Fish Populations Bump Up in Big Hole; Good Water Year and Hard Work Paying Off
By Moosetrack Megan

Posted: May 9, 2024

Wise River, MT – After six years of declining wild trout populations culminating in historic lows last year across the Jefferson Basin, initial 2024 fish population counts by Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) on the Big Hole River show slight increases. Wild trout populations are still significantly below historic averages, according to FWP, even after an above average water year last year.


“Even incremental increases in wild trout populations on the Big Hole River are something to celebrate. These numbers are a testament to all the hard work being applied to turn this troubling trend around, and a good water year, but a long-term management plan to restore wild trout to historic numbers will require a lot more than hoping for next year,” said Save Wild Trout’s Wade Fellin. “The breakdown of trout age classes will tell us a lot about overall population health. Between persistently high nutrient pollution, climate change, and this summer’s warm and dry forecast, now isn’t the time to be complacent. The future of wild trout is in our hands, and we are going to work like hell to protect our waterways, way of life, and all the businesses that rely on it.”


FWP’s lead Big Hole River biologist confirmed the ‘encouraging’ findings, but noted trout numbers are still well below the long-term average, and was cautious in denoting that water levels last year likely enhanced juvenile survival rates because more 2-year old trout were counted this year. Unbalanced trout population age classes can be a sign of an unhealthy fishery and a concern for the future of Southwest Montana’s cold-water fisheries, especially considering this year’s low-water and above-average temperature summerforecast. Many anglers are still reporting successful fishing days on the Big Hole. FWP uses probability-based sampling methods from which mathematical estimates of sampling bias, statistical error, sampling error, and confidence intervals can be determined.


Save Wild Trout, a nonprofit established to protect wild trout for the benefit of all, is preparing for a robust field year, working in conjunction with state agencies, to study the basin’s overall water quality, temperatures, and dissolved oxygen levels among other scientific data collection efforts. The group is planning on studying sources of persistently elevated levels of nutrient pollution and degraded and compromised habitat to inform management decisions, restoration opportunities, and identify long-term solutions for trout resiliency.


In addition, Save Wild Trout is encouraging all anglers to stay informed and ‘Take the Pledge for Wild Trout,’ which encourages safe handling practices, barbless hooks, hard stops when water temperatures reach 68 degrees, following state management regulations, and redefining a successful day on the river. Learn more at

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