In the late 1960s, Montana experienced declining trout populations across the most popular rivers in the state. A young biologist named Dick Vincent was tasked with finding the cause. In his studies, he found that the population declines were most precipitous wherever the state was planting hatchery trout to supplement the fishing. It turned out that adding more fish was actually resulting in less fish to catch. It was so counter-intuitive that many people couldn’t believe his findings and he waged a lonely battle to stop the hatchery planting. In 1974, the state of Montana finally listened to Dick Vincent and the science, and canceled trout hatchery plantings in rivers statewide. The effects were immediate, profound, and fortunately for us, long lasting. Within four years, trout populations were up 800%, and trout biomass increased 1000%.
Today, Montana is the crown jewel of American trout fishing, and the beneficiary of tens of millions of dollars in annual fishing tourism. As participants in that wild-fish-tourism economy, the kids and I are thankful for the decision the state made back in 1974, and thoroughly enjoy the results. As these pictures from our visit last week demonstrate, the cold-water fish of Montana are healthy, gorgeous, and thriving. Not to mention valuable.
At the very top, a 25-inch native Yellowstone Cutthroat from a small, winding, high-elevation creek. Second from the top, one of the more than 5,000 incredibly strong trout per mile from the Madison. And just above, a gorgeous little brookie from a boulder-strewn tributary.
Another of many feisty, bright rainbows we found. The health and vibrancy of these fish is spectacular.
Watching these native grayling track and attack dry flies in clear water and bright mid-day sun is something we’ll remember forever.
Same goes for the jewel-toned native cutthroats that seem to fill all of the smaller creeks we explored. We also landed good numbers of buttery-yellow, heavily spotted brown trout and native whitefish, too, but didn’t snap any shots. So we’ll wrap it up with yet another luminous Madison River rainbow. Here’s to wild fish!