Strong fishing and community spirit make Twin Bridges a unique Montana town
March 12, 2010
By Jerry Kustich
Streets are few in Twin Bridges. A mix of hard pack and gravel, all local roads eventually lead to the two-laner that connects our yawning community to the rest of the world. The blinking light across from the Blue Anchor Bar and Café gives us locals a choice of three directions ⎯ all good ones. But for some of us the choice amounts to three too many. Living in a small town can become an addiction ⎯ an escape into a fantasy where everything that seems so important to those entrenched in high-energy existences is rather frivolous when judged by our standards. Life in rural America is on the slow track, and it seems that the several hundred residents of Twin Bridges and the surrounding area are intently devoted to maintaining that pace.
Two bridges actually do define this mini-ranching community ⎯ one over the lower Beaverhead River that "runs through it" and the other that crosses the Big Hole River on its outskirts. The unassuming business center⎯dotted with an assortment of empty buildings⎯masks the true character of this unique town. For what Twin, as we call it, lacks in a veneer of prosperity, its residents make up for in their friendly nature. Through much hard work, the eclectic gathering of ranchers, artists, craftspeople, small business owners, professionals and citizens have blended their talents, skills and attitudes to form the very definition of community spirit.
Twin Bridges was built a few miles north of where the Ruby River enters the Beaverhead, and a mile south of where the Beaverhead and Big Hole Rivers meet to form the Jefferson River. This location allowed for strategic passage through four river valleys. Using these rivers as a southbound highway, the Lewis and Clark expedition passed through the heart of the area in 1805. At that time Sacajawea identified the rock after which the Beaverhead River was named. Officially founded in the1860s by John and Mortimer Lott, Twin became a thriving service center for area ranchers and miners as well as the state-run children’s orphanage established in 1894 and located on the west shore of the Beaverhead.
When the children's center closed in 1975, it was a hard blow to the local economy. But the town endured. Nestled quietly in the center of sprawling ranchland embraced by a picturesque backdrop of three mountain ranges, perhaps the most important aspect of Twin these days is the link it provides to a way of life that is steadily disappearing throughout many parts of the West.
Living up to its traditional roots, Twin still provides a host of services to ranchers as well as passing tourists. Among the businesses are the long-standing grocery and liquor store, two bars, an old style café and a new style pizza parlor, a gas station, two tasteful motels, a convenience store, an auto parts store, a hardware and building center, and a tire shop. The renovated Old Hotel provides fine cuisine in a historical setting during the tourist season. There are also three gift shops: one that sells handmade quilts; another that makes fine cowboy hats; and one known for its hand-woven items. Of course the bank, post office, schools, fire department and churches provide vital services, but townsfolk are most proud of the library and museum, which are primarily supported by the committed efforts of volunteers. And with four trout rivers flowing in close proximity, services related to fly-fishing have grown steadily during the past decade. Not only is there a fly shop in town, but the renowned R. L. Winston Rod Co. has been employing residents and making quality graphite and bamboo fly rods in Twin for over a quarter of a century.
Until the 1990s, the area's fishing was a well-kept secret. In the years beforehand, only the serious angler pursuing a day on the fickle Big Hole River would occasionally stop at Twin. Most of those could not pass up a visit to Scott Waldies' Four Rivers Fishing Co. Here, Waldie sold flies and shared some sage fishing information, all while becoming a reputable outdoor writer. These days the fly shop is under new ownership, and Waldie has returned to his typewriter.
Throughout the past decade the four rivers have become quite popular. In fact, people come from around the world to fish for resident wild brown trout and smaller populations of naturalized rainbow trout. And though the days are gone when an angler could fish these waters without seeing another soul, the fishing remains as good as ever because of water management practices and improved fishing regulations. Floating accesses can easily be found on the Big Hole, Beaverhead and Jefferson Rivers. The Ruby River now has five public access sites for wading. Both the Beaverhead and Big Hole also have walk-in areas near town.
I moved to Twin because of my passion for fly-fishing, but I found so much more. Rich in bird life, trout life—and just darn nice people—there is a mystical spirit that permeates the town. I’m sure glad I paused at the blinking light long enough to pick the correct turn.
⎯ an escape into a fantasy where everything that seems so important to those entrenched in high-energy existences is rather frivolous when judged by our standards. I wonder if this should read something like “an escape into a place where things that seem so important…” He doesn’t really want to say his town’s way of life is a fantasy, right? And maybe “things” would be better than “everything”?