By Robert Lucke
Fish man of Havre has charge of keeping his finny flock happy and multiplying. That, in turn, keeps smiles on the faces of area anglers.
Kent Gilge is his name. He is officially the area fish biologist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Working out of his Havre office, his fish are everywhere Canada to the Missouri, Phillips County to Liberty County.
And, of all things, he started out as a city kid from Chicago, Ill.
"I was one of those geographically misplaced people. I had a love of fishing and hunting and never got to do it," Gilge remembered. "I lived vicariously through fish and game magazines. Occasionally, we visited relatives in Wisconsin. That was when I got to fish and I was hooked."
Gilge started school in Chicago and soon transferred to Montana State University.
"I came out specifically to get a degree in fish and wildlife management. I knew what I wanted to do from the time I was in high school," Gilge said. "After college I immediately went to work for Montana FWP. I started out as a field technician and worked my way up to area biologist where I will probably die, enjoying every minute of it."
Gilge's first job was one of those dream jobs a high mountain helicopter survey of Cutthroat and Golden Trout lakes. From then, he became a biologist in Wolf Point, working on the Poplar River.
"That is when I also began working with paddle fish in the Missouri River," Gilge said. "Then I moved to Chinook in 1979 to become the first area fisheries' biologist in this area. Our house in Chinook burned down in 1996, and because the area office had been established in Havre, we decided to move to Havre and have been here ever since."
Gilge described those early Chinook years as interesting, to say the least.
"When I first moved to Chinook, they were desperate to get someone over here, but there was no funding for the position. I used my own boat and I had no trailer for it. They provided a 7 1/2 horsepower for it," Gilge said, laughing. "I had no help, not even any seasonal help until the early-to-mid 1980s. It was pretty rough trying to gather data, particularly around larger reservoirs like Nelson and Fresno with that equipment and no help."
So what does Havre's fish man do these days?
"In general, I am in charge of managing public fishing waters in the western half of Region 6, which includes Hill, Blaine and Phillips counties. It also involves overseeing some permitting processes concerning environmental protection of fishery resources," Gilge related. "More detailed, I work with a wide variety of fisheries from farm ponds to paddle fish in the Missouri to the exceptional walleye and trout fisheries we have."
Lest one thinks that fish is all that the fish man has on his mind, well, correct that notion.
He is married. He and his wife, Lois, have four boys and one girl ranging from 7 to 24. They are Kirby, Jesse, Kody, Timothy and Katie.
The Gilges are very interested in home schooling, helping to get the movement started in Montana some years ago.
"In the early 90s, I was chairman of the Montana Coalition of Home Educators. At that time there were attacks on the right of parents to freely school their children," Gilge remembered. "We gathered local support groups around the state and we networked with each other to help each other and to fight legislative battles. We were successful in protecting parental rights and choice and because of it, home schooling in Montana and nationally has grown by leaps and bounds."
Gilge thinks it really helped his family.
"All of our children have been and continue to be educated at home. It is extremely positive in our lives," he said. "It was the best decision we ever made. We are especially pleased with the positive socialization of our children. My kids have not been living in a box."
So back to fish. Gilge thinks that fishing has changed in the last years.
"I think fishing opportunity has improved in the last twenty years," Gilge said. "You have to ask fishermen if they think the fishing has improved. You would hope the two would go hand in hand."
If there is a downside to Gilge's job, it is, as he puts it, the increasing amount of paperwork and politics that so often overrides sound fishery management.
But Gilge is an "up" fish man. He loves his job.
"Best of all is working with the resource and working with the excited fishermen," Gilge said, smiling.
And probably even the fish are excited when Gilge comes around.