Final Montana FWP AIS Report
All of Montana FWP’s watercraft inspection stations are now closed for the season except for one roving crew at Fort Peck, who will work until the end of September. Now that nearly all of the stations have closed we can focus on getting the last of the data entered and start preparing our annual report. The table below is NOT FINAL, many of our station’s data is not yet completely entered, but it gives a good idea of overall numbers and the most common types of violations our crews encountered this field season. I have also included a summary of illegally transported live fish that were found over the course of the summer.
We would like to give a huge thanks to all who helped make this season a safe and successful one, especially our tireless game wardens. THANK YOU!!!
We will be distributing our inspection station and monitoring reports as soon as they are completed. Contact Stacy Schmidt, Craig McLane or myself with any questions in the meantime.
Thank you, Linnaea Schroeer, Statewide Aquatic Invasive Species Liaison.
Lakes and Fishing Reports
Fishing Report -
FINAL OPEN WATER FISHING REPORT OF THE SEASON. CREEL WILL RESUME JANUARY 1ST.
Canyon Ferry: Rainbow trout are being caught throughout the reservoir using worms and/or marshmallows, Powerbait or bead head nymphs. Walleye anglers are few and far between, but the ones out there are catching fish, mostly on the north end or mid-reservoir, using worm harnesses or jigs (green or yellow). A few perch are being caught. Adam Strainer, FWP, Helena
Hauser: Rainbow fishing continues to be good in the Causeway, around Riverside and between White Sandy and York Bridge while trolling cowbells or crankbaits. Shore anglers are catching rainbows at the Causeway Bridge and at Riverside Campground on Powerbait, marshmallows or worms. Walleye and perch fishing are slow. Adam Strainer, FWP, Helena
Holter: Rainbow fishing continues to be good throughout the reservoir while trolling cowbells or crankbaits. Rainbows are being caught from shore while using worms or marshmallows at Departure Point, Holter Lake Ramp and Gates of the Mountains. Perch fishing continues to be good on worms and jigs around Cottonwood Creek, Split Rock and the clay banks in the lower reservoir. Walleye fishing is slow. Adam Strainer, 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. Adam Strainer, FWP, Helena
CANYON FERRY AND FORT PECK 2014
Optimal surface water temperatures over the past week brought in a number of large female walleye during the 2014 spring spawning survey on Canyon Ferry Reservoir. Eight ripe or spawned out females, larger than 28-inches, have graced our trap nets since the last update and the number of walleye captured, tagged and released increased to more than 600 total . The largest walleye captured to date was a 31.7-inch, 15.0-pound ripe female and numerous other spawning aged females, greater than 20-inches, were also captured. However, due to lack of males and the number of spawned out females being captured, FWP crews will likely conclude the 2014 spawning survey later during the week of April 28th.
Two more northern pike were sampled since the last update, bringing the spring total up to five. The largest of the most recent pike captured was a 46.5-inch, 30.04-pound giant. Over 1,600 rainbow trout have now been released from traps, as well as hundreds of other fish.
If you have any questions or would like to volunteer, give me a call at 495-3263.
Volunteers Jason Rigsby with a 31.1-inch, 11.8-pound female walleye from the south end of Canyon Ferry Reservoir.
FWP personnel with a 46.5-inch, 30.04-pound northern pike captured during the 2014 spawning survey on the south end of Canyon Ferry Reservoir.
The ice is officially gone and the annual spawning survey on Canyon Ferry Reservoir is under way. Two trap nets were launched, one near the north end of Pond #1 and the other at the south end of the Silos Recreation area, on April 10th and traps have only been checked three days. We’ve already handled close to 700 rainbow trout and 200 walleye despite cooler temperatures and lower than normal reservoir levels. A handful of smaller female walleyes (17 to 24 inches) have been surveyed, but the bulk of the catch, as per usual, has been ripe males. The weather forecast appears to be promising, so the spawn could really turn on over the next week or so.
The most notable captures this spring thus far have been the presence of two northern pike greater than 25-pounds. The largest of the two was a whopping 44.5-inches and 33.8-pounds with a 23.5-inch girth…a true specimen.
If you have any questions or are interested in volunteering for a day during the field season, give me a call at 495-3263.
Fisheries technician Chris Hurley with a 33.8-pound northern pike captured on the south end of Canyon Ferry Reservoir.
Here's a photo of a fine female walleye captured, tagged and released on the south end of Canyon Ferry Reservoir.
Adam Strainer - Region 4
Warm water temperatures have the annual spawing survey on Canyon Ferry Reservoir in full swing. Over 450 walleye have been captured, tagged and released to date, already nearly 100 more than in 2013, and some large females have started to show up. The largest walleye captured to date has been a 29.9-inch ripe female, but five additional 20-inch plus females were also sampled during the same timeframe. The weather forecast continues to be promising, at least short term, so look for walleye numbers to increase throughout the week of April 21st.
One more northern pike was sampled late last week, bringing the spring total up to three. Over 1,000 rainbow trout have been released from traps, as well as hundreds of other fish, during the annual spring survey. Come out and see for yourself if you’re interested!
