Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) is seeking tips on the illegal introduction of smallmouth bass to Seeley Lake.
FWP received its first reports of smallmouth bass in Seeley Lake from anglers that caught the fish this summer. Smallmouth bass are not native to Montana and can add additional challenges when managing a fishery for trout and salmon, such as Seeley Lake and its connected rivers and lakes.
Compared to its cousin the largemouth bass, smallmouth bass prefer cooler water and can do well in the moving water of rivers. The two species can be difficult to distinguish by sight.
FWP Region 2 Fisheries Manager, Pat Saffel, says that FWP has focused a lot of effort on restoring native trout populations, including bull trout, in Seeley Lake and the connected Clearwater Chain of Lakes, which includes Salmon, Seeley, Inez, Alva and Rainy, and their tributaries. FWP has also recently been focusing on improving stocking practices to enhance angling for westslope cutthroat trout and salmon in the chain.
“We’ve done a lot of work to improve native trout habitat, fish passage and angling opportunity in the watershed, and the introduction of smallmouth bass has the potential to cause serious problems,” Saffel said. “Smallmouth bass are predators and can reduce the survival of the trout and salmon we are managing for.”
Moving live fish or aquatic invertebrates (insects) from one body of water to another is illegal in Montana, and Saffel hopes to get some clues on when the introduction occurred and who might be responsible.
Anyone with information is encouraged to call 1-800-TIP-MONT (1-800-847-6668). Callers can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a reward for providing information that leads to a conviction.
FWP will also be proposing a no limit harvest regulation for bass in Seeley Lake at the October 10 Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting and will be discussing what can be done to potentially control smallmouth bass numbers in Seeley Lake and the Clearwater system.
(Report by Montana FWP; Cover photo: theweekendanglersguidetogoodfishing.com)