bamboo rods in display cases, flies and antique reels.
“There will be more to come,” he said. “There are a lot of things there that are important not only to our history and the popularity of fly fishing. Its history parallels the growth of the Valley and the greater development of fly fishing in the West.
“Most people who play the sport today don’t know the history, especially in this valley,” Stranahan added. “They don’t realize the depth of the story and what led to what they love. If you have a sense of the past, you are more likely to convey those ideals and value resources.
Stranahan grew up in the desert and was fascinated by the flies shown to him by his godfather.
“He gave me a fly vise and threw me,” he said. “I started riding at 8 and didn’t have the opportunity to go fishing until I was 12. I fished my first trout on the fly.
He started tying flies for sporting goods stores, tying a few for President Eisenhower, and began a 70-year professional career tying flies. He paid for his college education and increased the income from his first career, in education.
In 1979 he switched to full time fly tying, moved to the Bitterroot Valley in 1986 and opened his fly fishing shop in 1987. He closed it that year.
“During this, I was fascinated by the history of the sport and collected artifacts along the way,” Stranahan said. “Much of what I collected was specific to Bitterroot fly fishing.”
He enjoyed the items, lures, flies and historical connection to the Maclean family.
Stranahan said that until Norman Maclean built his cabin on Lake Seeley, the Maclean family would camp in the Bitterroot.
“In his anthology, ‘A River Runs Through It and Other Stories,’ he wrote a story about Blodgett Canyon,” Stranahan said. “He also wrote about visiting a gambling hall on the corner of Main and Third streets in Hamilton.”
Stranahan said the museum exhibit is a conservation effort that emphasizes trout water features.
“The TU exhibit emphasizes the need to protect, restore and preserve trout resources that are currently under attack,” he said. “I added to this because if we are not aware of the past, we are not appreciating the present, which makes it very difficult to pass on this rich legacy to our children and grandchildren.”
Stranahan wrote fishing columns for valley newspapers for 25 years. His writings (including magazine articles, books, and anthologies) have been published nationally. Several of his fly designs, including the brindle-drop, were manufactured for national distribution. He has been active in conservation efforts to preserve, restore and protect fisheries resources.
“In the Bitterroot Valley, we have rich and wonderful fish resources,” Stranahan said.
He said TU would expand fly shows, including those by fly fisherman Doug Swisher (author of “Fly Fishing Strategy” and “Selective Trout”), Ron Faulk and John Foust (creator of the Jumping Fish in the movie “A River Runs Through.”).
Stranahan said teaching the sport of fly fishing is about passing on the heritage and good beginners are taught by experts.
“For me, heritage and resources are intertwined and interconnected and always will be,” Stranahan said. “We cannot have heritage without the wonderful elements of the environment. It doesn’t capture the interwoven wonder, awe, humility and joy you feel when you’re there. If we don’t preserve that, we have failed. The museum effort is a vital stay against this, the hope is that more people come to appreciate what we have.
According to BRTU President Dave Ward, the exhibit highlights the importance of maintaining and protecting trout habitat according to the four Cs: clean, cold, connected and complex.
Nowling said the exhibit reflects history and life.
“The history of fishing on the Bitterroot River is rich and varied,” she said. “The Salish fished, the early settlers fished, and it’s still a big industry today. People come from all over the world to fish the Bitterroot River and fish in Ravalli County. This room shows the rods and reels and flies that were used and is an opportunity to learn more about trout.
Bitterroot Trout Unlimited’s mission statement is to “conserve, protect and restore the cold water fishery of the Bitterroot River and its watershed.” The organization advocates for clean water, robust stream flows, healthy habitat, and a naturally functioning Bitterroot watershed and floodplain. BRTU promotes fisheries management, works with agencies and landowners and advocates for anglers’ rights to access streams and rivers, and educates the public.
The “Fishing in the Bitterroot” Grand Opening runs from 6-7:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 14. There is no admission charge and the public is welcome to attend.
The Ravalli County Museum is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday and is located at 205 Bedford Street in Hamilton .