Fish will do the darnedest things. Sometimes fancy tracking equipment catches them at it. Other times a biologist in the field has a memorable “fish encounter.” Here are some examples.
A 32-inch bull trout astonished biologists by surviving a trip through the turbines at Libby Dam in northwestern Montana. The fish, tagged after spawning in a stream in British Columbia, was tracked making the 100-mile trip down to Libby Dam. After negotiating the turbines, it went downstream another 40 miles and over the spectacular but choppy Kootenai Falls to Obrien Creek where it spawned the next year. Apparently this trout was unshaken by its adventure the previous year.
Another bull trout was radio tagged after spawning in Quartz Creek, a tributary to the Kootenai River above Kootenai Falls in northwestern Montana. Trackers lost the fish for a short time, then it suddenly reappeared below Kootenai Falls. The next autumn the same bull trout was located back in Quartz Creek. No one believed a trout could make such a challenging round trip, until this hardy bull trout was tracked doing it.
Trout aren’t the only species willing to get there the hard way. In eastern Montana, FWP biologists were using ¼ oz jigs to collect sauger from an irrigation canal just off of the Yellowstone River near Miles City for genetic testing. On Brad Schmitz’s first cast he hit something solid and set his hook. The fish fought for over 45 minutes before tiring enough that Schmitz could haul it over to the steep canal bank. It was a 37-pound paddlefish that had squeezed through a 14-inch inlet pipe to get into the canal. Schmitz quickly scooped up the tired fish and ran it back over to the Yellowstone River where it was revived, tagged and released. That paddlefish was an armload, but Schmitz prevailed and the fish survived.
A little 2.5-inch yellow perch takes the prize though for getting into and then out of trouble. This spring FWP biologist Jon Cavigli was helping at an annual fishing event on Flathead Lake when a family of anglers unloaded six lake trout all caught by a daughter who looked to be a third grader. Cavigli volunteered to clean the fish and while filleting the third one he noticed it had a pretty full stomach. He slit it open and out popped the tiny yellow perch. The little girl said, “look at that fish jump!” She immediately grabbed it, ran down to the water and released it to swim away.