South East Montana holds some of the world’s most iconic trout fisheries, which are coming under increasing strain with declining fish numbers.
A report in the Missoulian last week outlined the growing data on the decline of particularly brown trout but also rainbows in the Big Hole, but also other tributaries of the Missouri. The argument over the cause of the decline pits anglers against ranchers and irrigators, and everyone against the weather.
But the independent magazine covering the business of fly fishing, Angling Trade urged anglers to take an honest look in the mirror, a suggestion not without merit for other heavily pressured fisheries across the country.
Now the river is described as “in peril” with the trout-per-mile count the lowest it has ever been since data was first collected in 1969. And it isn’t just brown trout. There are fewer rainbows now too. And it isn’t just the Big Hole. The Ruby is down. The Beaverhead is down.
While the finger pointing is well under way (ranchers blame angler pressure, anglers blame ranchers for sucking too much water out of the river, and everyone blames bad snowpack years), the angling community needs to take an honest look in the mirror, and figure out what to do next.
Because the truth is that angler days have doubled since 2008 going from 60,000 to 120,000. Meanwhile trout numbers have plummeted. The Big Hole used to sport 3,500 fish per mile; now it’s less than 1,000. That’s really hard to consider a coincidence.
So you can call it that, and you can call it bad luck. Blame it on a fungus. Do what you will, but the truth is that anglers are kicking the shit out of the fish. And if we don’t get smart about how to manage pressure for sustainability, the situation will self regulate when nobody wants to come fish parts of Montana because the fishing is a mere shell of what it once was.
Let’s try not to let that happen.The Big Hole and other Montana Trout Rivers Are Even More Messed Up than We Thought… ANGLING TRADE ON 05/24/2023