Gov. Brian Schweitzer may not have caught a fish Monday afternoon, but it wasn’t for lack of a good guide.
Legendary fly fisherman Bud Lilly was on hand to give the governor some tips as the two fished Silver Bow Creek near Ramsay to mark the return of the fishery that was literally brought back from the dead. The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks has assigned special fishing regulations to Silver Bow Creek and its tributaries for the first time.
The creek was once heavily contaminated by over a century of mine waste.
Lilly, who had before never fished Silver Bow Creek, said he was happy to see the stream has been cleaned up and is sustaining fish.
“That creek is more valuable than copper and gold,” Lilly said.
Schweitzer said the return of cutthroat trout is a good barometer that the Superfund cleanup is working.
“Fishing this creek is something that no one has done since our great-great grandparents,” the governor said.
A sixth-grade class from Kennedy Elementary School in Butte also came out to meet the governor and Lilly and watch them fish.
Schweitzer and Lilly joked and casually chatted as the governor fished the creek. He tried a caddis and lightening bug without success, before putting on a woolly bugger and fishing beneath the surface.
“Now, you know this isn’t actually fly fishing if I catch one under the water,” Schweitzer joked.
The governor didn’t catch any fish, but still had a good time with his dog, Jag.
“As long as my dog is happy, then that’s a good day of fishing,” he said.
Lilly called Butte his “second home” and said having this fishery is a good thing for the Mining City. He also took time to praise the efforts of fellow angler George Grant, who was noted for his conservation work on the Big Hole River. Grant died in 2008 at age 102.
“This would be a happy day for George Grant,” Lilly said.
The state started doing annual surveys of the fish population in the creek a few years ago. The surveys showed that fish were present with numbers of cutthroat, brook and rainbow trout. Wildlife also inhabits the remediated wetlands along its banks.
In 1983, the EPA listed the Silver Bow Creek/Butte area as a federal Superfund site. Since 1999, a $120 million project has been under way to clean up 22 miles of Silver Bow Creek from Butte to Warm Springs ponds.