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Bud Lilly

© Walter Hinick, Montana Standard

A pioneer of the Catch - and - Release movement has died.  Bud Lilly, 91, passed away peacefully on January 4th in Bozeman, MT.  Lilly was renowned as a guide, business owner and advocate whose conservation work helped preserve Montana's stream resources and shaped the culture of modern fly fishing.

As reported in the Montana Standard, "While he grew famous in the sport, he guided the rich and famous, including media stars like Dan Rather, Curt Gowdy, and Charles Kuralt, and as the owner of a legendary West Yellowstone fly shop where Jimmy Carter once visited him, he will be remembered most for everything he gave back to the sport."

Lilly was a visionary and a founding member of Trout Unlimited in Montana, recognizing early in his career that catch-and-release fishing would need to become standard if the sport were to be able to grow within the confines of limited resources. "We had a fairly simple idea of waste." Lilly wrote in the Standard "If we gave the fish to someone, or ate them ourselves, they weren't wasted.  It took a long time for most of us to figure out that there is more than one way to waste a fish."


The idea of releasing fish was radical at the time, but gradually was adopted. "Back when that happened, people were up in arms," said John Bailey, of Dan Bailey's Fly Shop in Livingston.  "And nowadays ... I hardly ever see anyone keep a fish."


Lilly was also a strong voice in legislation, and was a frequent visitor to the state capitol of Helena, making public testimony whenever issues of conservation and associated policy were up for votes.  Lilly is credited as being instrumental in petitioning the state fish and wildlife in modifying practices in regards to stocking of hatchery fish, and encouraging wild trout populations to grow to natural limits, a policy that set a standard with fisheries management across the West.  Instead of having monies being allocated for the raising and distribution of nonnative hatchery fish such as rainbows, funds were redirected to habitat improvement and law enforcement on certain rivers, which resulted in higher numbers of larger sized wild fish than were produced via stocking, with cost savings in the bargain.  Leftover funds could then be redirected to more necessary hatchery support efforts in restoring threatened populations of native species such as Cutthroats.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock issued a statement mourning Lilly on Thursday afternoon, saying that Montana "lost a true outdoorsman, a stalwart of conservation and a leading voice in Montana's fishing community. He was, and will always be remembered as, "a trout's best friend."

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