Episode 2: Hilary Hutcheson, Fishing Guide and Environmental Advocate

The Montana guide helps connect the dots between the South and the ecosystems of far-flung fishing destinations

Photo: Courtesy of Hilary Hutcheson

Hilary Hutcheson with a bull redfish near Venice, Louisiana.

About Episode 2:

Dave and Eddie talk with guide and environmental advocate Hilary Hutcheson, who grew up on the rivers of her home state of Montana, continues to guide there, and is a leading voice in raising awareness of how climate change is affecting North America’s fishing heritage. The mother of three grown children has fished all over the world (with a soft spot for the South), has testified before a Senate committee about the state of fisheries across the country, and is an ambassador for several of the biggest names in the sporting world. But there’s one dream she’s not been able to make come true: noodling a catfish. Presented in partnership with Duck Camp.

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Sites mentioned in Episode 2:

Hilary Hutcheson’s Instagram: @outsidehilary

Conservation organizations: 

Backcountry Hunters and Anglers

Casting for Recovery

Protect Our Winters

Guiding for the Future

Fishing Outfitters Association of Montana

Captains for Clean Water

Fish for Change

Climate Solution Caucus


Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve

Crown of the Continent

Wild and Scenic Rivers

Wild and Scenic Rivers

Glacier National Park

Flathead National Forest

Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex

Great Bear Wilderness

photo: Courtesy of Hilary Hutcheson
Hutcheson with a brown trout in the Patagonia region of Argentina.

Transcript of Episode 2:

Hilary Hutcheson (00:00):

For me, like it’s pretty special to be able to be guiding in a relatively intact ecosystem where we don’t have non-native species, where it’s a freestone, wild, and scenic river with the highest level of federal protection that any river can have. That’s what I want people to know. I want them to be like, wow, I’m at the birthplace of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, like that is epic.

Dave DiBenedetto (00:30):
Welcome to the Wild South Podcast. I’m Dave DiBenedetto, editor-in-chief of Garden and Gun Magazine.

Eddie Nickens (00:37):
And I’m Eddie Nickens, contributing editor for Garden and Gun.

Dave DiBenedetto (00:40):
Together we’re talking with the most interesting outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen in the South and beyond.

Eddie Nickens (00:47):
Quail hunters and duck hunters, trout anglers and redfish fanatics, musicians, scientists, writers, wild game cooks, and frankly a few wildcats we dig up along the way.

Dave DiBenedetto (00:57):
These are legends and legends in the making.

Eddie Nickens (01:01):
All with unforgettable stories of life way beyond the sidewalk. Today we’re talking to Montana fly fishing guide, Hilary Hutcheson, who I’ve known for about six years.

Dave DiBenedetto (01:13):

Yeah and for the last few years, Eddie, I know you’ve been telling me about Hilary and how she’s such an amazing person. In many ways tough to just categorize what Hilary does. I mean, unbelievable fly fishing guide and fly fishermen doesn’t even get close to it.

Eddie Nickens (01:31):

No, it doesn’t. She’s all over the map in some ways, but she’s so, so focused. We both serve on the board of directors for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. And Hilary also volunteers as a fly fishing constructor for Casting for Recovery. Her sister actually ran that organization for many years. She works as a climate activist with Protect Our Winters. You know, all of this is based on her upbringing. She started guiding in Montana with her sister as a kid. They started working at Glacier Raft Company just outside of Glacier National Park, pulling weeds, hosing off life jackets and babysitting for the owner’s kids. Now, fast forward, she’s now the outfitter of record for that company, and that’s one of the largest in Montana.

Dave DiBenedetto (02:14): 

That alone is serious business.

Eddie Nickens (02:16):

Yeah, and the serious business in our world just kind of keeps coming, right? She traveled to Florida to help guide the sporting community down there and post hurricane cleanup initiatives. You know, she’s even working to design programs that help fishing guides deal with the emotional stresses of being involved in a business that, you know, we all know is gonna be massively affected by climate change.

Dave DiBenedetto (02:39):
Yeah, I mean, climate change, to hear her talk about the work she’s doing there, so inspiring.

Eddie Nickens (02:44):

Yeah, and it’s interesting to see how the hunting and fishing pursuits are becoming more involved in that. You know, back in 2016, I think she was first invited to DC to meet with White House officials to talk about how climate change is affecting sports in America. She said at that meeting there were pro football players, pro golfers, there were tennis and soccer players, there were stadium owners all sitting around. And then there was this one random fishing guide, Hilary Hutcheson. But I gotta say, I don’t know of anybody I’d rather have out there advocating for our interest than Hilary.

Dave DiBenedetto (03:17):

Eddie, I couldn’t agree more. It’s amazing. I’m scared to even think about what her to-do list looks like. And we didn’t even mention the fact that she owns Lary’s Fly Shop, a really cool spot in Columbia Falls, Montana.

Eddie Nickens (03:30):

Yeah. I’ll tell you, you gotta get up early and you gotta stay up late to keep up with her. Dave, I actually just spent six days fishing with her in Mexico in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a few hours south of Tulum. And I’ll tell you in the field, she is a dynamo. But what was really striking was not a fishing scene or not something that was outdoors, but the scene I saw a number of times when we’d be in the bar, we’d be having a drink, talking about the day, talking about fishing issues and conservation ideas, and when she’s talking about this stuff, she sits very still and she holds her hands together, she kind of clasps her hands together in her lap and she listens as intently as anyone I have ever been around. She isn’t interested in pushing her perspectives as much as she is 100% bought into the concept of working together for solutions.

Dave DiBenedetto (04:32):

Oh man, totally. And that came through so much in our conversation with her, which is why I think you and I probably should do what we do best. Let’s get out of the way here and let’s get into that conversation with Hilary Hutcheson.

Eddie Nickens (04:50):
Welcome to the Wild South Podcast. Hilary, I’m so excited to have you on the day.

Hilary Hutcheson (04:56):
Thank you. I can tell you’re excited ’cause of how you say “wow”.

