“Boy, do I have a story for you! It’s a lost and found story, and Wade Fellin is my hero—and if you don’t write the story I’ll find someone who will!
This was from our friend, Ron Hays, while getting out of the car when he and his wife, Nina Norum, came to have dinner with us at our campsite on the upper Big Hole River.
We met Ron and Nina something like 15 years ago at a Trout Unlimited dinner in Butte. Ron was, at one time, a Dean of engineering at Montana Tech, here in Butte. Nina is a R.N., and we made an instant connection when we learned that Nina, like my wife and I, is a graduate of St. Olaf College in Minnesota.
Their home is in Minneapolis, but for years they have maintained an apartment in Butte as a base for fishing the Big Hole River and other trout streams. This past year they moved their Montana base to Missoula to be closer to grandchildren, but we still try to get together when they return to Montana.
They’d timed this trip to be able to go to the Big Hole River Day, the annual fundraising event of the Big Hole River Foundation. They’ve been supporting the Foundation and in appreciation were invited on a float trip with a Foundation board member as their guide, and this year their guide was Wade Fellin, the co-manager of the Big Hole Lodge at Wise River.
They were floating the Maiden Rock Canyon below Divide when Ron and Nina’s flies got tangled. Wade anchored the rubber raft while assisting them in getting untangled. As Ron related, “I handed my rod, or at least thought I did, to Wade. We got untangled, then I asked, ‘Wade, do you have my pole?’”
It turned out he didn’t. In one of those awkward moments, the handoff didn’t connect and Ron’s rod was in the river.
The rod wasn’t just any fly rod. It was a bamboo rod made by Glenn Brackett’s Sweetgrass Rod Company, and a gift from Ron’s family in honor of his 80th birthday.
Here’s where’s Wade Fellin’s story starts. “If you’re going to drop a fly rod in the river, it was a bad place because it was in a really deep stretch—around six feet deep, and there’s just enough silt on the bottom to make it impossible to see anything once it gets stirred up. I tried to figure out where it went but it seemed hopeless.”
The rest of the float to their takeout at Maidenrock Bridge was a sad trip. Ron relates, “I called Glenn Brackett to order a replacement, but he said it would be at least a year before he’d be able to fill the order.”
After finishing the float, Wade called his fellow guides from Big Hole Lodge to come and help find the rod. He then stopped at a Melrose fly shop where the owners annually go snorkeling in the Bahamas in the winter and borrowed some snorkeling gear.
With the help of the guide crew Wade returned to the river and the stretch where the rod went overboard, trying to figure out how far the rod might have drifted with the current. “Mark Thompson called over, ‘I think you’re too far to the left!’ I thought, ‘How would you know. You weren’t there.’ Still, I moved over to the right side of the channel, and darned if I didn’t spot it. The reel had wedged in between rocks, about 200 yards from where it fell in, with the rod pointing downstream.”
There was a happy reunion of rod and Ron at an afternoon social event of donors and Foundation board members, and Ron and Nina were still almost giddy at the rod’s recovery that evening.
As for any heroics in the recovery, Wade shrugs it off, “We give the float trip to our supporters to thank them for their contributions to the Foundation, but we don’t