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Big Hole River trout sampling shows increase in juvenile browns and rainbows

“Fishermen care about big fish, and fisheries biologists care about little fish. You know, in order to make big fish you have to have small fish.”
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Posted at 7:34 AM, Jun 13, 2024

BIG HOLE RIVER — After reporting a dramatic decrease in trout numbers in the Big Hole River over the past five years, officials with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) are now encouraged after new data shows a significant increase in juvenile trout numbers.

“It was pretty clear like the first day on the river it was different than what we’ve seen in the previous years; like, we were catching lots of those smaller fish,” said FWP Fish Biologist Jim Olsen.

While electrofishing last March and April, FWP officials reported increases in brown and rainbow trout populations from the previous year. Samples were taken on four sections of the Big Hole River that showed significant increases in smaller fish—which is a good thing.

“Fishermen care about big fish, and fisheries biologists care about little fish. You know, in order to make big fish you have to have small fish,” said Olsen.

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Last summer, the situation was in a near crisis over concerns of dwindling trout numbers. Governor Greg Gianforte hosted a community meeting in Wise River last year to hear concerns. The governor is now optimistic about the recent numbers but adds that more work needs to be done.

“FWP in conjunction with Montana State University are going to continue to keep eyes on the ground, keep probes in the water, so we determine exactly what’s going on because we want healthy streams with good, strong trout populations,” said Gianforte.

Though having a high water year is good for trout, biologists say it doesn’t fully explain why populations have been struggling.

“We still have work to do. We’re not going to take our foot off the gas; these are encouraging numbers but there’s still work to be done,” said FWP Director Dustin Temple.

An angler hoping to take advantage of the Big Hole’s famed salmon fly hatch Wednesday certainly was glad to learn the trout numbers appear to be going up.

“Fishing’s been good this year. It’s been a lot better especially this year than it’s been the last two years; absolutely, especially in the springtime, we’ve done really well,” said Zach Starkel.