Eddie Nickens (05:00):
Wow. So Dave D. is here as well, which is another big wow, Dave.

Dave DiBenedetto (05:05):

Hilary, I am excited to meet you. I have heard a lot about you from my friend T. Edward, and we were talking about how you grew up. You know I grew up in Savannah, Georgia on a tidal river. I had access to a jon boat, nine horsepower motor and a six gallon tank of gas from about fourth grade on. And my parents were fine for me to go wherever that six gallons could take me. As long as it got me back by dark. I was a bit of a child in the wild. But you are a poster child for wild children everywhere. Tell us about how you grew up.

Hilary Hutcheson (05:40):
Well, it sounds like it was pretty similar to you except that my parents didn’t allow me to have gasoline or like motors or real speed, you know.

Dave DiBenedetto (05:48):
Well mine didn’t have to worry about grizzly bears.

Hilary Hutcheson (05:52):

There’s that. I always say there’s nothing out here that bites or stings you ’cause we don’t have on this side of the continental divide like poison ivy and rattlesnakes and stuff. But then I forget about, there’s also grizzly bears and mountain lions and

Dave DiBenedetto (06:05):
It doesn’t bite or sting you, it just kills you out here.

Hilary Hutcheson (06:08):

That could happen. Yeah, no, I think it was pretty similar to you in that my parents just equipped me with a little bit of know-how and some good gear and they were brave as parents to let my siblings and I be brave as kids out there. And you don’t think you’re learning any lessons, you’re just going out doing your thing.

Dave DiBenedetto (06:26): 

Right, right.

Hilary Hutcheson (06:27):

But now when you look back, you for sure believe that it formed you. Those were true formative years being outside. But it was a lot of wild rivers for sure. We had a little leaky inflatable kayak. We had bikes that were reliable. You know, my parents weren’t the people, they didn’t have a lot of money, but they really invested in good gear. So they were really big on metal bikes. That was back when like the cheap plastic bikes were coming out. All these kids would get these cheap bikes and they were like, no, what happens if your bike breaks out on the trail or wherever you’re going?

Dave DiBenedetto (06:58): 


Hilary Hutcheson (06:59):

So I still have the same bike I had when I was in seventh grade. I still have skis that I had way back then. I still have my external frame backpack that I had back then. So they really invested in good quality gear so that we wouldn’t have disasters out there, you know.

Dave DiBenedetto (07:15):
How far from home would you venture?

Hilary Hutcheson (07:18):

I didn’t feel like it was far, but now as a parent, when I look at what we did, so when I was growing up here on the Flathead River, there would be days when there was really warm water in the river because the dam, which is, you know, the town is part of a tailwater downstream of Hungry Horse Reservoir, and this big old dam in Hungry Horse Montana. And if they were releasing water from the top or as it hadn’t been releasing for a long time and it was just low and really warm, we would float, just float on our backs and just body float from Columbia Falls to Pressentine Bar, so eight miles.

Dave DiBenedetto (07:55): 


Hilary Hutcheson (07:56):
Yeah. Which now, you know, you’d freeze.

Dave DiBenedetto (07:58): 

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

photo: Courtesy of Hilary Hutcheson
Hutcheson fishing a river in Montana in her younger days.

Hilary Hutcheson (07:58):

Because the water is how it should be. But in the eighties we would just float and then hitchhike back. So on the road, on the way back, it’s even longer. It’d be like, we have to go all the way around back to my parents’ house and it’d be like 12 miles of hitchhiking to get back and then bikes, you know. So I’d say in town, if we were ever in town, it was any given day, probably just 12 to 20 miles or something.

Dave DiBenedetto (08:20): 


Hilary Hutcheson (08:20):

But up in the park, lots of hitchhiking. So in Glacier National Park, we would do hikes that would just be loops, but we would, wouldn’t make the whole loop. So it’d be an out and back and we’d have to hitchhike back.

Dave DiBenedetto (08:31): 


Hilary Hutcheson (08:31):

So it’d be lots of hitchhiking in the park, lots of hiking, lots of running rivers. So we’d take this inflatable kayak and then run the river and then roll it up and then stand on the highway and stick our thumb out and get a ride back.

Dave DiBenedetto (08:46): 

Oh man.

Hilary Hutcheson (08:46):


Dave DiBenedetto (08:47): 

So great.

Eddie Nickens (08:48):
And you were what, 13, 14 years old? Right?

Hilary Hutcheson (08:50):

I don’t think my parents ever listen to these kinds of things, but that’s what we’re gonna say because it was a bit younger than that, it was quite a bit younger than that. It was more like 10, like eight to 10, you know.

Eddie Nickens (09:04):

Your parents let you run free without a lot of constraints. But I do know that one of those constraints was the charge that you and your sister and your brother, you couldn’t progress in your outdoor freedoms without progressing in a connection to the outdoor world.

Hilary Hutcheson (09:19): 


Eddie Nickens (09:20): 

Tell us about that.

Hilary Hutcheson (09:21):

Well, yeah, I mean they always told us that you can’t pass go until you put the resource first. And they did use the word resource. My dad was a natural resources management specialist in Glacier. That was kind of a vernacular. So a lot of talk about ecosystems and connectivity and just our roles and responsibilities in the outdoors, that was happening without us being sat down to learn it. And it was just by their example and just how they let us live, it was like, you don’t get to go trump around in the snow unless you understand a little bit about snow science and how snow turns into water and how water goes from the top of this continental divide all the way to the ocean. And where we fall into play in between. So I felt like there were economics lessons and social lessons along with these environmental lessons growing up, just by the way they let us live.

Eddie Nickens (10:17):

So I’m curious, Dave’s kids, they are impressive in this sphere. The things that they have done in the environmental arena, sea turtle work, and these are little kids. I mean, they are so plugged in. I mean, they’ve raised tons of money.

Hilary Hutcheson (10:31): 


Eddie Nickens (10:32):

I mean, do you remember as a child or as a young person, when it really kind of sank in, you can’t pass go unless you give back. I mean, what did that look like as a young person in Montana?

