December Montana News
Click on the link below to read all about the December news.
FWP Aquatic Invasive Species Update for the week of October 14, 2013
As of September 29th all of FWP’s watercraft inspection stations have closed, although the majority closed after Labor Day. The Thompson Falls and Troy stations were kept open until September 15th to monitor EWM movement by late-season boaters, and one roving crew was kept on at Fort Peck until the end of September to help provide outreach to early-season hunters. Following are approximate numbers for the season. Data from most stations is not complete at this point.
Sampling efforts this year included: full monitoring done for prioritized waterbodies both east (Stacy Schmidt) and west (Jayden Duckworth, Jim Rokosch, and Braden Lewis) of the divide, plankton sampling done by roving seasonal watercraft inspectors, sampling done by non-AIS FWP staff (Eileen Ryce, R6 and R7 biologists, Libby Mitigation Project and others), National Park Service (Glacier National Park) plankton sampling, and volunteers from groups such as Whitefish Lake Institute. We don’t have any volunteer data at this time.
A full listing of results will be posted when completed.
October Hunting and Fishing News
Click on the image below for the latest Hunting and Fishing news in Montana.
Helena Area Regulation Changes; Why Now?[10/01/2013]
As noticed (and commented upon) by many folks within WU, FWP proposed a handful of changes to fishing regulations to the FWP Commission at the August meeting. Proposed changes were in the western and central fishing districts, and proposals for Canyon Ferry, Hauser, and Holter Reservoirs got a lot of people’s attention.
These changes came about because population management “triggers” as outlined in the Upper Missouri River Reservoir Management Plan were tripped. These triggers were determined to be critical thresholds where management action needs to be taken should population levels fall above or below these triggers. These triggers are what make the management plan adaptive; as the fish populations change then the strategies to manage them must also change.
In the case of the Helena area reservoirs, lower population triggers for yellow perch were tripped in Canyon Ferry and Hauser, while the upper walleye trigger was tripped for Holter. The regulation changes proposed to the Commission are intended to improve yellow perch numbers in Canyon Ferry and Hauser and to reduce walleye numbers in Holter.
It is well known that managing for yellow perch is challenging, because not only are yellow perch an important component of the sport fishery, but they’re also the primary forage species in the system. For Canyon Ferry it was proposed to reduce the perch daily bag limit from 15 fish daily to 10 fish daily and in possession. Data suggests that this could reduce angler harvest by 30%, which in turn could conserve more spawning age adults in the population. Since walleye are the most prolific predator in the lake and perch are a preferred forage item, the regulation proposal also included increasing the walleye bag limit from 10 fish daily to 12. The length limit restrictions were also proposed to be changed from 4 fish over 16 inches, only one over 28 inches to 1 fish over 25 inches. The intent for changing the walleye limit is to reduce walleye numbers, which would also reduce the rate of perch predation. By changing the length restriction to only 1 fish over 25 inches promotes harvest, but should also work toward preserving the size structure desired by anglers.
In Hauser perch bag limits were proposed to be lowered from 25 fish daily to 10 fish daily and in possession. Also, in order to preserve spawning stock during the spring bite in Lake Helena, from April 1 to June 30 only 1 perch over 14 inches can be kept. All other perch must be released. Walleye length restrictions were also proposed to be changed from 1 fish over 28 inches to 1 fish over 25 inches. This change would maintain consistency for walleye length restrictions within the three reservoirs.
Holter Reservoir is a little different because upper walleye triggers were tripped, while perch abundance remains within target range. Data collected from population surveys, creel surveys, and a reward tagging study was used to model the Holter walleye population under varying regulation scenarios. Modeling suggested that walleye numbers could be reduced while maintaining a similar size structure by keeping the bag limit at 10 fish daily, but changing the slot limit from 20 to 28 inches to only one fish over 25 inches. Modeling showed there were other slot limits that would be more effective at improving size structure (such as an 18-22 inch slot limit), but that would not reduce abundance, as directed by the plan. Other scenarios could substantially reduce walleye numbers (such as increasing the bag limit to 15 fish daily), but would compromise the population size structure with more, smaller sized fish.
