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 transportation and few roads to get to the rivers. 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 said “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.
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 the 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.
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 single-handedly derailed the proposed Reichle Dam, a bureaucratic boondoggle that would have flooded ten miles of the lower Big Hole River. George was instrumental in the adoption of landmark legislation such as the Montana Streambed Preservation Act and the Montana Stream Access Law. And he pioneered the ten mile trophy trout section of the Big Hole River from Divide to Melrose.
In 1973 Mr. Grant was awarded the Federation of Fly Fishers’ Buz Buszek Fly Tying Award for excellence in fly tying. In 1992 he was awarded the prestigious Chevron Conservation Award and in 1999 he was awarded the National Trout Unlimited Conservationist of the Year Award in recognition of a lifetime devoted to defending and improving the Big Hole River.
In the early 1980’s, the Butte chapter of Trout Unlimited adopted George’s name, and our chapter’s logo is based on the “Black Creeper,” perhaps George’s most famous fly pattern. Over the years he sold flies to raise more than $75,000 for conservation groups. This included 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 achieved remarkable things as a conservationist, fly tier, and essayist, the essence of the man is the 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.
George Grant passed away in 2008 and GGTU successfully petitioned Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to rename the Dewey Fishing Access Site on the Big Hole River in George’s honor.