Fly fishing during the 1870’s in Blackfoot Country

In writing a book chapter on changing attitudes toward fish and fishing among the Blackfoot Peoples, as my contribution to a book on fly fishing, conservation, and culture, I came across some interesting passages by James Willard Schultz.  Schultz was a trader among the Blackfeet, primarily in Montana, during the late 1800’s.  He also guided white fishers and hunters in the region, and wrote extensively about his experiences.  In the following paragraphs, he describes fly fishing at Two Medicine Lake, in present-day Glacier National Park on the eastern boundary of the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana.

I had talked about the pleasures of fly fishing.  The Indians were anxious to see this, to them, new phase in the white man’s arts.  Ashton made the first cast, and his artificial flies were the first that ever lit upon the waters of the Two Medicine [Lake].  The response was generous.  The placid water heaved and swirled with the rush of unsophisticated trout, and one big fellow, leaping clear from the depths, took the dropper with him in his descent. The women screamed, “Ah-ha-hai’!” the men exclaimed, clapping hand to mouth, “Strange are the ways of the white men.  Their shrewdness has no end; they can do everything.”

The big trout made a good fight, as all good trout should do, and at last came to the surface, floating on its side, exhausted.  I slipped the landing net under it and lifted it out, and again there were exclamations of surprise from our audience, with many comments upon the success of it all, the taking of so large a fish with such delicate tackle (James Willard Schultz, My Life as an Indian, 329-330).

No doubt, Schultz overstates the impression he made upon his Blackfoot observers, but the passage is still interesting.  It shows that fly fishing made its way to even the farthest reaches of Montana by the late 1870’s, when the incident described by Schultz takes place.   According to a Blackfoot informant and fly fishing guide, fly fishing did make enough of an impression — even if not so large a one as Schultz describes — that it was picked up by a few Blackfoot people fairly early, despite the fact that fishing was not a traditional practice among them.

One Response to “Fly fishing during the 1870’s in Blackfoot Country”

  1. Blackfoot Country Fly « The Literary Fly Fisher Says:

    […] have written before about the history of fishing in Niitawahssin – the historical territory in Montana and Alberta of the Niitsitapiiksi or Blackfoot People […]

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