Hilary Hutcheson (10:44):

Actually, I thought everybody’s parents taught them that. And I do honestly feel that way here where we are. I feel like parents are like that here because we are so ingrained in the natural wonders here. Like it doesn’t matter who you are or who you vote for or anything like that. Or if you have parents who are natural resource managers or if they work at the mill, you want to go outside and hunt and fish and be in the outdoors and enjoy it as a family and with your friends. And so you have to take care of it. So I do feel like that was pretty universal. So I didn’t feel like I was weird that way just growing up in this area that’s just by our geography. But I think to answer your question about when it really kind of occurred to me is when I started guiding and people would ask me about glaciers, they would ask me about the water, they would ask me about entomology and hydrology and ecology and connectivity and wildlife and all these things. And I felt like I had some answers from my parents. When clients first started asking me questions in high school, that’s when I went, oh, well there’s something here to continue to pursue to help them get out there and kind of be their best selves in the outdoors.

Dave DiBenedetto (11:52):

I mean that’s such an undersung talent of a great guide, I believe. It’s not about just putting people on fish, right? You’re introducing them to a resource that hopefully if they don’t care about it beforehand or know much about it, they do and they want to help after they get off the boat. Do you feel like there’s more of that connectivity between your clients and the environment these days?

photo: Courtesy of Hilary Hutcheson
Hutcheson with a westslope cutthroat trout in West Glacier, Montana.

Hilary Hutcheson (12:15):
Yeah, for sure. And I do wanna point out that I work with a lot of young guides and if they’re in their twenties, they have been dealing with pretty severe environmental challenges their entire lives. So when they come into the profession, they’re already very seasoned on even stuff like eco grief, like how to deal with this feeling of like, I have these really challenging situations out on my river or my mountains. So they’re really sophisticated with that kind of knowledge already far more than when I first started. And we’re finding that clients are far more sophisticated. So no, you can’t just say, oh, it’s barometric pressures why they’re not eating anymore. You know, when I first started, oh, dropping in pressure must must be, you know you really have to have answers. And so there’s programs out there that are designed for that, like Guiding for the Future we have here in Montana, it’s sponsored by the Fishing Outfitters Association of Montana. So guides can sign up for this and it is a three month long course in the off season in the wintertime through Montana State University. It talks about really in-depth questions that these clients are gonna be asking that the guides are gonna need to know. And it has so much to do with connected ecosystems, with our role and responsibility in the environment, with how things change and how they impact us. And I think that that kind of education is something I sure wish I had when I was their age, but it’s pretty prevalent now. I see it a lot. It’s being incorporated into guide schools. Nowadays, when guides go to a guide school, usually there’s gonna be some high level discussions about climate and temperature and fish handling and all of these really important things before they learn how to teach a client how to cast. And before they talk about bug selection and before they even talk about like how to put their clients on fish. It’s like, should you even be out there? What is your impact? And there’s a lot of impact too, to guides’ mental and emotional and physical health too that I think wasn’t addressed when I first started. That is now being addressed and it’s really important.

Dave DiBenedetto (14:23):
Is there a corollary to that with like southern flat saltwater fishing guides? Doesn’t seem it.

Hilary Hutcheson (14:30):
I’m not totally sure. But I do think that there is excellent mentorship.

Dave DiBenedetto (14:33): 


Hilary Hutcheson (14:33):

In the South. I have really great mentors that come out of the South that come from the flats. And I think they do an awesome job. And I also see that through a bunch of the orgs too in the South, they realize that they have to join together in order to help protect a resource or in order to help recover or help to talk to their elected leadership and drive legislation. So all that stuff people say about like, oh, the flats fishermen and the guides are like, so mean or whatever. I just haven’t seen that.

Dave DiBenedetto (15:02):

Yeah. Yeah. That’s kind of old school thinking and obviously Eddie and I are huge fans of Captains for Clean Water and what Benny Blanco and the crew down there are doing for the Everglades and what you say makes a lot of sense and rings very true.

Eddie Nickens (15:15):
But it also brings to my mind this notion of how geographic boundaries Hilary are sort of becoming really porous like this. You know, Montana anglers are following the issues in Florida and vice versa. You know, where’s the power in a more educated sporting public? How do we leverage that into making some real impacts?

Hilary Hutcheson (15:39):

It’s huge. I mean for me that’s everything. And I should have touched on that when I was talking about the things that some of these younger guides are faced with. When people get on the boat, they’re not just asking about that fishery in front of them, they’re also saying, oh, so what do you think about the menhaden issue up in the Northeast? And they’re like, how’d you hear about the oysters in Texas? And oh my God, what’s going on with the River of Grass? And like, is a pebble mine still happening in Alaska? And like, what is going on with Pacific Northwest steelhead? And they don’t have to have the actual answers for those ecosystems, but they have to be able to say like, here’s an organization who you can talk to. Here’s somebody I know who understands it. If we’re not totally tuned in or dialed in on other fisheries, we at least care about them. I mean, this is why I don’t have nice things. I spend money on getting guided in my off season. I like to go and talk to my friends in these other areas and learn from them. And then once I learn from them, then I’ll join an organization or a campaign or volunteer for something or help them speak up about something. But it usually just starts for me in talking with the anglers in a different area.

Eddie Nickens (16:45):

Well let’s have a little, let’s have a little fun. We don’t wanna make you brag. So we’re, we’re gonna brag a little bit on you. You’re a brand ambassador for Patagonia, for Yeti, Orvis, Costa, Scientific Anglers. Those the ones that I know of for sure. And a lot of folks might be curious, I’m a little curious. I think I know what a brand ambassador is. What do you people do?

