Restoration of some limited recreational bull trout fishing has always been a long-term goal of bull trout conservation in Montana.
Now, with an experimental bull trout season beginning this spring on three waters—Hungry Horse Reservoir, the South Fork of the Flathead River and Koocanusa Reservoir—this goal is within sight. Season dates vary depending on the water.
Bull trout fishing will also continue on Swan Lake, which was previously the only location open to bull trout fishing when the species was listed as threatened in 1998 under the Endangered Species Act. All other waters remain closed to catch-and-release or the intentional take of bull trout.
Regulations require a license validation and a catch card on the three new waters. When you catch a bull trout, under the new regulations, it must be immediately released, or killed and the catch card validated. It is illegal to possess a live bull trout.
Regulations vary depending on the location:
* Lake Koocanusa: one bull trout daily and in possession from June 1 through Feb. 28, maximum of two per license year. Catch-and-release regulations are in effect the rest of year.
* Hungry Horse Reservoir: one bull trout daily and in possession from the third Saturday in May through Aug. 15, maximum of two per license year. Catch-and-release regulations are in effect the rest of year. Wounded Buck Bay is closed to bull trout fishing.
* South Fork Flathead River: Catch-and-release for bull trout from the 3rd Saturday in May through Aug. 15 only.
“Though the bull trout continues to be listed as threatened, they have recovered to a point in these three locations that we can offer these experimental recreational fishing seasons,” said Jim Vashro, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks fisheries manager in northwestern Montana.
FWP will monitor the experimental bull trout fishing season closely, working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to determine the impact of this new opportunity.
If all goes well, these angling opportunities could continue in 2005.
Vashro said bull trout permits can only be obtained from the FWP Region 1 office, but permit applications can be obtained from the FWP Region 1 office, or downloaded from the FWP web site at www.fwp.state.mt.us , then click on Fishing and then on Licenses & Applications. Mail completed applications, designating the waters you want to fish, to: FWP Region 1, 490 N. Meridian, Kalispell, MT 59901. Applicants must have a valid 2004 conservation license and fishing license. Resident anglers 14 years of age and younger, or 62 years and older only need a conservation license.
FWP will process the orders as they come in. Anglers should apply well in advance of any plans to fish.
“This first year there will be no charge, but we will ask the 2005 Legislature for a fee to cover administrative costs that reflect the value of the fishery,” Vashro said.
Vashro said because the bull trout is listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act, possessing an illegal bull trout or failing to validate the bull trout catch card is a serious violation. Anglers must have all licenses, permits and catch cards with them while fishing.
In the past, bull trout populations declined due to the loss of habitat, changes in water quality, introductions of non-native fish and over-harvest. Today, some bull trout fisheries are showing improvement thanks to conservation efforts by anglers and angling groups, state and federal agencies and tribes.