The 2017 Great Rockies Sport Show tour in Montana concluded last weekend at the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse in Bozeman. I attended all of the Great Rockies shows in Montana this year that were held in Billings, Helena, Missoula and Bozeman. All the shows were well attended with families enjoying all the activities and seminars that the shows offered. I was there representing the Montana Outdoor Radio Show in a booth so it gave me a chance to meet thousands of folks who enjoy the great Montana outdoors just like I do. It is interesting to me what the people attending each year want to talk about or maybe I should say what trips their trigger. A few years back it was the wolves and how they were hurting the states elk population, a couple of years ago it seemed like more anglers were wanting to know more about how to catch walleyes. The past few months at the shows one topic really dominated most of the conversations. They wanted to know about Fort Peck Reservoir and they wanted to know how to fish for the Chinook salmon that were caught by more than a few anglers trolling on the lake last year. Where do these king salmon come from? Are they natural to the lake? Do they taste like the salmon you catch out of the ocean or the salmon that come back to spawn up the Clearwater River and Salmon River in Idaho in the spring?
To begin chinook salmon are not natural to Fort Peck. This is what the web site MT.GOV had to say how salmon initially got into Fort Peck Reservoir, “One of two Pacific salmon species in Montana, the Chinook salmon, was introduced into Fort Peck Reservoir during the 1980s in an effort to produce a trophy fishery. Like all Pacific salmon species, the chinook dies after spawning. It is doubtful that these fish will reproduce in Fort Peck, but due to their intense homing instinct they will return to where they were stocked when they are ready to spawn. They may then be captured and artificially propagated in the hatchery”. Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks collect eggs every fall from salmon that come into the bays that they were stocked as they attempt to spawn. How good the salmon fishing will be 3 to 4 years from that point depends on two things-One how many eggs did they collect on any given year, in 2012 FWP collected 574,229 salmon eggs, and Two how many salmon smolt did they stock the following year from those eggs that they collected. The goal is to grow the salmon smolt in the Fort Peck fish hatchery to around 4.5 inches and release them the following year in June. From that point the salmon will grow as big as 29 pounds. Most salmon that were caught last year were in the 12-14 pound range. Anglers targeting salmon typically fish with downriggers in depths ranging from 60-110 feet. They troll 2-2.4 miles per hour trolling an 8 or 11 inch flasher trailed by a squid, fly, or Brads cut plug. The best time to fish for salmon seems to be the middle of July to late August, even though salmon were caught last year by anglers before and after that window. Salmon in Fort Peck feed on cisco and do taste like ocean salmon who target herring. The meat on the Fort Peck salmon is not as pink, but I think they taste as good either baked, barbequed or smoked.