Jim Gillespie didn’t know many people who fished for walleyes around Helena when he was a kid. Today, as President of the Upper Missouri River Chapter of Walleyes Unlimited, he says all that has changed.

“Walleye fishing is growing in popularity,” Gillespie explains. “At any sporting goods store around here, people are talking walleyes. There are many reasons why, but obviously the first one is that they make great table fare.”

Walleyes Unlimited has had its fair share of obstacles keeping the waters around Helena stocked with these tasty fish. There’s been a lot of debate over whether or not walleyes are native to Montana and what their impact is on local ecosystems, with some naysayers going so far as to call for their removal.

“Fish, Wildlife and Parks conducted a three-year study on the Missouri River below Holter Dam, and at the end of it, they concluded that walleye had no significant impact on the trout fishery here. The species can co-exist,” Gillespie explains. “It’s important to me and many of us in Walleyes Unlimited that there are trout in these waters. We want a healthy multi-species fishery, and we’re fighting to keep it that way for future generations.”

Gillespie is personally invested in improving fishing opportunities for children, and the club as a whole has done a lot to make sure area youth get a chance to get on the water.

“One thing that has been an anchor for us is our Kids Don’t Float bins at boat ramps,” says Gillespie. “If a kid shows up to Holter, Hauser, or Canyon Ferry and they don’t have a lifejacket, we have one they can use.”

The Upper Missouri River Chapter also hosts Kids Fishing Days to teach youth the basics of fishing techniques, gear, conservation, and safety.

“You put a smile on a little kid’s face. They light up when they catch a fish,” says Gillespie. “They just need someone to teach them.”

For more information on the Upper Missouri River Chapter of Walleyes Unlimited, call (406) 431-7187.