Hilary Hutcheson (17:06):

I think it actually is maybe a little different than what people think since kind of the word influencer came into the picture. But those brands you mentioned are really the ones who are connected to the resource and the people who are behind the scenes of the companies can’t always get out. They’re not always on the water, they’re not always in the mountains, they’re not always in the woods. They’re not always able to be there. So we’re their extensions that we can explain what’s going on out there and so that we can help build the brand based on being able to be here. We do from a product standpoint, athlete driven innovation. So that’s not product testing. You hear about product testing where they’ll make something and then they’ll send it out to you and you test it. It’s not that. It’s where we help design and build and develop the next generation of products way in advance. It’s your opportunity to kind of just go, oh my gosh, this is what would be awesome out here. This is what we need, or this would solve a problem. Being able to have those ideas come directly from anglers, from guides is huge. So that’s a really big part of it. The conservation side of it is huge. And to be really clear on that, it’s instead of the brand saying, oh we need to just support this nonprofit or we should give money to this. It’s wherever these ambassadors are, whatever epicenter they’re in has an environmental challenge for sure, I promise you. And so they are deep rooted in trying to solve that problem, connect people, engage people, and that needs some support. And a lot of times the brands can offer that support, whether it’s through mobilizing communities, whether it’s getting a message out through media, maybe using their political will and a cultural shift and technological instruments. So the brands are doing that. And I think the thing they’re not doing very well is talking about it. Like they don’t always talk about all the good things they’re doing and they’re using their ambassadors for that. The ambassadors are working, it’s not a photo, it’s not a post. They’re actually working with the brands on important conservation initiatives. High-end product from ground up. And then also with our communities. You know, like for me it’s really important that fly fishing reflects our country and making sure that it looks the way I feel, which is that we should have angling for all, which is that every everybody, all kinds of demographics, anybody of any socioeconomic background, all kinds of colors, genders, all of it can and should be part of the solutions for our environment and to have fun out there, which means we all need to fish. So brands help drive that as well. Helping ambassadors build their communities, work deep within your community to fish with people where they are.

Dave DiBenedetto (19:47):

Amen to that ’cause I honestly, before this discussion, I wouldn’t have known a brand ambassador to be that deep. Your point about the company’s not doing a good job messaging about how well you know they’re helping. I totally get it. I mean it’s so refreshing to hear you say that about being a brand ambassador.

Hilary Hutcheson (20:05):

It’s true. And I also think like my teammates on these ambassador teams, we work with each other. We’re constantly calling, texting, meeting up with each other. We on our own times we’ll meet up to solve a problem. We’ll get on the phone to try to work on a problem to connect people. And maybe it’s we’re connecting lawmakers with other lawmakers or with communities and helping them look at a resource. Or maybe it’s that we’re talking to scientists and then getting that information to media. But we need those brands. The brands are crucial.

Dave DiBenedetto (20:37): 


Hilary Hutcheson (20:37):

And those brands you mentioned are really amplifying important voices deep within their communities that can help drive inclusivity, conservation initiatives, high-end product. It actually can strengthen fly fishing by using ambassadors this way. And, and I don’t even feel like we’re used. I feel like this is what we’re doing. That’s also the rule with these companies is you already have to be doing this. Any of my teammates, none of them have pitched one of those brands. They’ve never said pick me up as an ambassador. You know, the brands are coming to them because of what they’re already doing.

Dave DiBenedetto (21:13):

Right. So, Hilary, talk to us. I mean, in terms of guiding, what’s the biggest mistake that you see people making when they come out to fish with you? And this is no way to make fun of poor casting or what have you. But honestly, what is the mistake or that something people could do better?

photo: Courtesy of Hilary Hutcheson
Hutcheson on the river.

Hilary Hutcheson (21:29):

Yeah. You know what? I’m, I don’t, I was just laughing at myself ’cause I was gonna say I’m pretty easy going, but I don’t actually know if that’s true. But the only thing, to be honest that truly pisses me off is when people don’t care about where they are. Because these places are so different and unique. And so the only thing that pisses me off is when people show up and they’re like, oh, so we’re gonna catch a big brown trout? We have no brown trout in the system.

Dave DiBenedetto (21:55): 

Right. Right.

Hilary Hutcheson (21:56):
And I’m like, I wish that you would have wanted to come here because of what it is.

Dave DiBenedetto (22:02): 


Hilary Hutcheson (22:02):
And not just made assumptions that you know, you’re gonna come to Montana and catch a big brown trout. I guess it doesn’t piss me off, it just bums me out.

Dave DiBenedetto (22:11):
Bums you out. Yeah. I get that. I get that. Yeah.

Hilary Hutcheson (22:14):

We have a competitive edge here in the north Flathead and Glacier National Park area. They call this area the Crown of the Continent. And the Crown of the Continent is the name of the ecosystem. So it’s the Crown of the Continent ecosystem. And it is one of the last remaining places in the entire world where you can catch a native, wild west slope cutthroat trout in an intact ecosystem. Technically it’s relatively intact ecosystem. It’s about as close to an intact ecosystem as you can get on the planet. So the bucket list there is getting to catch a fish that’s not just wild, but wild and native in a relatively intact ecosystem.

Dave DiBenedetto (22:50): 


Hilary Hutcheson (22:50):
That might sound like just too much minutia for some people, but like for me, that’s really, at one point you’re not gonna be able to do that anymore.

Dave DiBenedetto (22:58): 


Hilary Hutcheson (22:59):

Sometime soon you may not be able to. And so for me, like it’s pretty special to be able to be guiding in a relatively intact ecosystem where we don’t have non-native species where it’s a freestone wild and scenic river with the highest level of federal protection that any river can have. That’s what I want people to know. I want them to be like, wow, I’m at the birthplace of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Like that is epic. There’s a, fewer than one quarter of 1% of the nation’s rivers have the level of protection that three of ours have here. The middle fork, north fork, and the south fork. I mean, that’s remarkable.

Dave DiBenedetto (23:34): 

Yeah, like you said, that’s epic.

Hilary Hutcheson (23:36): 

It’s epic.

Dave DiBenedetto (23:36): 

That is truly epic.

Hilary Hutcheson (23:37):

And I would love to see like a brain kind of flip on that, where it’s like that is the bucket list where it’s like I got to go to, to the birthplace of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. This level of wild is so unique right now. This level of wilderness protection, this level of being like on one side, Glacier National Park and the other side of the Flathead National Forest and the Bob Marshall Wilderness. It’s like you get to go on that because of public lands. You get to go on it because of what we have here in this country.

