BBC NewsHour | Montana residents fish for answers amid mysterious decline in trout | 2024 season
The number of brown and rainbow runs on some of the state’s most popular and scenic fisheries has state agencies, anglers, businessmen and concerned citizens all trying to find answers.
Montana PBS as Joel Lessard takes us to southwest Montana for a deeper look.
For the past 39 summers, Craig P elan has managed Big Hole Lodge, guiding anglers on southwest Montana’s world-class rivers.
This area is the Mecca, and the place where Craig passed his love of the sport to his son, Wade.
For the past 17 years, I have been a guide at Big Ole Lodge working alongside my father.
Craig and Wade now co-own the resort, which is located about eight miles from its namesake Big Hole River.
Nicknamed the Last Best River, it supports the last naturally productive population of Arctic riverine in the lower 48 and it is beautiful.
They are four species of wild trout in Montana.
We call this river home.
Anglers from around the world catch you can go eight hours without thinking about anything, but something is happening to the fish this spring.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks released data showing a number of Brown, Ray Phelan and other guides are seeing this firsthand.
Sick fish are covered with growths and lesions.
These declines are not just an environmental issue.
Fishing on the Three Rivers accounts for the lion’s share of the $167 million the province has taken in, and I had a client leave a couple of weeks ago and say, good luck with all that.
I hope you can recognize it.
I hope we really struggled this week.
Criminals believe they have ar sp. We can’t just sit on our hands.
We have to do something.
And we feel eight three.
Jim Olson, Biologist They should be the best, and they’re basically the ones who are stuck right now.
We do not have the information that enables us to say conclusively whether this is the case.
What they do know is that severe droughts in Montana over the past decade have stressed residents.
Less water that warms early in the year is not ideal for trotters, which thrive strongly in cooler water.
Experts also point to the possibility of the emergence of a new disease.
Brian Wheeler heads the Big Hole River Foundation, a non-profit organization that works to protect the river, and also works as a fishing guide.
We see open lesions on the heads.
What People Are Starting to Call Cheese Wheeler says it would make sense to see sick fish at the end of summer when the water is low, but we don’t just see them in October.
We’re seeing it in June when this gets really weird.
Don’t add up.
In June, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks announced its search efforts. In July, fish experts in the Big Hole River did some early fishing with electrophoresis, a method researchers use to help them study When an electrode hits the water, it creates an electrical current that fish are attracted to.
The goal is to find sick fish while they are still alive and collect samples immediately after killing them.
The preserved samples are quickly sent to specialists to look for signs of disease at a microscopic level.
No single organization is responsible for this, and no organization can solve this problem quickly.
This summer Wade Phelan announced the launch of Save Wild Trout, a privately funded group made up of guides and anglers and what Save Wild Trout hopes to do is identify what we feel are gaps in data collection and private fundraising.
Combine this data with experienced scientists who can package it and bring it to the country to help inform their management. The hope is that all this research will help protect the larger ecosystem.
Beyond the large holes of the trout population.
Brian Wheeler manages the Big Hole Foundation’s water quality program.
He studies how water quality affects the trout’s primary food source.
All of these issues we’re seeing don’t just impact trout population levels.
They affect bugs too.
Like trout in the whole big river.
Some species of aquatic insects are also declining, similar to elements of the basic food chain.
And so when you start seeing the decline in conversions, you know, it affects everything. It will take a year or two to see if good water conditions this year have helped reverse the trout decline.
But in the future, questions remain about human impact on and responsibility for these fish.
And for Montanans like Craig Phelan.
It’s a job they’re happy to do, and it’s a job that Wade will do here and I’ll be able to go fishing.
For Weekend News on PBS.
I’m Joel Lesser in Wise River, Mont