The nearly 400 iconic fish plaques that line Dan Bailey’s--known as the Wall of Fame or wall fish--started in 1935 when Dan Bailey caught a 15-inch brown trout and traced its outline on the wall of a primitive cabin in upstate New York. The next summer, Dan Bailey and his fishing buddy John MacDonald decided that no fish could be traced on the wall unless it was larger than the original brown trout.
When Dan Bailey and his wife Helen moved to Montana, Dan decided to recreate the wall in his fly shop in Livingston. Fish that made it onto the wall weighed a minimum of four pounds and had to have been caught on a fly. The fish plaques feature the name of the angler, the date each fish was caught, the fly the angler used and the location of the catch. The wall features fish caught by many famous fishermen and women, including Joe Brooks, Mary Brooks, Dave Whitlock and Tom McGuane, among others.
Before he died, John MacDonald carved out the original wall from the decaying cabin in New York. After his death, MacDonald’s family sent the original wall to John Bailey. “Dan’s idea of the wall thus serves to inspire and control glorious memories of both fish and fly,” MacDonald wrote in a letter to Rod and Reel in 1982, the year Dan Bailey died.
Fishermen created the wall fish before catch and release was a common practice. Today, the fish provide a powerful visual record of the wealth of the Upper Yellowstone Watershed and the people who fished it. The wall fish are both an ecological and anthropological record.