Eddie Nickens (24:07):
And we’re so fortunate that there’s other places that are as epic. I’m gonna show my southern colors here, you know? But the Everglades are.

Hilary Hutcheson (24:17): 


photo: U.S. Senate
Hutcheson speaking at a Senate committee in March.

Eddie Nickens (24:18):
The southern Appalachians, you know, the Almaha basin in Georgia. We’re really, really lucky to live where we do. And let’s just jump straight into climate change, Hilary. Okay? You’re introduced often as a climate activist. You’ve spoken at the Congressional Bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus. You’ve spoken at the White House Committee on climate and sports. I know you’ve been to tons of rallies and you lobby, you do one-on-one meetings with legislators. You and your kids are in an international geo piece, right? About climate change and fishing. Tell us about your work in that realm. And let’s go back to that connectivity as well. People in the South are getting more and more concerned about this. You know, when you look at the charts of what’s gonna happen with brook trout as climate changes, it’s horrifying. Smallmouth bass, tarpon. More tarpon moving north Sea level rise in our salt marshes. I mean, this is an issue that knows no geographic boundaries.

Hilary Hutcheson (25:12): 


Eddie Nickens (25:13):
And this is something you’re so passionate about.

Hilary Hutcheson (25:14):

Right. In backing up to talk about some of those amazing wild and protected places that you have in the South, that connectivity is huge too. Because when people start to recognize wilderness or start to recognize protections that we can have here in this country, or we do have, or that we already enjoy, then they start to see those places and seek them out and recognize them the way that you just did. And you start to go, oh, like these are places that we all can go and we can all appreciate and protect from a distance too. So I’m glad that you brought that up ’cause I think that that also really helps with climate solutions. To see what potentially can happen in places that you now have some real interest in. You have this feeling of just wanting to take care of it and protect it. And that is connecting us as well. That, you know, other places are suffering even outside of your own spot. And so I’ve found in climate action, when I first started, it was a lot of like testimony. A lot of me going to Washington and talking about what I see. And one of the first things was hoot owl.

Eddie Nickens (26:22):
Oh yeah, hoot owl hours. Let me jump in here. Hilary, we may need to explain this a bit.

Hilary Hutcheson (26:27): 


Eddie Nickens (26:28):

Hoot owl hours refers to hot summer days when fishing is not allowed after say two o’clock in the afternoon. It’s based from back in the logging days in the early 1900s when starting fires was a concern. And so they really wanted the loggers in the woods early in the day. Like when the hoot owls were hooting to prevent equipment from sparking fires in the woods. That’s where the hoot owl term comes from.

Hilary Hutcheson (26:52):

Right. And so it’s the same for fishing. So we’re not worried about sparking fires as much as stressing fish and kind of being on the water and pressuring them because if a fish is caught and released under that duress, its mortality could go up to 80% when it’s released under those high stress conditions. And they’re highly stressed when the temperature goes up over 70 degrees. So we’ve gotta be off of the water by 2:00 PM after the river has been 74, 73 degrees for three days straight. So most guides and anglers I know have taken it down to 68 degrees. And that’s hoot owl, that was one of the first things over a decade ago that I started getting asked about. In the Flathead we’ve got glacier water, it’s literally colder than groundwater and rainwater, but the rest of the state gets shut down. I mean, it is an actual regulation that you must get off the water by 2:00 PM. So then we have guides coming up to the Flathead and we feel all the pressure from them. So we are impacted by that hoot owl too. So over a decade ago, and Washington and Helena, I was being asked about hoot owl ’cause it wasn’t as well known as it is now. Now it’s all across the west. And that was just kind of the start of it really for me, is asking about that. So they start to really learn about what is happening with the climate and what is different between weather and climate and what are our impacts and what is our influence and their bigger influence being kind of as guides and anglers all across the country, trying to influence the political will to work on solutions for water. The cultural shift and that would be moving norms to be able to talk about it really easily. And working on technological instruments, working on advancing solutions. I have to drive a big truck and there’s no other option, you know, and the technology’s not there and storage isn’t right there. And all these things that we know that are all challenges are things to work towards. And I see that, and I feel that and people are like, oh, it feels hopeless. I mean, I even was sitting by Yvon Chouinard once when he goes, ah, the planet’s toast. And then he turns and goes, what are you gonna do about it? Yeah, you know, so I’m like, well, you know, we got to.

Dave DiBenedetto (29:08):

Yeah right. We’re just not gonna sit by and watch, right? And my kids and I talk about that. It, I tell them, you can make a difference if you pick up that one plastic water bottle out of the marsh and then maybe somebody else sees you do that and you care and they care. It all adds up. I mean, if we all care.

Hilary Hutcheson (29:24): 

Well it’s habits.

Dave DiBenedetto (29:25):
Right, and I think getting out on the water what you guides do, teaching folks how to appreciate a lot of times that’s what it’s about.

Hilary Hutcheson (29:34):
Yeah, I think that’s the main thing is appreciating place. Because I don’t think anybody just is born and says, I’m super excited about climate action.

Dave DiBenedetto (29:44): 


Hilary Hutcheson (29:45):

You know, it’s, it’s being appreciative of place and then understanding that this is the cost of admission. Do not pass, go unless you’re willing to do the work.

Dave DiBenedetto (29:54): 

There you go.

photo: Courtesy of Hilary Hutcheson
Hutcheson’s kids, from left: Killion, Delaney, and Ella.

Eddie Nickens (29:55):
Let’s talk about something we touched on. You’re pretty expert at something that Dave and I, Hilary, talk about a lot. And we have talked about this for so many years, and that’s raising kids in the outdoors. And we’ve got challenges that are a little different from yours. Our kids grew up. David’s are still growing up in the small city, you know, small, but still a city your kids grew up in some of the greatest wildernesses on the continent, you know, but as an activist and an advocate, do you have to be an optimist? Right? I mean, otherwise, why would you advocate? But as a mom, I think you gotta be a realist. You can’t just paint a rosy picture of everything.

