By Pam Burke 

FWP stocking local fishing sites


Last updated 6/3/2021 at 8:14am

Havre Daily News/File photo

Brian Olson is assisted at Fresno Reservoir by a Fish, Wildlife and Parks employee cutting cable Feb. 7, 2020. After the ice melts, the former Christmas trees will drop to the bottom of the reservoir and become fish habitat. FWP is stocking Fresno and other local fishing sites this spring.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has begun its annual stocking of fisheries around the area with trout and walleye, and more is expected to be completed in the coming month.

"They just yesterday started stocking a lot of the small ponds in Blaine County with catchables and fingerlings," FWP fisheries biologist Cody Nagel said Wednesday. "And I'm assuming there's still some more fish coming over because we stock Faber Reservoir every year, as well."

Chouteau Reservoir, North and South Polly reservoirs, Brookie Pond, Kuhr Reservoir, Grasshopper Reservoir and Anderson Reservoir were all stocked with rainbow trout.

"For our trout, we plant two different sizes," Nagel said. "There's catchables, and those usually run 6 to 8 inches, and then there's fingerlings and those are usually around 3 to 4 inches."

Fresno Reservoir will be stocked with its annual walleye fingerlings in the next couple of weeks, Nagel said. Walleye are also stocked in Beaver Creek Reservoir annually, as well as in Dry Fork and Anita reservoirs north of Chinook in alternating years.

"So walleye are a little bit different," he said. "... Those fish are usually 1-1/2 to 2 inches long as fingerlings."

Walleye, he added, are raised in shallow one-acre ponds at Fort Peck Reservoir, and when faced with crowded conditions the walleye fingerlings allowed to get much bigger will start feeding on the smaller fish in the enclosure, so they are retrieved from their ponds for stocking earlier than trout.

"You gotta get 'em out of their as quickly as possible or else you're just going to end up with a handful of fish that are bigger than everything else and was able to eat everything out of there," he said. "So it's kind of a tricky process. Those guys watch, keep an eye on those fish, and as soon as they get to that 1-1/2, 2 inch size they get them out."

Walleye brood stock is harvested in April and early May from Fort Peck Reservoir to artificially spawn the ponds. The trout come from Giant Springs near Great Falls and Big Springs near Lewistown.

And rainbows aren't the only trout stocked in the area.

  Each year, brown trout fingerlings are stocked in Beaver Creek between Bear Paw Lake and Beaver Creek Reservoir, as well as below the reservoir, Nagel said.

The brown trout do well in Beaver Creek, and they co-exist well with rainbow, he added. The species live only three to five years, but they have high growth rates during that time. The 3 to 6 inch brown trout stocked in Beaver Creek this time of year will reach lengths up to 14 inches by fall, he said.

Fish in general in the Beaver Creek fisheries will live longer because the water levels stay up, but the small ponds and reservoirs are managed as quick-grow tank type fisheries, Nagel said, because the fish can't reproduce in the waters. The fish also experience die-off from low and too-warm water in dry, hot years, as well as, problems from winter weather.

Due to differences in the fisheries, walleye fingerlings grow to catchable size fish of 12-14 inches in Fresno in about two years, Nagel said, and in Beaver Creek Reservoir in four to five years. Ultimately, Beaver Creek Reservoir, or First Lake as it is sometimes called, will end up with bigger walleye due to the feeder fish.

"On average, we typically see bigger fish in First Lake - 25 to 30 inch walleye is possible in there," he said, "and a lot of that has to do with forage. There's a high abundance of perch out there, and the walleye, when they get to a certain size, they do eat trout, too."

Nagel said that once walleye grow to 15 to 17 inches they can eat 5 to 7 inch perch and 6 to 7 inch trout. At that point, if they have access to this food source, they will grow a lot quicker and larger.

"Fresno is kind of the reverse of that," he added.

Because of the feeder fish habitat in Fresno, walleye grow quickly early, but slow down as they get larger, Nagel said, adding that sometimes catchable perch and crappie are stocked in the reservoir as game fish for anglers.

Fish, Wildlife and Parks tries to focus more on Fresno's fish habitat, from a forage perspective, he said, and water level management, as much as is possible.

Post-holiday season every winter, FWP and the Fresno Chapter of Walleyes Unlimited collect Christmas trees in the community, and these trees are placed strategically on the ice at Fresno. As the ice melts the trees drop into place at the bottom of the reservoir where they help with spawning and cover.

The fish survey at Fresno looked good last fall, Nagel said, but sampling may have been skewed by very low waters. They will know more about the state of the fish population after they complete their 2021 survey in September.

  Water from St. Mary Diversion was flowing into Fresno again in late fall of 2020, and the current waterline is 4 feet down, which is within the normal range.

  Fishing in the area is starting to pick up again, Nagel said. Early spring spawners like pike, walleye and perch are done spawning and starting to become more aggressive and susceptible to angling. The pan fish species and bass in smaller ponds in the area are starting to spawn right now so are a little preoccupied. The blue gill, black crappie and large mouth bass, he said, are up near the shallows and cruising for spawning beds and protecting eggs and hatchlings.


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