Casting Support For Public Lands

Public Lands: Training ground, classroom & sanctuary for ALL.

By Jesse Bussard

It was a blustery, cool autumn day in November of 2013. A Sunday, I believe. I had hiked into Bear Trap Canyon, a well-known angling destination to southwest Montana locals. The Madison River flows through this canyon which is part of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, a public lands wilderness area spanning approximately 259,000 acres across the Madison Range. A little less than a mile in, I went off trail and choose a place to wade into the murky green, icy waters.

Thigh-deep in river with wind gusts spitting rain in my face, I decided on a spot and began fishing. I was chucking streamers and in that particular moment, an amber-colored Kelly Galloup special known as the Sex Dungeon was my fly of choice. At the time, I’d only been fly fishing for a little less than a year, and while I was still wet behind the ears in skill, I knew what I was looking for — a big and very hungry brown trout.

Cast, drift, strip — repeat.

With patience, repetition, and cold hands, I did my best to simulate the pulsating swim of a tiny brown sculpin in hopes the brown trout of my dreams would be lying in wait. And in due time, I got my prize in the form of a silver spotted explosion firing out of the river’s depths.

He splashed. He glistened. He fought a good fight.

Filled with elation, I quickly worked to get the trout into my net. Once in my grasp, I couldn’t help but admire the fish’s pewter and nickel tones sprinkled ever so slightly with black speckles back his sides. He was beautiful. But more importantly, he was the first large trout I had landed on my own. It was just me out there on the river that day and this moment was a milestone in my short fly angling career.

Fishing the Lower Madison River in Bear Trap Canyon, Montana. .

This fishing high point, and the many I’ve had since, have all been made possible because of the public lands open and available to me. Public lands and the lakes and rivers which are part of them have allowed me the opportunity to experiment and grow as an angler. They’ve been my training ground, my classroom, and a sanctuary for self-reflection. In essence, public lands have made me the angler I am today.

Moreover, it is clear public lands provide me with more than just a place to fish. By choosing to spend my time on public lands, I am also taking part in something greater than myself — a national legacy born of the desire to conserve, steward, and maintain our country’s natural resources for future generations. This kind of experience goes deeper. Its value is inexplicable.

The fact that I’m not originally from Montana, that I’m still learning, or whether or not I’ve been to a particular river or tract of land before — none of these things matter.

All that counts is I show up and 640 million acres of public lands and waters await me, free for the experiencing.

More importantly, though, this American public lands heritage is an experience obtainable to all of us, whether you’re a US citizen or a visitor from another place. Every bit of soil, every drop of water, each plant, and every wild thing which roams, crawls, swims, or flies on public lands is there, ready and waiting for you and I to experience it in all its natural glory.

It’s impossible to put on a value on something like that.

Sagebrush texture the landscapes of our western public lands. Image: Jesse Busard

Yet, somehow, certain factions are hard at work trying to do just that. These misguided politicians and special interest groups are bent on transferring public lands to states or private interests. If successful, their efforts would pilfer any future opportunities I and countless others have at connecting to these lands and exploring our outdoors roots.

They say they can manage them better. They say they know what’s best for these lands. But, I’m not so sure they do. Those of us, who use these lands often, sometimes daily, know such a transfer would never work. Those touting such ideas try to convince us otherwise, but their motives are not genuine. Transfer means decreased, and in worst cases, no access.

Plain and simple, transfer of public lands means selling off an American birthright.

Growing up, I rode my horse frequently on public Pennsylvania forest trails. While in graduate school, I rode mules in Kentucky’s famed Daniel Boone National Forest. My first cast of a fly rod happened on a section of the Gallatin River in the Custer-Gallatin National Forest. And my first trout caught on that same fly rod came a few months later on the very Madison River I mentioned earlier.

I have fly fished in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, and Oregon.

I’ve hiked to the tops of mountains.

I’ve stood among California’s giant redwoods.

I’ve seen and done things I never dreamed as a child I would. And the singular reason all of these experiences have been possible, and continue to be, is because public lands exist.

It’s obvious to me and millions of other Americans that public lands are more than land, more than a commodity to be traded and sold off to the highest bidder. They’re the places we make memories with our friends and family. The places we camp, hike, fish, hunt, bike, ski, ride horses, and the list goes on. They’re our inheritance, belonging to each and every one of us, no matter our age, gender, color, class, national origin, creed, or religion.

And if you’re reading this and you have yet to experience public lands, I can assure you … public lands belong to you too.

Hiking Montana public lands. Image: Jesse Bussard

To that effect, I’m going to do my part, in every facet of my life, to ensure public lands stay that way — yours and mine, public for all of us to enjoy. If that sounds like a cause you can get behind, join me in this fight to keep public lands in public hands.

Vote for candidates that want the same. Talk about the importance of public lands with your friends and family. Call out those trying to steal our national heritage. Set the facts straight on what transfer really means. Make them understand no price tag can be placed on the wealth of opportunity and freedom to experience natural wonders public lands make possible. And lastly, ask your candidates to sign the pledge the National Wildlife Federation and over 40 other conservation, hunting, fishing, and outdoors trade groups have already signed and are also urging candidates to sign.

By signing this pledge, candidates say in a no-frills, clear cut way they take a stand against any large-scale attempts to sell or transfer ownership or management of our federal public lands to state, local, or private interests. And it’s a means for them to show us, they stand with us in the fight to keep public lands in our, the American people’s, hands.

I think Woody Guthrie described public lands best in his famous 1940 folk song, “This land is your land, this land is my land. This land was made for you and me.”

Let’s make sure they stay that way.

Take the pledge for public lands, and ask your candidates to do the same, at

From the NWF Sportsmen team: We are working hard in these last days of the election to make sure our elected officials and candidates know that protecting public lands is a priority for hunters and anglers across the country. You can suggest this post by liking it below. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Sign up for our National Wildlife Federation Sportsmen.

Image: Jesse Bussard

Jesse Bussard is a Montana-based freelance storyteller focused on agriculture, natural resource, conservation, outdoors, &craft beer topics. She has written for an array of print &online publications, as well as worked with a variety of global &small town organizations to craft effective content solutions. An avid angler & aspiring hunter, Jesse is pursuing her first mule deer rifle hunt this fall thanks to the bounty of public lands available to her across the Big Sky State. She lives & works from her home in Bozeman & is an active community advocate for conservation in her region.