The Culture and History of Angling Fishing Stories Books and Images at Montana State University

James Thull  |   Thursday Jun. 1st, 2017

Love trout? Fishing? Rivers? Books? If so, then you should know about the Trout and Salmonid Collection at your Montana State University-Bozeman Library. The library started collecting materials on trout and salmon and everything related to them nearly 20 years ago, and the effort has resulted in the world’s largest collection of printed materials: world’s largest angling archival collection; a one-of-a-kind trout image database; a free annual trout lecture; and the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of angling oral histories in existence. And all of this is available for free to you!

How it got started and why
The idea for starting a collection related to trout and salmonids belongs to a former Dean of the Library, Bruce Morton, and local angling legend Bud Lilly. In conversations, they determined that no other library was collecting on all things related to trout and salmonids and that Bozeman would be the perfect place to have a collection of materials for anglers, students, researchers, authors, and anyone who cherishes the clean, cold, and wild rivers that these species call home.

Bud Lilly
Bud, who knew basically everyone in the fly fishing community, reached out to friends and colleagues to help secure donations of money, books, and materials to seed the collection. Bud being Bud was of course successful and secured enough funding and donations  to give birth to what would become the world’s premier research collection of trout and salmonid materials. He also donated his own collection of materials to the library, spent countless hours tracking down donations, helped to secure oral history interviews, and was a tireless advocate for the effort. Without him, this incredible resource would not exist. I recently spoke with Esther Lilly, Bud’s widow, and she said Bud considered the collection the shining light of his achievements and his greatest legacy.

The Print Collection

Collecting books and printed materials is something that, believe it or not, libraries still do! The book collection is the core of MSU’s efforts and what eventually gave rise to the other aspects of preserving and disseminating information on trout and salmonids. At nearly 13,000 volumes, hundreds of DVDs, and over 600 magazine and journal titles, it is a massive collection that represents the history, science, and culture of angling throughout human history.

The collection aims to collect, preserve, and disseminate information on all aspects related to trout and salmonids. In house it is called the six-degrees of trout and salmon. It means the library collects anything (and I mean anything) related to these species. This includes children’s books, fishing regulations, guide books, maps, government information, fly tying manuals, etc. What is unique about the collection is that researchers can come in and find materials on almost anything they need information on. If they want to look at children’s books from the early 1900s they can, or poetry, or copies of the Izaak Walton’s Complete Angler from 1740 on they can do so.

Since the collection focuses on trout and salmon on a global scale, it is not limited by geography or language. This means there are materials in French, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Italian, German, Latin, Ojibwa, and a host of other languages on trout and salmonids, including guide books for you traveling anglers out there, on every continent and country where these beautiful, powerful, and often elusive fish prowl the waters.

While the collection is about research and not focused on acquiring rare books, it does contain some truly rare and unique items. A few of the collection’s gems include a copy of a biography written by Izaak Walton in 1672 titled Reliquiae Wottonianae, that is also signed by Walton; a book called De Romanis Piscibus which was published in 1531 and contains the first known mention of fishing in the Americas, as there are only 12 known copies in the world it is likely the rarest book in the collection; and a copy of an animal encyclopedia published in 1657 titled Historle Naturalis with pictures of rare and unusual fish and beasts, including griffins.

Donations are what keep the book and periodical collection growing, and several local celebrities have been very generous in donating their personal book collections to the library including Tom McGuane, Bear McKinney, Gregg Messel, Datus Proper and too many others to mention. So if you have some angling books, regulations, magazines, or fishing diaries laying around consider donating them to MSU to be preserved for future generations. One of the great things about donating to a public university is that if you miss your books, you can always come back and visit them!