There’s been a lot of feedback on these proposals, and at press time a final decision has yet to be made (that will occur at the Commission meeting in Miles City on October 10). There’s a substantial amount of work that goes into these regulation changes, and FWP has tried to stay engaged with both State and Local WU Chapters throughout this process. From all the conversations I’ve had with various anglers and groups over the past few weeks, I can say that we all want to make the most out of these fisheries. Often we just have different visions to get to that point.
I enjoy talking to sportsmen and women throughout the state, so feel free to give me a call to chat about these regulations or anything else going on with these fisheries. We also usually get out to the WU Chapters around the Helena area, but if you’d like us to come to one of your Chapter meetings, give me a call. Happy fishing!
Noxon Warm Water Fishing Association article
As a group, we have been deliberately somewhat silent for the moment but we are gathering facts, discussing strategy and considering legal tactics. It’s been a busy summer for everyone and I can assure you the ‘public’ has discovered the walleye fishing in Noxon. The number of boats and success stories is amazing and we think that the expanded public knowledge of the resource is going to be important as we move forward. This fight is far from over. Right now, FWP has gill nets in the water for their annual survey and we hope to soon have data that will identify the condition and status of all species in the reservoir. We know that a large number of walleye have been harvested this year so we are anxious to see these results. With no size or bag limit restrictions, we suspect that this harvest has and will have measurable impacts to the population. Thanks again for all the support!
Scott Muller, Secretary Noxon Warm Water Fisheries
Corps of Engineers lays out new plans for Intake Diversion Dam
Click on the pdf below to read all about what the Corps of Engineers are trying to accomplish at the Lower Yellowstone Irrigation Project in Sidney Montana.
FWP 2013 Fishing Newsletter
The newsletter is a compilation of fisheries projects and results from across the state.
This is an incredible resource to track the latest techniques and findings.
A few hard copies are available at FWP headquarters for those who would prefer to browse at your leisure, perhaps on a stream bank or lake.
Fishing Report - October 17th 2013
Canyon Ferry: Rainbow trout are being caught throughout
the reservoir trolling cowbells or attractants, tipped
with worms, in approximately 25 feet of water. Shoreline
anglers are doing well using worms, Powerbait or bead head
nymphs. Fall walleye fishing is in full swing and fish are
being caught mostly around mid-reservoir areas using
crankbaits or jigs (green, yellow or perch colored).
Yellow perch continue to be caught throughout the
reservoir while searching for walleye and shoreline
anglers are also catching fish near the Silos. Current
reservoir level have made some boat launches inaccessible,
so please proceed with caution. Adam Strainer, FWP, Helena
Hauser: All federal campgrounds and ramps are closed. The rainbow bite continues to be good from both shore and boat. Shore anglers are catching rainbows at the Causeway Bridge on worms, marshmallows or wooly buggers. Trolling cowbells or crankbaits around Black Sandy and the Causeway has produced good results for rainbows. Walleye and perch fishing are slow. Troy Humphrey, FWP, Helena
Holter: All federal campgrounds and ramps are closed. Rainbow fishing is very good while trolling cowbells or crankbaits throughout the reservoir. Rainbows have been caught from shore at Departure Point and around the Gates of the Mountains while using worms or Powerbait. Perch and walleye fishing are slow. Troy Humphrey, FWP, Helena
Helena Valley Regulating Reservoir: The snagging season for Kokanee Salmon opened on September 1st and will run through October 31st. Limits are 35 salmon daily with 70 in possession. Troy Humphrey, FWP, Helena
Cold Nights and Hot River Walleye Bites
By Gary Parsons & Keith Kavajecz
Some of you may have already changed focus from fishing to hunting by now. However, there are a few of us that choose to fish for walleyes right to the bitterly cold onset of winter (when we switch from “soft water” pursuits to ice fishing adventures). If you live near the country’s biggest walleye river, you could be right in the midst of one of the best bites of the year. It’s not a bite for the “fair weather angler”, but it can be one of the most exciting times of the entire year to go for big walleyes.
