If you had your choice and could be any fish you wanted for a day, what kind of fish would you be?
Some of us might decide to be a fast fish like a northern pike. If you like to travel, maybe you'd be a bull trout and swim for miles. If you like to look different, maybe a paddlefish would be your choice.
But what if you wanted to be a beautiful fish? If being covered with bright colors and living high in the mountains sounds like fun to you, then maybe you would want to be a Golden Trout. It's out feature fish for this issue of the M*A*Y Club.
If you were a golden trout, you would have to tell people that you were not a native to Montana. That's because golden trout were originally found only in a few rivers in northern California. Humans brought golden trout to Montana in the 1900's. They liked how they looked and wanted to see if golden trout could live in the state.
Whether they are a native fish or not, it's hard not to like how golden trout look. They are one of the prettiest fish that swims, with orange and olive sides, small black spots, and white fin tips. They live in some of the prettiest places in Montana too.
Golden trout are like other trout, and need cold water to survive and grow. They do best when water temperatures stay in the 50 to 60 degree range. One of the best places to find those water temperatures is high in mountain lakes. There are not too many lakes in Montana that have golden trout. One area of the the state where you are likely to find them is in the beartooth mountains south of Livingston and Billings. Golden trout find conditions in those high, cold lakes to be just what they like, and there are good numbers of them in some lakes. You might also find goldens scattered around in few other lakes, but they are not as widespread as many species of trout in Montana. There are only about 20 lakes or groups of lakes in the state that hold good numbers of golden trout.
Golden trout have an interesting history in the state record books. The people who keep track of the record fish have been very busy in the past few years with the state record golden trout. New records for golden trout were set in 1987, 1988, 1989, and 1993, all from Lightening Lake. In 2000 though, an angler caught an even bigger golden trout from Cave Lake near Big Timber. That fish weighed 5.43 pounds. When will the record be broken again?
If you know how to catch other kinds of trout like rainbows and cutthroats, you can probably catch goldens too. They like lures like spinners and small spoons, and bait like worms and grasshoppers. But be sure you use light line and a small hook, because the water they live in is very clear and they might be able to see your line. Flies are also a good way to catch golden trout.
One of the big problems in catching golden trout is that some of the places they live are hard to get too. You may have to hike a long way, or even ride a horse to get to a good golden trout lake. And don't go too early in the spring or late in the fall, or the lake will probably still be covered with thick ice and surrounded by deep snow. Those lakes high in the mountains can only be fished for a few short weeks each year.
So lace up your hiking boots and get out this summer after a golden trout. It's one of the most beautiful fish in the state, and when you see one for the first time it might take your breath away. But don't spend too much time looking at that fish-because it lives in some of the prettiest country on earth, and you don't want to miss that scenery either!