The Angling Oral History Collection
The angling oral history collections aim is to capture the culture, knowledge and history of angling in our time on a global scale. The collection was started only 3 years ago and has grown to include nearly 100 interviews with artists, government employees, scientists, fly tiers, and anglers from across the United States, Nepal, and India. Recently, the Willow Springs Foundation funded the project with a grant that will allow MSU to collect interviews in Europe, Africa, Australia, and South America, which will mean that the project will include voices from every continent where trout and salmonids exist. Currently interviews are scheduled in Kenya, Lesotho, South Africa, Slovakia, Hungary, France, Germany, Bulgaria, and Romania this summer and there will be a booth set up to gather more at the International Federation of Fly Fishers Expo this August in Livingston.

The database is housed at and is freely accessible to anyone with an internet connection. Some of the people you can see telling their favorite fishing story, talking about the importance of native fish, their favorite flies, or famous people they have fished with (like President Jimmy Carter, former Vice President Dick Cheney, Fidel Castro and Ernest Hemingway) include Bud Lilly, Bob Jacklin, Lefty Kreh, Joan Wulff, Tom McGuane, Jeremy Wade, Keith McCafferty, John Gierach, and Craig & Jackie Mathews.

Trout Art
The Trout and Salmonid Digital Art Collection includes images of trout, salmonids, angling, and bodies of water from the 16th century to modern times. All images are freely available online and available at . The library is scanning new images on a regular basis and eventually will add all artwork and photographs contained in the numerous archival collections held by MSU.

The Trout and Salmonid lecture series is a free, annual lecture hosted by MSU library and made possible through the generous contributions of donors. Past speakers have included:

Nathaniel Reed- Secretary of the Interior for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks under Presidents Nixon and Ford. Nathaniel helped write some of the most important environmental legislation ever enacted including the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and Endangered Species Act.

James Prosek - Author of several books including Trout of the World and Early Love and Brook Trout. James is an acclaimed artist and angler who has fished the world over.

Dan Wenk - Current Superintendent of Yellowstone National Park. Dan is a lifelong angler who has worked tirelessly, and often without the gratitude he deserves, to help preserve and provide a sanctuary for our native cutthroats and grayling.

Tom McGuane - Award -winning local author, rancher, screenwriter and angler. Tom was recently presented with the Heritage Award by the American Museum of Fly Fishing.

Jeremy Wade - Jeremy is the host of Animal Planet’s River Monsters. Jeremy has fished the world over and seen more interesting things on the end of his line than likely any other angler alive.

DVD copies of any of the MSU Trout and Salmonid lectures are available free of charge to anyone who requests one. Although there is no set date for the lecture, it typically occurs in the early spring and is held at a venue on the MSU campus.

MSU holds the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of angling-related archival collections. The primary source, original documents are one-of-a-kind and can be viewed in person at the MSU Special Collections library, which is open 8-5 Monday-Friday. Many local anglers, guides, and authors are represented including Paul Schullery, Datus Proper, Bud Lilly, Bob Jacklin, Craig and Jackie Mathews, George Grant, and Sylvester Nemes. In additional to local celebrities the archive is also home to the papers of Adriano Manocchia, John Gierach, Ed Engle, Dave Hughes, Robert Benhke, Tom Alkire, Nick Lyons, and Charlie Brooks.

The library is not resting on laurels and is actively collecting the papers of anglers, guides, authors, politicians, scientists, and other individuals who have had a significant impact on trout, salmonids or their habitats. In the future, the library hopes to digitize the majority of the collections in order to increase dissemination and ease of access for researchers.

In closing, please remember MSU is a land grant institution and open to the public which means it, and all of its library collections, belong to the people of Montana and can be used by anyone! So when you can’t get out on that river, lake, or stream consider stopping by the library for a tour of the collections, a look at a rare book, or to peruse the poetry John Gierach wrote in the 1970s, the drafts of Slyvester Nemes’s books or the letter Bud Lilly wrote describing the aftermath of the atomic bombs in WWII. If you’d like to arrange a tour, simply contact James Thull, MSU Special Collections Librarian at or 406-994-5305. You’ll get a chance to see some incredible materials and even hold a book signed by Izaak Walton in your hands!