Montana Salmon: Captain’s Column (9.3.15)
When folks talk about fishing for salmon in Montana most of the conversation is about kokanee salmon. For kokanee in Montana the average size is only 11 inches while a respectable kokanee would be in the 14 inch range. Years ago Hauser Reservoir over by Helena was once known as the Kokanee Capital of the World and for good reason. The average salmon caught on Hauser in its heyday was 16 inches with some getting up to the 20 inch size. To this day Hauser is home to state record kokanee that weighed in at 7.85 pounds and was 26.8 inches in length. The salmon was caught by John Bomar September 23, 2003. Nevertheless kokanee is still a very popular sport fish for anglers to catch in lakes like Georgetown, Lake Mary Ronan, Placid, and Bitterroot Lake.
There is however another salmon species in Montana and it is called the Chinook salmon or king salmon as some anglers refer to it and it swims in the waters of Fort Peck Reservoir. The salmon bite has been very in consistent in Fort Peck over the past 10 years. Every year Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks plants salmon smolts in the bay Fort Peck Marina and Flat lake boat ramp. The number of salmon that they plant depends on the eggs that they collect from the salmon that are in Fort Peck as well as any eggs that they might be able to get from similar operations downstream on the Missouri River in North Dakota and South Dakota. They call these salmon landlocked because they are unable to actually spawn like a salmon that goes out to the ocean and then comes back into fresh water to spawn in three or four years cycle. So the Fort Peck landlocked salmon are unable to spawn but that they come back to the face of the dam in three or four years.
It is at this point in the year, the first part of August through September 10th, when the salmon bite is normally on. How good the salmon bite becomes depends on the number of fish returning. Matt Mackinaw and I trolled for these unique fish last week and came away with 6 salmon in four 12 hour days of fishing. The salmon we caught were in the 8 to 12 pound range but some anglers I spoke with said they have seen salmon as large as 22 pounds caught this year. A couple of anglers that have fished for salmon as long as I can remember said they thought this year was better than 1995, which was a very good year. The technique for fishing for kings on Fort Peck takes downriggers or dipsy divers to enable you to get down as deep as 90 feet. Trolling 2-3 miles per hour is the preferred way to fish using 11 inch flashers that are followed by a squid with two hooks. Most anglers use 17 to 20 pound test line. If you don’t have downriggers or any king salmon fishing tackle and would still like to try your hand at catching a salmon then you might want to hire one of the fishing guides that work in the area like Scott Sundhiem 406-489-2663.
While Mackinaw and I were happy with one salmon a day fishing with our own boat at the same time Sundhiem who is experienced in fishing for salmon on Fort Peck was catching 3 to 4 salmon a day. So if you like to catch big good tasting fish that put up a great fight then there is still time to catch the salmon bite on Fort Peck and bring home some salmon to smoke or put on the barbeque.