Public Release: 

Montana State University begins major trout and salmonid book collection

Montana State University

Allan was the fisherman, his boyhood river the Little Bighorn in eastern Montana. His brother, Fred, was the historian and non-angler.

When Allan graduated from college in 1940, Fred gave him an 18th-century leather-bound edition of that British classic known as "The Complete Angler."

Fred Roush is dead now, but for decades Allan Roush of Bozeman, Mont., kept the rare volume. Recently he donated it to Montana State University-Bozeman, where it has become a signature piece in a new Trout and Salmonid Collection at the MSU Renne Library.

"Nobody said, 'Don't do this. You're crazy'," MSU library dean Bruce Morton said about starting a special fish collection that will rank among the best in the country. "It was, 'Why haven't you thought of this before'?"

So far the collection numbers more than 11,000 pieces, from Roush's gift from his brother to a 17th-century ichthyology of fish written in Latin to cookbooks with titles like "Trout on a Stick."

Children's stories ("Peter the Sea Trout"), master's theses, agency reports, how-to angling books, literature, diaries and periodicals ("Field and Stream" back to 1958) are among the titles. So are scientific studies, environmental impact statements and a 1554 edition of "The History of Aquatic Animals," published in Rome.

"This is one of my personal favorites," Morton said as he pulled an 1839 edition of "The Fly Fisher's Entomology" from the shelf, "because the hand-colored illustrations are so exquisite." To date the collection comprises the library's original acquisitions plus two large donations. One donation, with more than 11,000 titles on fish and fisheries, came from a gentleman who wishes to remain anonymous. It was appraised at $230,000. The other donation, about 350 titles, relates specifically to angling. It came from Alfred T. Pellicane of Garden City, N.Y. and is valued at $40,000.

For now, just a small percentage of the titles are catalogued and shelved while the library undergoes an 18-month renovation and expansion. Afterwards, the remaining 245 boxes will be unpacked and available to anyone under the hushed archival conditions of the library's second-floor special collections room.

Morton, whom everyone assumes fishes but does not, said he got the idea for the collection while pondering how to keep his library relevant in a digital age.

"We got caught in the notion of Trout U," he said. That's a nickname MSU has recently claimed owing to an historic curriculum in fisheries science, proximity to several blue-ribbon trout streams, and a longstanding physical education course in fly fishing. Added to those factors is a recent scientific assault on whirling disease by MSU scientists as well as recognition from Sports Afield Magazine as the No. 1 university in the country to attend if students want to wet a line. MSU also is headquarters for International Project Wet, an interdisciplinary water science and education program.

"Considering where Bozeman is and why people come here, this is trout mecca for people who live here and worldwide," Morton said. "Our goal is if people do research on trout, this is one place they have to come."

That's likely to happen, said fishing guide and noted conservationist Bud Lilly of Bozeman. "This will be one of the best collections at a university in the U.S.," Lilly said. "It puts MSU on the map."

Lilly, a 1948 MSU alum who was just awarded an honorary doctorate, helped land the largest donated collection.

"There are still a lot of major collections out there that can be added later on," he said. For his part, Lilly would like to see students and others broaden their perspective of trout beyond the"how-to" and "where-to-go" angling books that publishing houses started spawning in the 1960s. Thousands of such books have been written in recent decades, including three by Lilly.

Right now the collection is too new to gain an accurate depiction of who's using the material, said MSU special collections director Kim Scott.

He's noted cursory interest among students interested in "trout culture," such as fishing literature and philosophy of fly-fishing. Some science majors have rung the special collection doorbell for access to information on whirling disease. Another class of user so far is fishermen seeking guides to particular waters.

"Many have made the hit in the library catalogue and are coming to see the piece, although they maybe aren't aware the collection exists," Scott said.

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