One of the most popular locations for this is near the town of Red Wing, Minnesota on Pool #4 of the Mississippi River. Just above the dam at Red Wing is a power plant that discharges warm water and helps to keep the river open for at least three to four miles below the dam all winter. That’s where Keith met up with fellow walleye pro Brett King last year on a cold November evening, to shoot an episode for The Next Bite TV series. They met late in the day because to get in on this bite, they would be fishing at night. Although this Mississippi River is nicknamed “Big Muddy” in many areas, this bite is all about clear water. “While we were in pool 4 for this trip, it’s all about the water getting clean in the late fall and winter that makes the night bite go.” explains Brett, “It happens all up and down the Mississippi. We will see 6 to 8 feet of water clarity in a normal winter.” And it’s not just on the Mississippi, as this is a tactic that can be deadly on many of the country’s big walleye rivers.
As with any fishing situation, locating the majority of the fish is key to success. For this particular bite, the key spots contain 3 important components; rock (riprap), current, and depth. You’re looking for riprap shorelines that have a little current sweeping across them, especially ones that have a feeding shelf off the first break and access to deeper water. By a “feeding shelf” we mean an area where the riprap drops off from shore to say 4 feet or so then flattens out for a few feet before dropping off to the deeper water. These walleyes like to set up on these “shelves” and let the current bring them food. Current in the late fall and through winter is way down on the river compared to the rest of the year, so finding the right spots is not as easy as it may sound. Look for spots on river bends and near the dam for the best chance to find good riprap and current.
There’s been a huge shift the past few of years when it comes to cold-water river walleye fishing. It was once considered that the “jig and minnow” was the only bait to use on rivers like this. Walleyes and Saugers are not necessarily real active in these colder water environments, but they do tend to be concentrated in good numbers in relatively defined areas. The subtle attraction of the jig and live minnow fished right in front of their noses has historically proven to be both effective and efficient for catching fish. These days however, river rats are beginning to set aside their minnow buckets in favor of artificial tails. You might think it’s because they’re tired of frosty fingers from dipping in the bait bucket, or fed up with one too many spilled minnow pails leaving the boat’s floor as slick as a hockey rink. The real reason plastic tails are getting so much attention amongst these winter walleye warriors is because they catch fish!
Truth be known, savvy walleye anglers on the Mississippi have been using artificial tails for walleyes longer than most and there are definitely some tails that have proven themselves over the years. The best baits are normally a little bigger than what’s typically used for walleyes, with an action-type tail. A popular favorite on this pool of the Mississippi is a four inch “ringed-body worm”, and so for this outing one of the baits we armed ourselves with was Berkley’s version, the 4 inch PowerBait Ribworm. This type of tail is ideal for pitching technique used for these night feeding ‘eyes as it sinks slowly, and the tail moves seductively in the current with very little effort. The “ribs” on the worm’s body also help it to displace more water as it moves along, adding to its action and helping fish to locate the bait in the darkness.
Brett also shared some key secrets to how to fish these baits most effectively; “When you’re pitching jigs like this, how you control and move the jig in the water is crucial to your success.” says Brett, “There’s a real fine line between getting snagged and getting bit. You want the jig to swim just inches off the bottom. If you move it too much, chances are you aren’t going to get a bite.” Brett’s basic tactic is to pitch the jig tight to the shore and watch the line to know when it’s hit bottom. Then he slowly lifts the jig up, letting it sweep back with the current as he reels up the slack line. This cadence continues until the jig is back to the boat. It’s a painfully slow way to fish, but when the fish hit, they REALLY clobber the bait. It’s an awesome bit for sure!
Using the right equipment is also key to success with this technique. While we are strong advocates for using no-stretch lines like Berkley FireLine for jigging, this is one tactic that monofilament line is a better choice. We were using 6 pound test Berkley Trilene Sensation in the Solar and Blaze Orange colors. The bright colored line made it very easy to see the line in with the light from our headlamps and watching your line is critical as it’s the best way to see when the jig is on the bottom. The mono also “flows” in the current much better than a braid line allowing for a much more subtle presentation. Because you’re using a line with more stretch to it, using a very sensitive rod is a must. A six foot high modulus graphite spinning rod like the Bass Pro Shops Walleye Angler Signature Series model WA60MS-HM85 is an ideal choice.
