Montana Brown Trout in Trouble

My brown trout of the year (so far).

Some people look down at brown trout. Perhaps, it’s because brown trout are seemingly hard to fool. Sometimes, it’s because, when hooked, brown trout don’t jump as much as a rainbow trout.

 Personally, I love to catch brown trout. Yes, they can be selective at times, but they can be a rough and tumble fighter at the end of a line, and if inclined, they will jump and tailwalk their way out of a fix as well as any rainbow trout.

 I also like catching brown trout because they get big. This is hardly scientific, but most of the fish porn I see on Facebook from fish caught in area waters are brown trout. I know that a brown trout I caught in May will no doubt be my best fish of 2021. I also love brown trout for their looks. A buttery-yellow trout with bright red spots, brown trout are often drop-dead good looking.

 Unfortunately, brown trout are in trouble. I reported on this back in May, following a presentation by FWP’s Big Hole River fisheries biologist, Jim Olsen, at a Trout Unlimited meeting.

At a public meeting in Butte last week, Travis Horton, FWP Fisheries Manager for Region 3, presented information on a number of area waters, including the Shields, Yellowstone, Beaverhead, Ruby, Madison, and Big Hole Rivers. Similar meetings were also held in Dillon and Bozeman.

Travis Horton, FWP Region 3 Fisheries Manager

With some exceptions, most of these rivers have common issues, including reduced numbers of brown trout, poor recruitment (baby fish surviving to adulthood), and, curiously, a larger percentage of large fish, indicating less competition for food.

Common issues with most rivers are reduced flows in the last 20 years, which also translates to warmer mid-summer water temperatures.

As a beginning basis for discussion, Horton presented some possible suggestions for change. Those include:

·       Adopt seasonal fishing closures from October 1 to the 3rd Saturday in May.

·       Catch & Release fishing for all brown trout.

·       Hoot owl restrictions July 1 to August 15 every year.

I will note there was some uneasiness regarding labeling those suggestions as biologist recommendations. With a new FWP Director and with all but one Fish & Wildlife Commission members being brand new, there seems to be some trepidation in presenting recommendations. A repeated emphasis was they were looking for public comment.

 Paul Siddoway, a Butte physician and frequent advocate for brown trout, suggested that FWP should establish test sections on rivers to try some concepts. He also suggested that on the Big Hole, FWP should build dams on some tributaries to hold back mountain snow melt for release in summer.

 There was comment that fishing should be restricted to artificial lure with a single hook.

 A frequent comment from attendees is that the Commission should pay serious attention to the scientific findings and recommendations. Horton urged people to submit comments and include those recommendations.

 The deadline for submitting comments on brown trout issues is July 11. Comments may be made by mail, sent to FWP, PO Box 200701, Helena MT 59620-0701. For email, send comments to Finally, you can go online to It is anticipated that, based on comments and biologist reports that the Fish & Wildlife Commission will make decisions on brown trout management at their scheduled meeting on August 15.

If you like fishing for and catching brown trout on area waters and are concerned about declines in the fishery, I strongly recommend that readers send their ideas and suggestions to FWP in one of the ways listed in the above paragraph. If nothing else, you can urge the Commission to pay attention to the findings and recommendations of our outstanding fisheries biologists.

 Personally, I have to admit that some of those recommendations will reduce angling opportunities. In most years, I start flyfishing in early March, so by the third Saturday in May, I have typically been out at least a half dozen times.

I’d miss those opportunities, but if It helps preserve our wild trout, it will be worth it.

Paul Vang’s new book, “Golden Years, Golden Hours,” is available at How Novel, The Second Edition, Isle of Books & Books, or online at

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