Hilary Hutcheson (30:32): 


Eddie Nickens (30:32):
I mean, what have you done to deal with that push, pull to nurture optimism and possibility? And that’s gotta be a challenge.

Hilary Hutcheson (30:40):

Yeah, well again, my challenges are really their realities. Again, when you’re getting back to the world they’re growing up in, they’ve been alive through some super challenging things that I would have loved to have sheltered them from. I have to really rely on their resilience and their know-how and what they’ve learned as humans as they’ve grown up to move us all forward. Because we’re gonna be depending on them and I’ve made so many mistakes and I am far, far, you said it, I’m an expert far from that. Like I look back all the time and try to think about things as not a regret, but just a learning experience. But the thing that has worked out is that they’ve found their own personalities in their own ways after I’ve taught them some things or after, not even I’ve taught them, their village has taught them. Their family, their friends, their teachers, their coaches, the villages that raised them, they’ve been able to cherry pick the things that can work for them and their own uniqueness. And that’s the thing that I’m most proud of. So they are all three of them involved in fly fishing. My stepson Killion too is he, I guide with him every day in the summertime. And so that’s his kind of world and specialty is fly fish guiding. You know, Ella’s, who’s the oldest, she’s a multi-day, whitewater backcountry river trip leader and a half day whitewater raft guide. And on those multi-day trips, she’s my trip leader. So I have to step back because she’s my boss on those trips. So what that means is she’s in charge of planning all of the gear, all of the campsites, all of the food, all those menus, packing all the dutch ovens and all the chairs and all the tents and all the things for our entire client trip that might be several days. And a trip leader like truly putting together the expedition and then getting them all onto the river and getting us down the river. And then she has to push ahead with all the gear in the gear boat solo and get to camp and haul the coolers up there, put up the tarps, put up the groover, that’s toilet, set up the tent by herself, and then she better have appetizers and cocktails ready when I roll in. So I’m gonna roll in with my clients at like four o’clock in the afternoon and can’t better look freaking great. You know? And my point about saying that is that she’s a far better trip leader than I ever was or choose to be. But I have to back up and let her make mistakes. And I see her making mistakes and sometimes I could have prevented them, but you just have to kind of pick and choose when you helicopter that, you know, or like when you let them just get their wiggles out and make their mistakes. But I definitely try to let her do her thing, you know, and she’s got her own things to say to the clients that I don’t correct. And she’s got her own goofy personality that I don’t try to reel in. And so then Delaney the youngest, she’s 19 and she’s like an international angler. She loves to travel around. She works for the organization Fish for Change. So if people don’t know about Fish for Change, it’s international fly fishing experiences for teenagers. And they do conservation projects in places like Belize, Bahamas, Mexico, they’re going to Costa Rica this summer and there’s one in Colorado and they do conservation projects for half a day and then they fish for half a day. And so they get to really learn angling, but based on important sustainability practices. And so she’s an intern there as she’s in college and then she gets to travel to some of the programs and help out. And then she eventually will be a trip leader for those too. But the point is, with the parenting, everybody found their own way or has gone in their own way. And I feel like if I had tried to steer that more than just giving them opportunities that are in my world, then they probably would’ve just pushed back.

Dave DiBenedetto (34:31):

You know, Eddie and I have talked about this a lot, which we both sort of have come to this realization, him sooner than me, but kids are not your mini me. As much as we’d like to see them take up our passions and love them like we do, and be thankful that we introduced them to them, they’re just not our mini mes. And that’s so great, that idea of introducing them to things, but then letting them find their way. And I also love your phrase, “getting the wiggles out”. I’m gonna steal that moving forward.

Hilary Hutcheson (34:58):

Yeah, for sure. Well, I think that with the introducing them, I mean, it’s kind of all I have to offer, right? I don’t personally have a lot outside of the outdoor industry or outside of fly fishing in the river. So that’s what I have to give. So if I just can show them that, then they can find all of these different paths. Like, you know, Ella’s major is in sciences, she’s in sustainability and she’s dirt squeezing, like she’s studying soil sciences and geology and stuff like that, which I was not good at any of that stuff. Even Killion, so Killion’s turning 24 next month, and it usually takes when you first start guiding many, many years to get into the upper, and that’s the upper middle fork in the Great Bear Wilderness. That’s kind of the pinnacle of the river trips that we run here. It’s super wild. There’s no roads nearby. You have to have high level of experience and safety training and skills and all this stuff. So he became very skilled early on. This is coming into his fourth year and last summer he got put on an upper middle fork trip. And it wasn’t anything to do with me, It was on his own merit. And when we went and scouted the first rapid, the first big rapid that had some consequence, the first drop of Spruce Park series, all the guides get outta the clients, get out, we go down and scout the rapid, you stand below the rapid, look at it, find your line, decide what you’re gonna do, and then all the other guides line up for downstream safety with their throw bags. And then one guide goes at a time and brings the boats down. It was really, really low water, so we had to keep the boats light so no clients could ride. And so one guide, Mat Talbird goes first and he runs it smooth and Killion got this really good look at that line. And so he said, I’m going next. And so he starts going back up into the woods to go around to run the Rapid. And I start following him to start telling him what to do. Okay, I am getting ready to tell him, okay, you’re gonna have to make that pole really strong. Make sure you don’t do it too early. If you bump that rock, you’re gonna ship your orb, blah, blah, blah. I’m getting ready to tell him all this stuff. And he kind of goes around this rock and he starts hitting his head on his helmet going, you got this, you got this, you got this. You know, come on, Killion, come on. He gives himself this epic pep talk. And I just backed off. And I was like, all right, he does not need me right now. He has this.

photo: Courtesy of Hilary Hutcheson
Hutcheson with Killion in the Montana wildnerness.

Dave DiBenedetto (37:09): 


Hilary Hutcheson (37:09): 

And he greased it.