One thing to remember about the jigging action is that it is actually more important to learn to feel the bottom than to learn to feel the bite. The areas that concentrate most of the walleye are typically super snaggy areas. A normal jigging presentation (where you let the jig hit the bottom before reeling down and lifting again) will result in snags and re-tying. Just the little bit of time it takes to reel down may allow the jig to be swept into a rock crevice. So watch the line and as soon as it deflects (indicating it has hit the bottom) – lift the jig 6 inches and let it start flowing again.
Color of the jig did not seem to matter as much for this type of fishing, but using a light jig is important. 1/8 ounce is the common size, but if there is little or no wind and if the current is fairly subdued, use a 1/16 ounce head. The lighter head will allow the jig/body combo to sweep just above the rocks longer – right in the strike zone. One style of jig to consider is a semi-standup jig like the Bass Pro Shops XPS Walleye Jig. This type of jig has a flattened bottom that will, more often than not, keep the jig from tipping over when it hits bottom thus preventing snags. The additional benefit is that if it lands upright, the hook is in a great position to contact the roof of the walleyes mouth if the fish happens to suck it off the bottom.
Boat positioning is critical for this type of presentation too. You need to be close enough to reach within a foot or so of shore with a light jig, but not so close that you are on top of the fish. One piece of equipment we are really looking forward to using with this technique is the “anchor” mode on the new MotorGuide Xi5 trolling motor. With this mode, the trolling motor uses GPS to hold right on the spot that you “anchor” on. Yes there are trolling motors out there that already do that – but the advantage of the Xi5 is that it has a “Jog” function. Jog will reposition the boat in increments of 5 feet simply by pushing button on the hand held key FOB. For example, let’s look at a spot where we want to start downstream of the stretch with the shoreline to our left. In this scenario you would “anchor” at the bottom of the stretch. Make several casts remembering that casting just a little to the side will give you a completely different drift path and might trigger a bit. One this area is covered, then “jog” several feet to the cover the next little stretch. The nice thing is, if you want to jog 20 feet ahead, you simply push the Up button on the key FOB 4 times and it will move ahead 20 feet. Get a little too close to shore – push the right button to move out 5 feet further from shore. Once anchored the motor does all the work holding the boat in a precise position – the anglers can concentrate on fishing.
Night fishing, especially in cold weather, has its own set of challenges. Make sure you are dressed right for the conditions, have a powerful headlight that shoots a spotlight all the way to shore and have plenty of flashlights and spare batteries on hand. The November nights can be cold, but the walleye bite can be hot enough to keep you warm and ready for your Next Bite.
If you have questions or comments on this or other articles from Gary Parsons and Keith Kavajecz, visit their website www.thenextbite.com.
May 12, 2013
The weather has improved and water temperatures have finally warmed in the Big Dry Arm of Fort Peck Reservoir. Water surface temperatures throughout the trap netting area ranged from 60 degrees in shallow areas of Nelson Creek to 50 degrees past McGuire Creek. Despite the increase in water temperatures, walleye spawning activity hasn’t increased much. Fewer walleye have been collected along with more spent females. These indicators have signaled us the spawn is coming to a close and it’s time to pull our trap nets for the season.
In 2013, we noticed a greater number of small to medium-sized walleye during the spawn compared to previous years. Most of these fish ranged from 15 to 25 inches in length which can be attributed to good growth and survival over the last several years. This is due to an increase in reservoir elevations that provided a greater amount of habitat and forage fish. Anglers should be encouraged to know we still captured some very large walleye during this time. One of the largest females weighed was 15.3 pounds and measured 33.2 inches.
We were able to hold a few more egg-takes since the last update. However, we were only able to collect roughly a million eggs each day. These small egg-takes will give us a total of 40 million eggs for the 2013 season. While this number is lower than other years, these eggs will give us enough fry to stock all rearing ponds at the Fort Peck and Miles City fish hatcheries. These ponds will provide walleye fingerlings to meet the statewide stocking requests in 2013.
