Only 14 miles west of Havre, Fresno Reservoir offers great fishing for walleye, northern pike, yellow perch, black crappie and lake whitefish. Fresno also provides flood control, irrigation, municipal water, and plenty of recreational activities to Montanans. When full, the reservoir is larger than 5,700 surface acres.
The primary purpose of the reservoir is to provide water to downstream irrigators. This causes the annual water-level to fluctuate, up to 20 feet. The timing and magnitude of these fluctuations is critical to fish production, survival, and their physical condition, said Havre-based Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Biologist Cody Nagel.
“Similar to most reservoir systems in the West, high precipitation or severe drought conditions can determine the boom-and-bust years for anglers,” Nagel said. “The severe drought conditions experienced across the Hi-Line in 2001-02 severely impacted the fish community and had anglers wondering how long it would take the fishery to recover.”
Several consecutive years (2007-2011) of good spring runoff and precipitation throughout the summer months has water levels up and the abundance of most species found in Fresno Reservoir are at or near all-time highs.
High and stable reservoir levels during the month of April has allowed spring-spawning species like walleye, northern pike, and yellow perch to utilize the submerged rock/gravel and vegetation habitats to consecutively produce several good year classes, Nagel said.
“These good precipitation years have enabled the reservoir to stay high and stable during June, which doesn’t happen often,” Nagel said. “That has resulted in some of the best black crappie year classes ever recorded. The high water does come with a cost, however, as adult fish become more susceptible to flushing over the spillway during extremely high reservoir levels.”
The fish of choice for anglers is the walleye and since 2003 FWP has been stocking Fresno with up to 100,000 walleye fingerlings, from Fort Peck Hatchery, annually.
FWP fall netting surveys averaged 22 walleyes per net since 2007. The walleye abundance is at an all-time high and is the highest walleye relative abundance currently found in the state of Montana.
“Above-average reservoir levels throughout the year, good natural reproduction of walleye and forage fish, and supplemental walleye stocking have all contributed to the current walleye densities,” Nagel said.
Most of the walleye population is one-year to five-year-old fish that range in length from 10 to 21 inches.
“The best walleye bite tends to take place during May and June,” Nagel said. “Depending on the amount of forage available in the reservoir, the fishing usually slows down in July and August. There is also a good fall bite, and anglers have no problems finding northern pike and a few walleye during the winter, as well.”
No live bait is allowed in Fresno Reservoir.