Bighorn Trout Shop Burns to Ground, Killing Lodgers

Tragically, three people died in the fire that burned the Bighorn Trout Shop to the ground in Fort Smith, Montana early Sunday morning. As Ed Dentry notes in the Rocky Mountain News, “Eight of 17 lodging units burned. The Yellowtail Market, a grocery and general store next door to the Bighorn Trout Shop, also was destroyed.” The Yellowtail Market, the social hub of this tiny town with the only gas and groceries for 30 miles, has been a central meeting place for Bighorn River anglers for many years.
Apparently the owners intend to continue operation out of a modular building. Neither of the other two shops in Fort Smith — Bighorn Angler and Bighorn Fly and Tackle — were damaged.
“Two women and a man, all in their late 50s and from out of state, were staying at the hotel and died in the fire, according to Terry Bullis, Big Horn County coroner,” said Mike Stark in the Billings Gazette.
Phil Gonzalez, one of the pioneers of Bighorn fly fishing and owner of Bighorn River Lodge further downriver, says of the shop and owners, “They turned it into a nice place. It is the cornerstone of the Bighorn in terms of fly shops. Those guys [Steve Hilbers and Hale Harris] are well-respected. They did a lot to develop the fishing industry on the Bighorn River. It was really important to them to do things right and they did.”

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