Grizzly David Stalling

Dave Stalling grew up in Westport. After graduating from Staples in 1979 and earning a forestry degree from Paul Smith’s College in the Adirondacks, he enlisted in the Marines. He served in an elite Force Recon unit, and attained the rank of sergeant.

Dave then received degrees in journalism and wildlife at the University of Montana. He has worked for the US Forest Service, National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited and other conservation groups, and served 2 terms as president of the Montana Wildlife Federation.

Dave currently works as a writer, editor and activist (click here for his blog). He lives in Missoula with his son Cory. 

Dave Stalling and his son Cory.

Recently, Dave was interviewed about his passion for protecting wild places and grizzly bears. Among the podcast topics: how growing up in Westport helped shape his beliefs, values and life’s work. Here’s an excerpt:

My dad was a pretty interesting guy. He grew up during the Depression and did a lot of fishing and crabbing and hunting, mostly to help feed his family. He quit high school after Pearl Harbor, and joined the Marine Corps. He was in some horrendous battles; he fought on Iwo Jima, Saipan, Okinawa.

After the war, because he didn’t have a high school degree, he never really pursued his dreams. He actually wanted to get into wildlife and forestry and move to Montana, so I kind of lived my dad’s life. He was incredibly knowledgeable, self-taught about wildlife.

We did a lot of hiking, camping and backpacking. Growing up on Long Island Sound, in Westport, Connecticut, we spent a ton of time pursuing fish that migrate up and down the East Coast, called striped bass.

Dave Stalling cooks dinner. These are not striped bass.

We would fish for them mostly at night. We would go out there, and he’d take a kind of scientific approach to it all. He kept track over many years of what times of year, what the moon was, what tides were, and where he would catch these fish.

Maybe he would set up on the northeast corner of Cockenoe Island at a certain tide during a certain moon in October, and catch these big migratory bass that come through. We would catch them up to 40 or 50 pounds, but there’s been stripers netted in commercial fishing boats that were over 100 pounds. They’re big fish. And really good eating fish.

What really helped influence me was my father went far beyond just teaching me how to catch fish. He was very passionate about the wilds. He taught me about sandpipers, horseshoe crabs, jellyfish, sea robins, scallops, mussels, lobsters — everything that made up the world of the striped bass. He would tie it all together for me, and of course talk about the importance of keeping healthy estuaries and that sort of stuff.

Dave Stalling

At the same time, he would get really sad and tell me stories. He’d point out places where there’s now big giant mansions along the East Coast, big estates and golf courses. He told me how when he was a kid those were salt marshes and estuaries, where he used to fish and crab.

It had dramatically changed in front of his eyes — which I can relate to now because I’ve been in Montana for over 30 years, and see the same kind of stuff. When I first moved here, I had permission to hunt on this ranch just outside of Missoula. It’s now Wal-Mart, Costco and all that development.

Parts of Montana are still pristine.

He taught me to go beyond the fishing, and really appreciate what sustained these fish. I guess through that I developed a really strong connection to the environment, to the wilds.

There’s also a desire to protect it all. At the time striped bass were rapidly declining, because of PCBs and other chemical pollutants in their spawning grounds, like the Chesapeake Bay and Hudson Bay. So I learned a lot about that.

He traveled up and down the New England coast, attending meetings and fighting to protect the striped bass that meant so much to him.

I got a lot from him, obviously. He was a good man. He passed away 16 or 17 years ago. I miss him every day.

To hear the complete interview, click below.

13 responses to “Grizzly David Stalling

  1. Thanks for sharing- what an interesting blog he has. I love his letter to “The Bears.” On another note, in light of recent Tweets by Montana Senator Daines’s (and others who shall remain nameless!), David eloquently expressed his disgust with the hijacking of the word patriotism.

  2. Great stuff, Dan. Most natural things change for the worse, as we get older. Except Long Island Sound is so much cleaner now! Will your party have a swim period on Thursday?

  3. Bill, I think that, thanks to environmental regulations and increased environmental consciousness, there have been many areas of improvement since the time I grew up. Obviously, with climate change, the most significant challenges are right in front of us.

    It’s fascinating to hear more about Dave’s background because he has always struck me as one of the most interesting commenters on “06880.” Thanks.

  4. Mary Cookman Schmerker

    This is wonderful. I read David most recent post on his blog and listened to the interview about bears. And yes, the word “patriotism” has been hijacked and misused and worse. Now I guess I have another blog to read besides 06880 and my own son’s who until a year ago was a resident of Missoula and passionate about the environment and wildlife.

  5. DC, yes, your Dad was a great guy!

  6. Great post! Such great memories hooking into large stripers, and fishing “secret” spots as the sun set or rose on humid summer days. I need to get back and visit the nice plaque about our father down at the Compo boat basin. It’s nice to read in the comments that the waters my father loved – Long Island Sound — are cleaner now. I know there are some great not-for-profits working hard on that. Respect that place – it’s special. – Ed Stalling Jr (also in Montana).

  7. Laura M. Ryan

    Awesome post – thank you, Dan.

    If I remember correctly, David’s father was notorious around our Keene’s Road/Hickory Drive neighborhood for keeping trophy bluefish in the family bathtub, us kids were completely blown away by how ‘cool’ that really was.

    Also, do yourself a favor and read David’s most recent guest editorial posted on the Montana Standard in regards to one of our local representatives and the skewed notion of today’s so-called ‘patriotism’. Bravo, David, for an excellent article. As a fellow Montanan, and an American, I took great offense to Senator Daines’ tweet; your words were so spot on – thank you for your courage to write.

    Laura M. Ryan (another Montanan, by way of Westport, CT)

    • David Stalling

      Thanks Laura.

      My dad would often get home in the wee-hours of the morning after fishing all night and put big striped bass in the bathtub, and add some ice, to keep them wet, cool and fresh before he got around to cleaning them. My mom wasn’t always thrilled about it, as we only had the one bathroom, bath and shower in a small house with seven people. I got used to smelling like stripers. I miss it.

      Hope to run into you here in Montana sometime soon.

  8. Great story! My Nana is from Red Lodge, MT. It looks beautiful there! Diana Pils Marino Staples Class ’79.

  9. I enjoyed this story. Brought back memories of when I live in Arlee MT on the Jocko River, at the foot of the Mission Mountains. We need to keep fighting to preserve the wild lands we have left from development even in Fairfield County which Aspetuck Land Trust strives to do and will do in a big way through our 40,000 acre Green Corridor Initiative. Get outside. Breath. Enjoy and protect our planet.

    • Dave Stalling

      Thanks for your kind note, David. Funny coincidence: I just returned from a good, devilish adventure up to Lucifer Lake in the Missions, stopped by Jocko Falls and am now having lunch in Arlee as I write this. Small world (let’s leave some of it wild!)

  10. David Stalling

    Thank you Dan! Always nice to make the hometown blog. And thanks to all for the kind and encouraging words.

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