On behalf of the reservoir and hatchery staff, I would like to thank all the volunteers who assisted with this year’s effort. Best of luck fishing this summer!
Photo: Kimball Brost with a green female walleye.
May 5, 2013
The weather has started to warm again after a brief cold spell rolled through the Big Dry Arm of Fort Peck Reservoir. Water surface temperatures were back down to 45 degrees on Wednesday but have slowly climbed back to 50 degrees throughout our trap netting area as of today.
The number of walleye collected from the trap nets continues to remain the same. There hasn’t been a large increase in numbers of green or ripe female walleye collected from the trap nets. Good numbers of male walleye are still present though. We have also come across several spent female (already released their eggs) during our trap netting efforts. Green female walleye were ripening up in the holding pens until the recent drop in water temperature.
The egg-taking effort has continued to produce small batches of eggs on a daily basis. Since the last update, we have collected 10 million more eggs. This brings the grand total to approximately 34 million total for the season. We will continue trap netting and egg-taking during the upcoming week to see if some warmer temperatures bring in some more walleye and hopefully collect a few more eggs.
Photo: Tom Rau with a green walleye and Bob Lipscomb with a large northern pike.
April 29, 2013
The weather continues to cooperate in the Big Dry Arm of Fort Peck Reservoir. Water surface temperatures have reached 53 degrees in the shallower areas and 46 degrees at some of our trap nets further down the reservoir. However, the wind continues to through a wrench in things by making it difficult to check all of our trap nets.
The continued warming trend has spurred a bit of walleye spawning activity. Some of the better trap nets are still seeing close to 20 walleye per net, but we are now starting to capture a few more females. Most of the females collected continue to be green, but we are starting to see more ripe females in the trap nets. We are also seeing more green female walleye ripen up in the holding pens as result of the warmer water temperatures.
Since the last update, we’ve been holding an egg-take each day. Each egg-taking effort has resulted in three to four million eggs per day. Today was the largest egg-take with 6 million more eggs collected. This will bring our grand total to approximately 24 million eggs as of today. It looks like we will see a slight drop in temperatures in the upcoming days, but hopefully it doesn't damper the walleye spawning activity too much.
Photos: Matt Baxter collecting eggs from a ripe female walleye and Craig Russell with a green female walleye.
April 25, 2013
The weather has slowly started to improve on Fort Peck Reservoir. Since Monday, we’ve been seeing a gradual warming trend develop in the upper Big Dry Arm. Water surface temperatures have finally approached 45 degrees in some of the shallower areas. This has been the warmest water temperature we've observed this year during the walleye spawning operation.
With the warming temperatures, we are starting to see a few more walleye in our trap nets. Some of our best trap nets are containing close to twenty walleye with a majority of them still being males. However, we are beginning to capture a few more green females and occasionally some ripe female walleyes.
Some of the green female walleye have finally ripened up
in our holding pens due to the warming water temperatures.
This allowed us to hold our second spawn of the season.
Today we collected nearly 5 million eggs from 39 females.
This will bring our total to 8 million eggs thus far. It
looks like the warming trend should continue for the next
few days so hopefully the walleye spawning activity will
Photo: John Gregory and Chris Reiquam hoist a couple of green female walleyes.
April 22, 2013
Well, the weather hasn’t improved much on Fort Peck Reservoir. The daytime high was around 37 degrees with wind gusts to 35 miles per hour on Sunday. As a result, were unable to check all of our trap nets. Much of our equipment that got wet froze on Sunday night. When we returned on Monday, we were greeted to layers of ice on and in the boats. Even the simple task of unloading a boat becomes a bit more difficult when it gets froze to the trailer bunks!
Water surface temperatures in the upper Big Dry Arm area warmed slightly to 42 degrees on Sunday but decreased to 40 degrees on Monday. We are seeing a few more walleyes in the trap nets but it still isn’t a runaway. Most of the walleye collected continue to be males but there have been a few more green females collected over the last few days. This is good news as we are now holding close to 80 green females in the holding pens. However, we really need some warmer water temperatures so they will release their eggs.