Dave DiBenedetto (37:10): 


Hilary Hutcheson (37:10):

He just ran it super clean. That tears me up because I’m like, I was so close to probably getting in his head and screwing him up because I was gonna tell him how I would run it and honestly, that was not my line. I would not have run it the same way because I’m not as strong as them. I have to run it differently. And I was about ready to tell him how to run it, and I would’ve been wrong.

Dave DiBenedetto (37:31): 


Eddie Nickens (37:31):

You know, when I hear all of this, I mean, it’s a bit affirming, I think in terms of how fishing and hunting and outdoor sports have changed. I mean when I was growing up, I mean fishing was Andy Griffith and Opie whistling down the country road with a cane pole. And now these sports are an entree into such a different way of living. And such a different way of intersecting with the world. And so I appreciate everything you’ve done to help with that, Hilary. I mean, it’s hope and possibility. We’re all kind of casting for that. And sometimes we miss the cast and every now and then we get a take. I appreciate what you’re doing to help make that happen. I do have just one quick question. Hilary, I hate to put you in the middle of a family argument.

Dave DiBenedetto (38:20):
He always does this.

Eddie Nickens (38:23):

But here we go, now some people are gonna disagree with me. One of those people might actually be wearing a set of headphones and wondering what the heck his buddy is getting ready to bring up. So, simple question to you, Hilary.

Hilary Hutcheson (38:34): 


Eddie Nickens (38:35):
If I were to throw a piece of orange peel overboard into that great blue, pristine ocean, orange peel.

Dave DiBenedetto (38:45):
Ocean and you just said ocean.

Eddie Nickens (38:47): 


Dave DiBenedetto (38:48): 

Yeah, yeah.

Eddie Nickens (38:48):
Doesn’t matter. Is that littering? Is that okay? Let’s hear it right.

Hilary Hutcheson (38:52):

Yeah. I believe it’s littering. And that again has to do with my personal geography. And I have a specific reason, a scientific answer, because where we are, if you throw an apple, apples are not native to this area.

Dave DiBenedetto (39:07): 

Right, right.

photo: Courtesy of Hilary Hutcheson
Hutcheson with Delaney and a cutthroat trout.

Hilary Hutcheson (39:07):

Where we are. So when we talk about having a relatively intact ecosystem, there’s not apple trees inside Glacier National Park. So when you throw out something that could change the pH of the salinity, which I get, we’re talking about scale here, and it’s a little orange peel and nothing bad is gonna happen that second, it’s not like a bunch of killer bees are gonna fly up from the ocean floor and sting you. But that again is habits when you’re changing the pH, when you’re changing a potential ecosystem by throwing something in there that doesn’t belong or isn’t from there, or didn’t originate there, or that very, very simply you brought there, then you need to take it back out with you. So “leave no trace” is just a practice that a lot of us here have been raised with because it’s the rules. It’s like “pack in, pack out” your own poop. So when you’re used to packing your own poop out of a trail, the last thing you’re gonna do is throw an orange peel off of a boat. And you know, I had a friend who was not accustomed to leave no trace or to not littering and things, and was eating a bagel and we’re driving down the road and just unrolled her window and threw the rest of her bagel out the window. And I was like, what are doing? And she’s like, it’s not garbage, it’s just, it’ll biodegrade. But then I go into, well now we’re gonna have a squirrel that goes and eats it and it’s gonna poop up something and it’s not, it’s natural poop and then it’s gonna plant something, blah, blah, blah. And I’m like, you know, losing my mind. Which is ridiculous, but it’s just habits. That one like bagel isn’t changing the ecosystem literally on its own, but the habits of where stuff belongs, it’s, it’s more than littering Eddie. I think that it’s changing the order of ecosystems when you’re throwing things out, even natural items.

Dave DiBenedetto (40:47):

I will say the only thing I feel comfortable tossing overboard, I’m not saying it’s right, and I agree with your answer, is when I’m deep in the ocean, 25 miles or more, boiled peanut shells usually go over.

Eddie Nickens (40:59):
Oh my God. Not boiled peanut shells. You don’t know what happens to boiled peanut shells when puffins eat them.

Dave DiBenedetto (41:07):
All right, I’m changing, I’m changing, I’m changing.

Hilary Hutcheson (41:09):

Well, I mean it’s hard. Like we’re out on the boat and like there’s a crust of a sandwich. Throw the crust of a sandwich out. It’s like dilution is the solution to pollution. It just disappears and like magic or something. I still don’t do that.

Dave DiBenedetto (41:23): 

Yeah. Right.

Hilary Hutcheson (41:23):
Because of habits. And I also don’t blame people who do. I see people throw their half sandwich out in the ocean all the time. It’s not like I’m judging them. It’s just that I’m trying to train myself to not.

Dave DiBenedetto (41:34):
Yeah. Habits. You’re absolutely right. You’re absolutely right.

Eddie Nickens (41:37):
Well, I judge ’em and I throw ’em off my boat.

Hilary Hutcheson (41:40):
I mean, the last thing we should be doing is judging each other on stuff like this. That doesn’t help. So no, if somebody throws an orange peel overboard, I might silently judge them. But, I won’t say anything

Dave DiBenedetto (41:55):

Alright Hilary, obviously you fish in a place that many would consider heaven on earth and rightly so. But if you are taking a busman’s holiday and that holiday takes you to the South, where are you gonna go fishing? What’s your choice?

Hilary Hutcheson (42:11):
So this is the God’s honest truth. I fish a fair amount in the South and I’ve kind of been all around down there and love it all. I have never fished in the Everglades. Not once, never.

Dave DiBenedetto (42:22): 

Right. Wow.

Hilary Hutcheson (42:23):

It’s like, that is for sure bucket list. And it’s just been super weird comedy of errors. Every time I’ve been down there, there’s just been something that’s gone wrong that’s prevented it. And I’ve fished on the far west side of Florida, or far east side of Florida, never been in the ‘glades. And then also I would like to see the places that have like the native brookies.

Dave DiBenedetto (42:43): 


Eddie Nickens (42:43):
You’ve never called a native brook trout?

