Big Hole Lodge Orvis Lodge of the Year

Craig and Wade Fellin, operators of Big Hole Lodge.

An area fishing lodge has won unique and prestigious recognition as the Orvis-endorsed Fly-Fishing Lodge of the Year for 2017.

The Big Hole Lodge, located along the Wise River, just a few miles from where the Wise River flows into the Big Hole River, won this prestigious award at the annual Orvis Guide Rendezvous held this year in Missoula at the end of April. The award recognizes facilities for excellence in both customer satisfaction and a commitment to conservation.

Wade Fellin, manager of Big Hole Lodge, said that the award is the culmination of many years of operation as a destination fishing lodge. He gives tribute to his father, Craig Fellin, who worked his way into the fly-fishing business after serving with the Marine Corps in Vietnam, working in fly shops and guiding in Colorado, and then set out, in 1983, to find a good location to start a fly-fishing lodge.

Craig found what he was looking for at Wise River, but before going further he stopped at another lodge, the Complete Fly Fisher, just downstream from Wise River, to talk to Phil and Joan Wright, the then-owners of Complete Fly Fisher, about his idea. Phil responded by taking Craig out on the river to show him how he fished the river.

Craig and his wife built their lodge and started the business in 1984, and not long after that it became an Orvis-endorsed lodge. “From the time we became an Orvis-endorsed lodge 33 years ago,” Wade tells, “Dad’s goal was to get recognition as Fly-Fishing Lodge of the Year and we finally got it.” Wade said that Big Hole Lodge was a runner-up in the 2016 competition, and this year beat out Hawk Lake Lodge in Kenora, Ontario and Wollaston Lake Lodge in northern Saskatchewan for top honors.

The award citation included a customer review that included this quote, “I believe this family and their guides fish not for business but because they are deeply driven to do so by inner desires. Their love of the sport and of the rivers they fish is not only evident but infectious.”

Wade Fellin learning the fly-fishing business at an early age (it’s probably not the same red shirt).

Wade literally grew up on the Big Hole River; from the time his dad strapped his bassinette onto a rubber raft, to guiding while working his way through college and law school. In recent years he’s been working his way into the management of the lodge, going from co-manager to manager this year. Craig is stepping back a bit from full-time management of the lodge, though Wade cautions, “We kind of passed the management torch, but don’t call him retired.”

Wade points out that a major part of the Orvis company’s awards program is to recognize the many local participating lodges for a commitment to conservation. He notes, “Both Dad and I have been active with the Big Hole Watershed Committee and the Big Hole River Foundation. Two of our guides, Roy Morris and Mark Thompson, are extremely active with the George Grant Chapter of Trout Unlimited in Butte.” In the off-season, Wade works with an advocacy organization, Upper Missouri Waterkeeper, a non-profit group that works for river and community health in the headwaters regions of the Missouri River.

A year ago, Wade was the keynote speaker at the 2016 Orvis Guide Rendezvous and he talked about his commitment to conservation, summing it up, “There’s a distinct need in the West for all of us who care about our rivers and fisheries to take the steps necessary to protect our most vital resource. We can do this.”

He adds, “All our staff are committed to conservation and to keeping the Big Hole River the wonderful resource that it is.”

Big Hole Lodge staff.

Wade and Craig are grateful for the Orvis recognition and the boost it will give their business, a boost that will likely pay dividends well into the future, though Wade is low key, just saying, “We definitely hope it’ll help guide people to a good destination.

“We are very honored to be recognized for our employees’ hard work and our clients’ loyalty.”

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