HELENA – Montana has more than 170,000 miles of rivers and more than 3,000 lakes and reservoirs. All of that water comes with an abundance of fish. The Montana Historical Society has just opened a new exhibit dedicated to a uniquely western sport.

People have been fishing in the place we call Montana for thousands of years. What is seen today as an engaging outdoor activity was once an important way to get food for the fire.

“All the way up to very intricate, hand tied flies that Norman McLean used when he was fishing on the Big Blackfoot River,” said Bran Hensen with the Montana Historical Society.

The new exhibit traces the evolution of fishing down through the years. Whether it’s a favorite hook and bobber on a lake or finding that sweet spot on a mountain stream, this is a sport that touches us on many levels.

Story continues below

“I think our ancestors figured out a long time ago, that with a little bit of effort that we could fool these watery creatures, bring them out of our world and bring them into ours,” Hansen said.

“And that aspect of it, I think all of us know somebody that enjoys tying flies or making lures, more than they actually enjoy going out and fishing, so that process of deceiving the fish is very fun for a lot of people,” Hansen added.

Art has a prominent place in the exhibit, but not just paintings. There is an artistry to how flies are tied, how rods are created and where this experience takes you — because fish live in beautiful places.

“Each different species of fish that you target takes you to a special place, a unique landscape and in Montana, we have so many incredible landscapes that these fish live in that if you’re an angler it’d be pretty tough place to get bored,” Hansen said laughing.

Hensen should know what he is talking about. When he isn’t working at the Montana Historical Society he s a fishing guide on the Missouri River. The exhibit runs through spring of next year in Helena.