There was a big gathering of people in Dillon, the last Saturday in July. We were gathered to say goodbye to a consummate outdoorsman, Chuck Robbins.
Chuck Robbins truly lived an outdoors life, as an angler, upland bird hunter, big game hunter, fishing guide and, to put it all together, a prolific outdoor writer, with several books to his credit along with (probably) countless newspaper and magazine stories.
Chuck was a Pennsylvania native, and he grew up in the outdoors, fishing and hunting, and then as a fly-fishing guide with a prestigious Pennsylvania lodge, with clients as varied as former President Jimmy Carter and former Vice President Dick Cheney, when Cheney was Secretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. While Chuck guided a number of well-known people, I also recall a conversation with Chuck talking fondly about a trip he’d just taken with a couple Wounded Warrior veterans.
Somewhere along the way, he took up the craft of writing about the outdoors, and had a prolific career as writer. In fact I met Chuck, and his wife Gale, at an outdoor writers conference.
While Chuck was well-established in Pennsylvania, the lure of Montana finally proved irresistible, and less than 20 years ago, Chuck and Gale pulled up stakes and moved to Dillon, Montana.
One might think it would take time to gain expertise about the Rocky Mountain West, but Chuck did it quickly, putting out a book on fishing the northern Rockies, and then a Flyfisher’s Guide to Montana. His outdoors expertise wasn’t just hunting and fishing, as he also put out Birding Trails Montana, a guide to birding. Just this spring, Chuck released a new edition of Flyfisher’s Guide to Montana, and in May had a successful autograph party at The Bookstore in Dillon, launching the new edition of his book.
Chuck and Gale were a team in the outdoors, with Gale an accomplished photographer and editor as well as life companion.
For several years, Chuck was the editor of a monthly newsletter for the membership of the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association (NOWA), and in recognition for this and other journalistic achievements, the Association recognized Chuck with the organizations’ highest honor, the Enos Bradner Award, named after one of the Northwest’s greatest outdoor writers, and one of the founders of NOWA.
Sadly, Chuck died, suddenly and unexpectedly, doing what he loved, at the oars of his drift boat, going down the Big Hole River on June 12. His customers attempted to revive him with CPR, but without success. Chuck was 73.
At Chuck’s Celebration of Life, held appropriately at the Anderson & Platt Outfitters fly shop in Dillon, a number of friends and family spoke of their respect for Chuck. One person, a former client, said that Chuck knew every bird, every wildflower, and every animal along the river. His knowledge of nature was unsurpassed.
Another talked about Chuck and his love for his bird dogs, with his last dogs, Annie and Maggie, both German wirehair pointers, finding and retrieving his birds. Those dogs, incidentally, provided their own share of adventure to Chuck and Gale’s outings, with Annie surviving a rattlesnake bite while hunting, and Maggie falling into an abandoned mine shaft in the foothills near Dillon.
Chuck loved upland bird hunting and he had a special love for hunting, and eating, sage grouse. When winter came to Montana, Chuck and Gale often hooked up their trailer and headed for Arizona, where Chuck spent much of his time hunting quail in the Sonoran desert and mountains.
Chuck’s friends talked about Chuck’s love for our public lands and a recurring feature of Chuck’s Facebook and blog posts were about public lands and keeping those lands accessible and open to the public. He was a fierce advocate for public lands.
Through Chuck’s years of hunting and angling across much of the United States and several Canadian Provinces, and his skill as a writer, Chuck left his mark. Perhaps he wrote his own epitaph on his website, “Rantings and Ravings of an old man truly ruined by sport.”