Trout fishing is at risk in Montana and many other traditionally favorable trout waters. Generally, trout prefer cool, clean, clear water that is below 65 degrees. Montana is home to several species of trout. Some are native while others have been introduced/stocked. These non-natives have adapted well and are considered “Wild” trout.
Montana Trout species.
NATIVE Yellowstone Cutthroat, Westslope Cutthroat, Bull Trout, Columbia River Redband trout, and Artic Grayling.
NON-NATIVE / WILD Brook trout, Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout, Lake Trout, Golden trout, and Kokanee.
Less/lower water + warmer water + more diseases + no grasses/cover + overfishing/ excessive guide pressure + poor Catch and Release handling + development + Drought = Declining Trout populations. This is the formula for dead Trout.
What if trout can no longer survive Montana’s waters? Fortunately, Montana has a diversity of trout waters that are at high altitude and cool, remote places. Dams create cold water fisheries artificially, such as the Bighorn River. Montana will always have trout, but what kinds? Even Yellowstone Park waters are heating up. Cutthroats are at risk.
The heartiest trout found in Montana are Rainbows. These Pacific Northwest fish can adapt to tough conditions. They are generally Spring spawners and can live up to 9 years. They can grow over 12 pounds and 30 plus inches long. Bows can survive in waters up to 77 degrees. Montana Rainbows were stocked in the state in the late 1800’s.
A Trout Newcomer to consider is the Marble Trout! (Salmo Marmoratus). This trout is native to Asia and the Baltic Sea/ Scandinavia. You can find healthy populations of Marbles throughout Europe. They are especially appreciated in the Czech Republic and Italy.
I know that stocking trout is considered taboo in Montana, but most trout are the result of stocking.
Brook Trout- native to eastern US
Brown Trout- Native to Europe
Lake Trout- Native to Canada and Great Lakes
Golden Trout- Native to California
Kokanee- Native to Pacific NW
Native trout require the cooler and cleaner waters, that are becoming a thing of the past. When we look at trout fishing in the future, water conditions will be different. Native trout are already under stress and declining due to Climate conditions and changing ecosystems.
Marble Trout have some advantages. These Spring spawners can live up to 15 years in waters from 43 to over 70 degrees. Marbles prefer water that has a PH of 6.5-7.5. They are deep bodied, like Largemouth Bass. These trout will guard their redds for 2 weeks or until their eggs hatch. The taste and look of these trout are like other trout species. They survive well in shallow waters with cover and grasses. They are compatible with other trout species but unlikely to hybridize with other Spring spawners. Marbles feed on similar foods and can grow to over 9 lbs. and nearly 30 inches. They are also disease resistant and often mistaken for Rainbow Trout.
The only other options may be trout hybridization. Blending the best Genetics of all trout into a hearty super survivor may be an unpopular option. Rainbow / Cutthroats are known as Cut Bows. Brown and Brook trout have hybridized into hearty Tiger Trout.
When Biologists are looking at all the options to protect and expand Trout Fishing into the future, they could Roll Out all the Marbles!