FWP News: Return of the Redband Rainbow
By angelamontana

Posted: July 9, 2024

FWP hatchery restarting native rainbow trout stock

KALISPELL — Montana’s only native rainbow trout is making a comeback in the northwest corner of the state.

Rainbow trout are common throughout much of our state due to widespread stocking.  However, most of the places rainbow trout exist today are outside of its native range in Montana.  The lone exception is the Kootenai drainage where you will find native Columbia River interior redband trout, a subspecies commonly known as redband trout.

Redbands today exist primarily in disconnected streams across the Kootenai where native genetic strains remain intact. These fish are confined to the upper reaches of watersheds where drainage culverts, small waterfalls, or other barriers have isolated them.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is working to conserve and enhance fisheries for this native species with help from the Murray Springs Trout Hatchery near Eureka. FWP has restarted efforts to raise redbands this spring and the first embryos hatched the week of June 17.  Juvenile fish could be ready to begin stocking in regional lakes by summer 2025.

“Redband rainbow trout face various threats, including invasive species, habitat loss, and hybridization and competition from introduced fish. The long-term persistence of redband trout depends on continued and strategic conservation efforts,” said Mike Hensler, FWP regional fisheries manager.

Montana’s redbands are native to the Kootenai River and its tributaries as far upstream as the Fisher River, located a few miles downstream of Libby Dam. For several decades, coastal rainbows were stocked in Montana streams containing native redbands. As a result, the two rainbow subspecies hybridized, making native genetic strains of redband trout increasingly rare.

Few strong populations of redbands exist in the U.S. and Canada, and the species is now gone from nearly 80 percent of its historical range. Due to population declines, redbands are considered a species of special concern by federal and state conservation agencies.

FWP is creating this redband broodstock using native genetic strains of fish that have survived and persist in isolated streams. The goal of this renewed effort is to conserve wild populations of redbands and the uniquely special recreational fishing opportunities they provide. Once the brood stock is fully developed, FWP plans to stock approximately 25,000 or more fish annually.

FWP previously raised redbands at its Murray Springs hatchery from 2009 until 2013. The hatchery has also been raising a lake-dwelling strain of the trout known as the Gerrard rainbow. Now, the FWP hatchery will focus solely on raising redbands. The facility’s transition to housing a redband brood source provides timely and exciting conservation and recreation opportunities for this species.

Murray Springs Fish Hatchery was built in the late 1970s by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to mitigate for habitat and fisheries losses caused by construction and operation of Libby Dam. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues to fund and maintain the Murray Springs facility while FWP operates and manages the facility. The main mission for Murray Springs is to provide fish for Lake Koocanusa and other waters in the Kootenai drainage.

Facility tours are available upon request. Please contact hatchery manager Jason Nachtmann at 406-889-3489. To learn more, visit here.

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