By Anne Cantrell MSU News Service
BOZEMAN – A Montana State University librarian is collecting the stories of anglers from across the world and making those stories available for anyone, anywhere in the world to watch for free.
Special Collections Librarian James Thull said he was inspired to launch the MSU Angling Oral History Project after a story he heard from the legendary fly-fisherman Bud Lilly.
Lilly told Thull about taking an elderly man fishing while Lilly was working as a guide. The man could no longer see well, but he could still fish. Lilly directed the man to where he could cast, and the man landed a nice brown trout. Then he started to put his rod away.
“The fish are still rising,” Lilly told him. “You can keep fishing.”
“No,” the man responded. “That’s the last fish I will ever catch.”
Thull said the exchange with Lilly prompted him in 2014 to launch a project dedicated to capturing the culture, history and significance of angling.
“As humans, if we don’t actively collect, preserve and disseminate things, they can be lost,” he said. “What was once common knowledge becomes lost if it’s not documented and preserved.”
The result of Thull’s effort is the MSU Angling Oral History Project, which collects, preserves and shares the histories, opinions and stories of politicians, artists, guides, authors and anglers from all walks of life. The video-recorded interviews are freely available online through the MSU-created database, which is a part of the Special Collections and Archives Trout and Salmonid Collection.
To date, Thull has recorded more than 150 oral histories, and he plans to continue collecting for the foreseeable future. Those oral histories—which range in length from roughly 10 minutes to about two hours—come from men and women of approximately 40 countries, including Iceland, India, Japan, Nepal, Russia, the U.S. and South Africa.
Notable individuals who have provided oral histories for the project include Lilly; the writer Thomas McGuane; and Dan Wenk, superintendent of Yellowstone National Park.
Paul Schullery, an author, co-author and editor of more than 30 books, including “American Fly Fishing: A History,” said that Thull has taken the concept of meaningful oral history “to a level I’ve not encountered before, especially in a socially significant but specialized subject like angling.
“MSU’s Trout and Salmonid Collection has emerged as one of the premier such collections in the country in part because it is dynamic enough to recognize the value of new media beyond the traditional print literature,” Schullery said. “The MSU Angling Oral History Project adds just such a dimension to the collection, preserving and celebrating the individual voices of anglers, businesspeople, scientists, conservationists, landowners, resource managers and all the other folks who make up the rich character of this ancient sport that has now become such an important part of the culture of the American West.”
To view oral histories that are part of the Angling Oral History Project, visit lib.montana.edu/trout/oral-histories/.