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Cooperative efforts improve Spotted Eagle fishery

Fishing - Region 7

Thu Oct 12 16:23:00 MDT 2017

Spotted Eagle Fish Jetty

A crew works on the new fishing jetty at Spotted Eagle Lake, a joint project of Walleyes Unlimited, Fish, Wildlife & Parks, the City of Miles City and Miles Community College's Heavy Equipment Program. Passengers in a pedal boat check out the progress on

Spotted Eagle Fish Barrier

The fish barrier installed in the outflow channel between Spotted Eagle Lake and Tongue River by the area Walleyes Unlimited chapter in 2016. The barrier dramatically reduces the number of rough fish like carp and suckers that migrate from the river into

Fish Chart - Spotted Eagle

Fish Chart - Spotted Eagle

Annual efforts to improve the fishery at Spotted Eagle Lake continue in 2017, including habitat projects, stocking of hatchery-reared fish, transfer of wild fish, removal of rough fish and sampling.

But these activities are now more effective after installation of a fish barrier in 2016 by the Miles City Chapter of Walleyes Unlimited in the outflow channel between Spotted Eagle Lake and Tongue River. The barrier dramatically reduces the number of rough fish that migrate from the river into the lake during high-flow events. Rough fish, when abundant, consume a large amount of valuable nutrients from the lake. Less competition from these fish means that lake stocking efforts are much more sustainable.

Another big boost for anglers is a 100-foot fishing jetty now under construction at Spotted Eagle, designed to increase fish habitat and angler opportunity in deeper water. This is a cooperative effort between Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Walleyes Unlimited, the City of Miles City, Miles Community College Heavy Equipment Program and others. 

Spotted Eagle Lake is owned and maintained by the city, but these agencies also play a pivotal role in making the lake a valued local resource.

“Community projects like the aquatic habitat improvements including the Christmas tree drop, fish barrier and jetty at Spotted Eagle have two incredible benefits which improve the quality of living for every resident of Miles City,” said Region 7 Fisheries Manager Mike Backes. “First, by simply enhancing the potential of the fish population, angler success and the range of recreational benefits and values shared from a quality fishery. Secondly, and most important, is the fundamental joy and pride experienced by individuals assisting with projects that benefit everyone.”  

“The projects have energized the community around a common goal that harnesses ideas, energy and volunteerism, which is frankly infectious when it takes off,” Backes added. “The community pride in Spotted Eagle as a public facility and recreational destination has grown immensely over the last 20 years. This is reflected in the continued number of improvement projects occurring like walking paths, a handicap pier, upgraded latrines, a fishing or swimming dock, signage, picnic tables, shelters and educational displays, to name a few.”

Below are more details of projects aimed at making Spotted Eagle a better fishery.

Wild Fish Transfers

Recently, FWP fisheries staff conducted several wild fish transfers from area ponds or rivers to stock Spotted Eagle and other waters. These are fish species not available through hatcheries. From September 19-21, FWP released 4,000 yellow perch, 6–13 inches long, into Spotted Eagle. An additional 800 yellow perch, 4-7 inches long, and 2,400 fathead minnows were released September 27-28.  Two dozen northern pike, 10–24 inches long, were released in mid-September. Small numbers of adult fish (walleye, smallmouth bass, and channel catfish) have and will continue to be released into Spotted Eagle during Yellowstone River trend electrofishing that is conducted in August, September and October. Wild fish transfers only occur after testing source waters and fish species for aquatic invasive species and pathogens.

Hatchery Stocking

On September 1, Spotted Eagle gained 1,000 nine-inch, “catchable” rainbow trout from the Bluewater Hatchery in Bridger. These fish were originally destined for an area pond, but drought conditions required a new plan. A dozen adult channel catfish, ranging from 4–7 pounds, also were stocked in August from the Miles City Hatchery.

Because of Spotted Eagle’s urban setting and the number of anglers utilizing it, it should be noted that fishing regulations limit an individual angler’s catch to five fish daily and in possession, for any combination of species.

Rough Fish Removal

FWP Fisheries staff utilized gill nets for a few hours each day on 21 days between June and September to selectively remove rough fish like carp and suckers. Twenty-two species were collected during the effort (see table below), with a total of 876 rough fish removed. The estimated total weight of rough fish removed was 2,600 pounds. A total of 380 additional sport or game fish also were captured and released during the netting effort. One northern pike was 20 pounds, and four of the channel catfish ranged from 12-14 pounds.

Unusual Visitor

A very interesting find during the netting effort was a smallmouth buffalo with an internal radio transmitter. After phone calls to other regions, FWP staff determined the transmitter was placed in the fish in September 2005 at the Yellowstone–Missouri River confluence in North Dakota. This fish was part of a fish migration study and was also used for the “Adopt a Fish” program. Most of the telemetered fish were followed for several years. However, the Spotted Eagle fish was last seen June 1, 2006 near the Yellowstone-Powder River confluence. 

“Hiding in Spotted Eagle would have been an effective place to avoid detection by boats and planes searching the river,” Backes said. “To my knowledge, only five or six smallmouth buffalo were part of the telemetry study, and they are the only buffalo to be followed in the Yellowstone-Missouri River in Montana and North Dakota in recent history,” Backes said. 

Other Habitat Improvements

Walleyes Unlimited and FWP conducted annual Christmas tree banding and sinking in April. Region 7 Fisheries Manager Mike Backes thanked the community for providing Christmas trees for the habitat project. FWP staff and volunteers sank about 200 recycled trees in the lake to increase habitat complexity, provide hiding cover for juvenile fish and create nesting cover for adult fish.