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FWP asks anglers in SW Montana to report tagged fish as part of study

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FWP asks anglers in SW Montana to report tagged fish as part of study

Mar 15, 2024 | 4:59 pm ET
By Blair Miller
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FWP asks anglers in SW Montana to report tagged fish as part of study
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A rainbow trout tagged by FWP as part of its study of fish declines in southwestern Montana rivers. (Image courtesy FWP)

Anglers in southwest Montana will have a chance to win prizes while also helping out with the state’s effort to study what is leading to trout population declines in some of the most famed trout-fishing rivers in the country.

Teams from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and Montana State University this winter started tagging trout in the Big Hole, Beaverhead, Ruby, and Madison rivers – an effort that will last three years – which they are asking anglers to use to report information that will be used in the study, the agency said Friday.

“Anglers play a critical role in this study,” said Mike Duncan, the fisheries program manager in southwest Montana for FWP. “When they submit reports on tagged fish, they are helping gather important information on the health of the fishery.”

After someone catches a tagged fish, they will be asked to clip the tag off close to the fish’s skin while handling it minimally, then to use the unique number to report the tag number, date, location, condition of the fish, type of rig that was used, and whether the fish was harvested or released back to the research team through an online portal. FWP produced a video to show anglers the process.

FWP is also incentivizing anglers to participate by entering people who report blue tags into a drawing for gear and fishing trips and making yellow tags worth $100.

Three MSU graduate students helping conduct the research will also be out at rivers interviewing anglers and other people using the river as part of their studies, which include a fish mortality study, a study of juvenile fish in the basin, a fish health study and ongoing monitoring.

FWP said in late January that the team was together and holding meetings to plan more field work for this summer. The agency announced the efforts to study the fish declines in the basin  last July after getting pressure from locals to act following big declines in brown and rainbow trout populations over the past decade and trout showing mysterious lesions over the past two years in the Big Hole and Beaverhead rivers.

FWP said earlier this year it also hoped to add more advanced molecular testing for fungi, bacteria and viruses in the spring, summer and fall on fish of all ages collected in the Big Hole and Beaverhead.

Another group of locals from the basin, Save Wild Trout, is conducting studies as well on nutrient pollution, lower streamflows and warmer water temperatures.

People who catch tagged fish can submit reports through the online portal or by calling 406-994-2384.