We have also been able to collect 3 to 4 ripe female walleye per day which allowed us to hold our first walleye egg-take for 2013. We ended up spawning 20 females which gave us close to 3 million eggs on Sunday. Let’s hope the weather forecast starts to warm in the upcoming days and stays there!
Photo: David Simpson with a green female walleye.
The 2013 walleye spawning operation is officially
underway on Fort Peck Reservoir. However, it appears Mother
Nature still has her own agenda. The Fort Peck area received
almost 7 inches of snow over the weekend and daytime
temperatures have only been in the low 40's and down into
the 20's at night. Reservoir elevations are approximately 13
feet lower than they were at this time last year. This means
we are having to relocate many of our trap net locations.
Water surface temperatures are 38-39F in the upper Big Dry Arm. As you can imagine, walleye spawning activity is pretty slow. We have been capturing a decent number of males but only a few females thus far. The female walleye are still really green and not ready to release their eggs yet. The colder water temperatures have actually been very conducive to northern pike spawning activity. Some trap nets have had upwards of 40 northern pike per net with both both green and ripe (releasing eggs) female pike. This definitely a sign that things are still early.
It looks like there is a slight warming trend in the forecast so let’s hope the weather eventually cooperates and the walleye spawning activity picks up.
Photos: Trap net and Joe Wiles with a Burbot
The 2013 Canyon Ferry Reservoir walleye spawning survey officially came to a close on May 8th. The survey was marked by many tough days battling traps in extreme weather, which meant many days of setting and resetting traps. FWP crews tagged 338 walleye this spring, down from 448 in 2012, with fish averaging 14.9-inches. There were 24 females (7%) sampled, with the largest at 24.6-inches and 6.5-pounds. Over half of the ‘new’ walleye were captured from April 26th to 28th (55%), just after the full moon period, and another large portion of the catch occurred in April during an early warming trend. Considering how many days traps were pushed to shore to avoid weather, we captured quite a few walleye. Ten total northern pike were sampled in 2013 which averaged 38.4-inches and 17.4-pounds.
Please contact me if you have any question or are interested in volunteering at any time during the summer months. Thanks.
Photo Caption: Technician Chris Hurley with a 6.5-pound burbot captured on the south end of Canyon Ferry Reservoir.
Foul weather continues to make the spring walleye spawning survey on Canyon Ferry Reservoir very interesting. Traps have only fished a handful of days since the last report due to inclement weather. However, conditions reached optimal spawning conditions (48-52°F) for a few days late last week and crews were able to tag nearly 150 walleye, which pushes the spring total to just over 250 walleye sampled. Some mid-20 inch female walleye continue to cruise the shoreline and most of the females are either green or ripe. Look for fish to continue cruising shorelines throughout the reservoir for the next couple weeks and FWP staff is planning to run traps into early May. Over 1,200 rainbows have been sampled this spring and only one more northern pike to report since the last update.
If you have any questions or are interested in volunteering for a day during the field season, give me a call at 495-3263.
Photo Caption: FWP Fisheries Technician Chris Hurley with a 24.2-inch green female walleye near Pond 1 on Canyon Ferry Reservoir.
The annual spring spawning survey on Canyon Ferry Reservoir
is underway and battling mother nature seems to be the only
constant thus far. Three trap nets were launched, two on the
east shore at standard locations and one on the west shore,
during the week of April 3rd and traps have been monitored
at least three days weekly over the past two weeks. Rainbow
trout numbers in the traps have been at or above average,
but cool water temperatures and wind have slowed the walleye
spawn thus far. Just over 100 walleye have been captured as
of April 15th and the majority of the catch have been ripe
males. Only a few green females have been captured to date,
but look for that to change with the forecast calling for
warmer temperatures and a full moon on the horizon. The most
interesting capture this spring has been the presence of 8
northern pike larger than 10-pounds.
If you have any questions or are interested in volunteering for a day during the field season, give me a call at 495-3263.
Photo Caption: Fisheries technician Chris Hurley with a 22.5-pound northern pike captured on the south end of Canyon Ferry Reservoir.