A Montana State University librarian is collecting the stories of anglers from across the world and making them available for anyone, anywhere in the world, to watch for free.

Special Collections Librarian James Thull said he was inspired to launch the MSU Angling Oral History Project after a “cool” story he heard from the legendary fly-fisherman Bud Lilly.

Lilly told Thull that one day when he was working as a guide, Lilly took an elderly man fishing. The man could no longer see well, but he could still fish.

Lilly directed him to where he could cast, and the man landed a nice brown trout. Then he started to put his rod away.

“The fish are still rising,” Lilly told him. “You can keep fishing.”

“No,” the man responded. “That’s the last fish I will ever catch.”

Thull was honored to hear Lilly recount the story, he said, and the exchange prompted Thull to launch, in 2014, a project dedicated to capturing the culture, history and significance of angling. The result is the MSU Angling Oral History Project, which collects, preserves and shares the histories, opinions and stories of politicians, artists, guides, authors and anglers from all walks of life and from all parts of the world. The video-recorded interviews are freely available and searchable to anyone online through the MSU-created database.

In each history that Thull collects, he asks the angler the same set of questions to collect baseline data. Then he asks questions aimed at the angler’s area of expertise. For example, he said, he asks artists what inspires them and their views of the relationship between art and fishing.

A common theme Thull explores with each person he interviews for the project is the person’s motivation for fishing.

“What is it people love about fishing? Why do people do it? Why is it tied to human culture? This is the question of fishing for reasons beyond sustenance,” he said.

For many anglers he interviewed, Thull said, a theme in the answers to those questions include a desire to connect with nature, as well as an appreciation for the beauty of the places where trout and salmon live.

Thull said the project also explores a number of topics that are important to anglers, including climate change and stream access laws.

To date, Thull has recorded more than 150 oral histories for the project. Those oral histories — which range in length from roughly 10 minutes to about two hours — come from men and women from approximately 40 countries, including Iceland, India, Japan, Nepal, Russia, the U.S. and South Africa.

Thull said he often travels specifically to conduct interviews for the project, but if he is traveling for other reasons and has an opportunity for an interview, he will conduct it then, as well. Notable individuals who have provided oral histories for the project include Lilly; the writer Thomas McGuane; author and publisher Nick Lyons; Leigh Perkins, president of Orvis; Nathaniel Reed, a former undersecretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior; Jeremy Wade, a writer and TV personality; and Dan Wenk, superintendent of Yellowstone National Park.

When the histories are given by people who speak another language, they are usually translated, Thull said. Thull plans to continue collecting anglers’ oral histories for the foreseeable future.

The project has been supported by MSU and by a three-year, $90,000 grant from the Willow Springs Foundation, Thull said.

To view oral histories that are part of the Angling Oral History Project, visit lib.montana.edu/trout/oral-histories/.