Trout numbers up in Missouri River
HELENA (AP) –Longtime Missouri River fishing guide Pete Cardinal says the rainbow and brown trout in the river near Craig were as healthy as he’s ever seen.
And a report by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks backs him up. For the second year in a row, FWP said a survey on the Missouri found an increase in the number of large rainbow and brown trout between Holter Dam and Cascade.
State biologists found nearly 3,500 rainbow trout longer than 10 inches near Craig this fall, compared with a long-term average of nearly 3,000.
“The most noticeable difference is the quality of the fish. They’re just larger than they’ve been,” said Cardinal, owner of Missouri River Angler in Craig. “People are really happy with the quality of the fish, and the fish really fight hard. They’re so healthy that they just really tear you up when you hook them.”
Fisheries biologist Grant Grisak said the rainbows in the Craig area were remarkably high quality.
“About 85 percent of the rainbows were 15 inches and larger, and fish in the 18-inch length alone represented about 24 percent of the total population,” he said.
In the river’s Pelican Point section, just upstream from Cascade, rainbow trout were estimated at 1,577 fish per mile, compared with the long-term average of 1,494. Grisak said 64 percent of the rainbows there were at least 15 inches long.
Brown trout populations are also up. The spring estimate in the Craig section was 584 per mile, just above the long-term average of 578. In the Pelican Point section, spring browns were estimated at 611 per mile, well above the long-term average of 358.
Biologists estimate the number of fish per mile by electro-shocking the water and then counting, tagging and releasing the fish. Two weeks later, they repeat the process and use the ratio of tagged and untagged fish to calculate an estimate of the number of trout per mile.
Cardinal, who has guided on the Missouri for 26 years, said high water levels helped.
“That’s what happens when you add water to a Montana river,” he said. “The fish like it. There’s more habitat, more food, more space and greater survival. It’s probably a real reflection of great habitat conditions from the last two years of great water levels.”
Things weren’t as encouraging on the Smith River, where trout populations continue to trend down.
“Higher water flows and lower water temperatures in the Smith River this year should provide relief to future trout populations, especially in the wake of a nine-year drought experienced in central Montana,” Grisak said.