Hilary Hutcheson (42:45): 

Never. Nope.

Eddie Nickens (42:46):

Dave and I can definitely make that happen. It is a magical, magical fish and it is in trouble and it’s sort of our well poor metaphor, but if you could boil an elk down into something you could hold in your hand, something that spoke of everything about your home that you love, I think the brook trout would be that we have in the South. So we’ll get you on that.

Hilary Hutcheson (43:10):

I love that. I love the feeling that I think I hear people try to explain when they’re telling me about that because a lot of times it’s what I’m trying to say about in the North, I just want people to pay attention to where they are and what they come to this place that’s different. And so that’s what I try to do when I go to the South. And that’s something I haven’t done yet, is be able to be in those spots with the native brookies. I think that would be really, really awesome.

Eddie Nickens (43:37):
Do you want to noodle a catfish Hilary?

Hilary Hutcheson (43:40): 


Eddie Nickens (43:40):
Is that something that keeps you up at night, how am I gonna noodle a catfish?

Hilary Hutcheson (43:44):
Yes. I am dying. Did you know this already? I am dying for it.

Eddie Nickens (43:47): 

No, I did not.

photo: Courtesy of Hilary Hutcheson
Hutcheson with Ella, a whitewater raft guide.

Hilary Hutcheson (43:48):

No. This is the God’s honest truth. So this is a funny story, but I was going under the bridge in West Glacier with my boat and a guy was standing up on the bridge and looks down and his glasses fall off and he comes down the path and I go to give him his glasses and I say, hey, you look familiar. And he goes, well, I’m sure you recognize me. I’m a world champion Noodler. And I was like, I dunno if that is what I was thinking. But as it turns out, sure enough, I did recognize him from a noodling video and he is the world champion Noodler in Alabama. And he had a movie made about him and I recognized him from it. And so I’ve become obsessed. I really, really wanna do it. I saw a video recently of like a little kid holding another kid by the legs and like shoving him underwater under this like cliff. And then you hear this “voomp voomp” and it’s the actual freaking catfish biting the kid. And he comes out with it all the way up to his shoulder. And his like arm is all bloody. And they’re like, yeah. And it’s like as big as he is, yes. I would like to do it. I just, I have a problem. I can’t open my eyes underwater. So I need to wear goggles.

Dave DiBenedetto (45:02):
It’s overrated. You don’t have to open your eyes. You can just.

Hilary Hutcheson (45:04): 


Dave DiBenedetto (45:05):
Yep. Yeah, this settles it. T Edward, what is it? 

Eddie Nickens (45:08):
Brook Trout, Everglades, and noodling the southern fishing trifecta.

Hilary Hutcheson (45:14): 


Eddie Nickens (45:15):
Coming soon to a southern magazine near you.

Hilary Hutcheson (45:19):
Awesome. Make it happen with the noodling. Now I’ve overshadowed the brook trout. I feel bad.

Dave DiBenedetto (45:25): 

It’s all connected.

Hilary Hutcheson (45:26): 

It’s all connected.

Dave DiBenedetto (45:28):

Alright, we’ve got some plans here T. Edward, Noodling, Brook Trout, the Everglades. Hilary, I’d be honored to do any of that stuff with you. It’s an honor to be able to say we spoke to you. I just love what you’re doing. I wish I could introduce my kids to you today.

Hilary Hutcheson (45:45): 

Oh, cool.

Dave DiBenedetto (45:46):

You’re an inspiration to us all and I just can’t say enough. Thank you for being on the podcast.

Hilary Hutcheson (45:52):

Thank you. And you don’t know me well enough to know that I am the guy who will show up on your front porch because you invited me and I’m gonna ring the doorbell and you’re gonna be like, hello, who are you and what are you doing here? And I’m gonna say, well, you invited me to meet your kids and you’re taking me noodling. So here I am.

Eddie Nickens (46:10):
And there is no way in this world I’m sticking my hand down the maw of a catfish. I’m going on record. I’ve turned down numerous assignments to do this very thing. So more power to you, Hilary Hutcheson.

Hilary Hutcheson (46:24):

Well, thanks. Now, I mean, it has to happen because now there are witnesses, so I definitely can’t back out. But another thing that you’ll learn about me is that I sign up for a lot of, I have no business doing. So I’ll be there. Thank you guys so much for having me. It was super fun.

Dave DiBenedetto (46:49):

Wow. Alright. T. Edward sounds like I’m going noodling. Well you can watch from the bank, but amazing, amazing show. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that there are people in the world like Hilary fighting to protect the places and the things we love. But what she does really, really well is inspire others to love them and connect to them. 

Eddie Nickens (47:14):

Yeah, and it’s easy to kinda stay connected with Hilary. I mean, she’s all over the literal map. If you wanna plug into what she’s up to, what she’s all about, check her out on her Instagram page, which is @outsidehilary. That’s one L in Hilary @outsidehilary.

Dave DiBenedetto (47:36):

All right, well that wraps it up. This is the Wild South podcast, which comes to you from Garden and Gun Magazine. This episode was produced and edited by Christine Fenessy, with music, by our longtime friends and terrific fishermen, Woody Platt and Bennett Sullivan. You can find us wherever you get your shows. And seriously, we wanna hear what you think. Leave us a review, right, Eddie?

Eddie Nickens (48:00):
Yeah, on those places where you get your shows, there’s places to tell us what you think makes this show great. We’d love to hear what you think.

Dave DiBenedetto (48:08): 

You won’t hurt our feelings.

Eddie Nickens (48:10):
You could hurt my feelings.

Dave DiBenedetto (48:12):
All right, from here in Charleston, South Carolina, I’m Dave DiBenedetto.

Eddie Nickens (48:17):
And in North Carolina, tough skinned Eddie Nickens. We’ll see you next time on the Wild South. 

Wild South credits:

Producer and editor: Christine Fennessy
Music: Woody Platt and Bennett Sullivan
Artwork: Lars Leetaru
Transcripts editor: Katherine Jarvis