Seeing steady declines over a 12-year period has prompted research efforts involving mortality, recruitment and health.

Of course, there's the economics of it, too, as the livelihood of fishing guides and the small town business who rely on these rivers' reputations as choice fisheries among tourists could be in jeopardy as well.

With that framework, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has announced the launch of several research efforts in response to trout declines in the Big Hole, Beaverhead and Ruby Rivers. Trout populations in several areas of the Big Hole, Beaverhead and Ruby have steadily declined since 2011 and are at or near historical lows. Montana FWP says they are working to better understand the causes of these declines, which are linked to flows, water temperatures and other factors.

Just over a month ago, in conjunction with the Fish and Wildlife Commission, FWP announced new efforts to research and monitor trout population declines, implementing temporary angling restrictions to protect spawning fish and limit angler-caused mortality on the three rivers. Since then, officials have met with business owners and guides to discuss trout population declines in the Jefferson Basin.

There is a four-prong approach to the study.


A mortality study on not only the Big Hole, Beaverhead and Ruby, but also the Madison River, will include tagging adult fish to assess how flows, water temperatures, angling and disease influence survival.


A juvenile fish study will focus on developing a better understanding of the contributions of tributary spawning areas to mainstem trout populations, examining fish movements, age and geographical origins of juvenile fish.


A fish health study will examine the level that disease is impacting fish populations in the Big Hole, Beaverhead and Ruby Rivers. This would include determining better ways to routinely sample fish for disease in the future.


Montana FWP is increasing the amount fish health monitoring and reporting resources information on the three rivers. That's where anglers on these rivers can be of assistance.

FWP lauched a new website portal last week, where anglers can submit reports of sick or dead fish they observe. This portal allows for a direct line from anglers to the department in gathering timely information.

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