On a stretch of the Big Hole River in Melrose, Montana, sits the Great Waters Inn. Built in the 1950’s as a hunting and fishing lodge, Angler’s Paradise, its previous name, was the first of its kind on the Big Hole.
The original owner, Ray Rathie, envisioned a true Montana guiding and outfitting lodge on the Big Hole. Photos of Rathie and an old-framed brochure hang on the walls of the dining room. The history of the Big Hole, Melrose and Angler’s Paradise is rich and gritty. “It’s a total western experience,” owner and guide at the Great Waters Inn, Mark Lane said. “It’s more than fishing, it’s the last corner of Montana that hasn’t changed much in the last 30 years.”
Lane bought the lodge in 1992 and started working on it. One winter it was so cold that Lane’s gloves froze to the nails in his tool belt as he built additions to the lodge. Now, the lodge can house 18 guests with all inclusive packages that include an open bar, lodging, food, tackle, flies, guide service, transportation and airport shuttles.
Mark Lane and his brother Rick, along with Rick’s wife Debbie, own and operate the lodge. The brothers guide and Debbie serves home-cooked meals at the lodge and sack lunches for all the guided trips. The sack lunches tastefully fueled the latter half of the day, and the cooler on the boat had a few brews to crack open on the river banks. The Lane family is welcoming, caring and knowledgable about the area and especially, the fishing.
Rick Lane guided Hannah Kearse and I with a drift boat during a windy day on the Big Hole. Rick knew what he was doing behind the oars and knew the river like the back of his hand. With poor conditions, he still managed to get us into fish and gave Ms. Kearse a few casting lessons.
We didn’t have the chance to float with Mark, but from information gathered both at the lodge and from locals in Melrose, he knows this river inside and out. Mark Lane has been guiding in Montana since the 70’s and worked with Bud Lilly in West Yellowstone. Mark’s guide number is 286, that means he’s been doing it for quite a while. I got lost in the stories that Mark Lane told about fishing in the old days when men like Rathie would pull trout out of the Big Hole as large as a salmon. Lane’s experience on Montana’s rivers shown through his wild adventure stories as he sliced limes behind the bar.
Rathie’s classic western style carries over into the bar that Lane built. The wall is adorned with photos of anglers gripping trophy sized brown trout. Tacked to the wall at the end of the bar is an old photo of Steve McQueen holding two fish by the gills in one hand. He came on the property before Lane’s time but his presence lives on in the photo with the unmistakeable hills of the Big Hole shoreline behind him.
The Big Hole outside of Melrose is a special place, if I was looking for a slice of Montana long since forgotten, I found it at the Great Waters Inn. “It retains the small-town charm that you can’t find anywhere else with great fishing,” Lane said.
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