Growing Up on the Stone

Born and Raised in Livingston, Montana, James Anderson Speaks About the Current State of his Home Water – the Yellowstone River.

Born and raised in Livingston, Montana, quite literally, James Anderson grew up along the banks of the Yellowstone. Because of his upbringing, his connection with the river runs deeper than most. From dawn to dusk fishing excursions with his father, to refreshing rope swing plunges into the river’s pools, to guiding clients to trophy rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout, Anderson has been privileged to experience the Yellowstone in all its glory. On the flip side, after the temporary closure that occurred during the summer of 2016, he knows all too well what an unhealthy Yellowstone means to the town of Livingston and its community. Below, Anderson recounts some of his fondest childhood memories and candidly speaks about the current state of his home water.

Simms: How did your career on the Yellowstone begin?
Anderson: Well, I guess it really all started as soon as I was born. When I look back, most of my earliest memories are associated with the river in some way shape or form. The river was everything to my family.

Simms: What was it like growing up in Livingston?
Anderson: It was great. Like I say, the majority of my free time was spent on the river. Whether it was tubing, swimming, fishing or swinging off rope swings, the Yellowstone was a huge part of growing up in Livingston, not just for me but also for most of the kids I grew up with.

Simms: When did you actually start fishing?
Anderson: Well, my old man was ALL about fishing and hunting. I remember when I was really young, I’d want to sleep in, maybe wake up and watch some cartoons and things like that but that rarely ever happened. My dad would remind me, “We’re leaving at 6am, and by the way, we won’t be back until 10pm”. We’d get out there and he’d help me catch a fish or two and then he’d be off leaving me tangled up on the bank. [Laughs]. It was really cool. Believe me when I say, I had plenty of time to explore the river even at a young age.

Simms: How old were you when you started guiding the Yellowstone?
Anderson: I really wanted to start guiding the river when I was about 10 [laughs]. But, my dad wouldn’t let me until I was in college. In reality, that ended up being a good thing, just because by the time I was allowed to guide, I was more than ready.

Simms: How about now, do you still guide?
Anderson: Yeah, I still guide a little bit, but it’s pretty hard to manage the shop (George Anderson’s Yellowstone Angler) and guide, and do a good job at both.

Simms: Do you still find time to get out and fish for yourself?
Anderson: Oh yeah. I fish pretty much every day whether it’s during lunch, before work or sneaking in a quick wade or float after work.

Simms: Growing up in Livingston or as you say, in and along the banks of the Yellowstone, how does it make you feel when you hear about the proposed mines?
Anderson: That’s a no brainer — awful. Until they’re blue in the face, these foreign companies make promise after promise that they’ll mine responsibly and clean up. The problem is, yeah, they might bring a few jobs but at what cost? They will kill thousands of jobs to create only a few. The second problem is, they never clean up. Look who is making the money from the mines — it’s not us, the people living in Livingston. They make the money (or go bankrupt trying to do so) and leave us with the mess. To even consider mines where they are is just foolish.

Simms: As a lifelong resident of Livingston, do you’ve ever feel that you’ve taken the river for granted?
Anderson: Like I say, because of my dad, and the line of work I’m in, I have way too many fond memories on the river to count. That being said, I don’t think I’ve taken it for granted – it’s just more out of sight, out of mind. We see hoot owl restrictions sure, but it’s still open and you just think it’s normal life and yeah, you go out and enjoy it but you never really think about what it would be like if it didn’t exist or if you couldn’t fish it.

Simms: Last summer, you got a taste of what life would be like if it didn’t exist. How did that impact the town?
Anderson: The entire town became a ghost town. All businesses suffered, not just the guide community. Hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, you name it. Obviously some businesses felt it more than others but to some degree that closure touched everybody.

Simms: Thankfully, that was a temporary closure. What if the river was damaged beyond repair, what happens to towns like Livingston?
Anderson: Man, I’d say it would be like Detroit. You know, there’d be a lot of industry serving businesses with nobody to serve. Housing would get way cheaper because nobody would want to live here. It would be like ground zero. If the Yellowstone “went away”, towns like Livingston would be destroyed, plain and simple.

Simms: So in your mind, what is the first step towards a long-term solution?
Anderson: You know there are just so many issues. The mines are definitely a battle but then you’ve got the water battle to contend with as well. In a lot of ways, I think the first step towards the solution happened last year with the closure of the river. Of course, it’s really sad that the closure had such a negative effect on so many people, businesses and the community but in a lot of ways, I think it was a blessing in disguise. I realize there are people out there who would disagree with that statement, but it was such an eye opener to so many people, I think it provided tangible proof of what life would be like if the health of the Yellowstone was compromised. That closure was a prime example of the trickle down effect, it touched everybody in the community, not just anglers and fishing guides. It’s going to have to be a massive group effort and folks on both sides of the fence are going to have to agree on some sort of a comprise. There are a lot of people out there who think, “oh, they’d never actually put mines on the Yellowstone but believe me, if they get the chance, they will. I grew up with the Yellowstone in my backyard, so I understandably have a deep connection and that’s why on a personal level, I’m thrilled to see what Simms and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition are setting out to accomplish through Save Our Streams.

Learn more about how you can contribute to the preservation of the Yellowstone River through Simms’ Limited edition Save Our Streams Yellowstone T-Shirts.