If the recipe for good fishing on Fort Peck Reservoir had a secret ingredient it would be easy to figure what that ingredient might be. Just add water! The water level on Fort Peck has risen over 15 feet in the last year. That increase in water elevation is on top of increases in water the previous two years. “With the added water the forage fish have flourished”, added Heath Headley Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks fish biologist for Fort Peck, “that means more food for walleyes, northern pike, smallmouth bass, and salmon”. The salmon Headley is referring to are Chinook Salmon. They run as big as 31 pounds. In fact, the Montana State Record salmon came out of Fort Peck. It weighed 31.31 pounds and was caught in 1991 by Carl Niles. The salmon fishing, as is the case with all the other game fish in the lake, has improved this year. “I think that there have been more salmon caught this year than the previous five years combined”, added Gene Moore owner of Lakeridge Motel and Tackle Shop located by the Dam, “the average salmon that is being caught weighs around 15 pounds”. The salmon fishing on Fort Peck has improved but anglers are still putting in a lot of hours between fish. I fished last weekend for three days with Dick Gondiero and we didn’t touch a fish after 40 hours of fishing. “The best time to fish for salmon is probably the last two weeks of August”, said Headley. Anglers use downriggers to get to the 70-90 feet depth and pull large twelve inch flashers with a squid about 24 inches behind the flasher. When the salmon get hooked they rip line off your reel. It is not uncommon for it to take 30 minutes to land one of these great fighting fish. It has been a few years since I have caught a salmon while fishing Fort Peck but just the memory of landing a salmon has brought me back to try my luck year after year. This year I missed the best salmon bite by about a week. Every year FWP stocks Fort Peck with salmon. “We stocked 150,000, 5-inch salmon this spring, and will stock another 25,000, 8-inch salmon this fall,” said Headley. Those salmon should be back at the dam where they were planted in four years.
If water is the secret ingredient then the future looks very good for Fort Peck fishing. “We are looking for the water level to remain at its current level for the next few months,” added John Daggett Project Manager for the US Army Corp of Engineers, “we will drop the water level down about a foot and half by March 1, 2011 in anticipation for spring run-off”. All of the Missouri Rivers big reservoirs downstream are full so the need for releasing water is low.
The businesses that depend on the anglers to fish Fort Peck and buy bait, gas, and rent RV sites have also been doing better. “We have had a good couple of summers the past two years”, said Tara Waterson owner of Fort Peck Marina.