If you have any questions or would like to volunteer, give me a call at 495-3263.
Volunteers John Palmer and Sean Buchanan pose with two large spawning aged walleye on the south end of Canyon Ferry Reservoir.
Volunteers assist FWP personnel with removing fish from large traps that are used to monitor spawning fish on the south end of Canyon Ferry Reservoir.
Adam Strainer - Region 4
The winds have calmed and we finally experienced some warmer weather in the Big Dry Arm of Fort Peck Reservoir. However, that lingering cold front left its mark throughout our trap netting area. Water surface temperatures actually dropped to 43 degrees yesterday in some of the shallower trap netting areas. As a result, we’ve observed fewer numbers of walleye while checking the trap nets and they’ve been either ripe or spent females. Very few green female walleye have been collected. That means numbers in holding pens have started to decrease and we are now holding 76 green females compared to the 100+ females last week. This is definitely a sign that things are on the downhill slide.
We’ve held two smaller egg-takes since the last update. These two egg collections have given us approximately 8 million more eggs and should bring the total to approximately 55 million for the year. With that being said, we’ve surpassed our goal of 50 million for the year. However, we will likely try to collect a few more eggs between now and sometime next week to give us a little buffer in the event we have poor eye-up and hatching success.
Fertilizing a batch of walleye eggs
Gordon Radke with a dandy walleye
It’s been a cold, wet, and bumpy past few days in the Big Dry Arm of Fort Peck Reservoir. A cold front has moved into the area and doesn’t appear to be leaving anytime soon. Daytime high temperatures have dropped to the upper 40’s. This is quite the change compared to the mid 60’s we experienced at the end of last week. As a result, water temperatures have dropped and so have the number of walleye collected in our trap nets. Water surface temperatures are now back down to 48 degrees throughout most of our trap netting locations.
We’ve still managed to collect enough ripe female from the trap nets and holding pens for three more egg collections since the last update. These three egg-taking efforts have given us an additional 14 million eggs which brings the total to approximately 47 million. There are still 92 green female walleye in the holding pens waiting to ripen up, but it might be slow going with the cooler temperatures.
Ernest Uy with a state record river carpsucker
Weather conditions continue to be favorable in the Big Dry Arm of Fort Peck Reservoir. Water surface temperatures have gradually increased to 52 degrees in some of the shallower trap netting areas. This means more walleye have been cruising the shorelines in an attempt to spawn and filling up the trap nets. In fact, one of the better traps contained 35 walleye and 13 of them were ripe females.
Because of the surge in fish, another large egg-take was held from 98 females. This yielded 10.9 million eggs and brings the total to 32.3 million eggs. We are also holding 131 green females in the pens. This is great news but we still need some warmer weather to ripen those fish up. However, a cold front is expected to move through the area with cooler temperatures and rain/snow mix.
Transporting a boat load of female walleye from the trap nets
The weather has remained stable over the last couple days in the Big Dry Arm area of Fort Peck Reservoir. Water surface temperatures are still around 50 degrees near some of our shallower trap netting areas but gradually cool down to 45 degrees when moving down the reservoir towards McGuire Creek. This warm weather has kept the walleye cruising the shorelines in an attempt to spawn. However, the winds have made things a bit challenging when checking our trap nets.
Tuesday we held our first walleye egg-take for the 2014 season. We managed to collect 14 million eggs from 97 female walleye. Today we were able to collect an additional 7.4 million eggs. This will give us a little over 21 million eggs total for the 2014 season. In addition, we have a 105 green females in the holding pens waiting to ripen up. This is a much better start compared to last season and the weather forecast looks promising for at least a couple more days.
Matt Baxter collecting eggs from a ripe female walleye
Marv Johnson with a green female walleye
The weather has really warmed over the weekend in the upper Big Dry Arm of Fort Peck Reservoir. Water surface temperatures have increased from 43 degrees to 50 degrees in some of the shallower areas. As a result, we’ve observed an increase in numbers of walleye collected in our trap nets. Not only have the numbers improved, but we are beginning to see a few more green and ripe female walleye. This is definitely a sign that walleye spawning activity is beginning to pick up.
With today’s catch, we’ve managed to bring the total number of green females to 74 in the holding pens. We are also holding 56 ripe female walleye that will be spawned tomorrow. Hatchery personnel collected approximately 1.4 million northern pike eggs today that will be used to meet the stocking requests for a few select Montana waters this spring.
Mike McNamee with a large female northern pike
The walleye egg-taking operation on Fort Peck Reservoir has commenced even though there is still some lingering ice cover. Most of the ice is near the dam and in the middle portions of the reservoir. However, the upper Big Dry Arm has opened up a bit and allowed us to place a few trap nets in some of the shallower, open areas. Similar to the last few years, lingering ice cover and cooler temperatures have delayed the start of the egg-taking operation.
Water temperatures are cool so walleye spawning activity is slow for the time being. The warmest water temperature obseved was 42 degrees. We are seeing some walleye, but a majority of them are males which is the typical pattern early on. We did manage to capture a few green (not ready to release eggs) female walleye and are holding them in hopes they will release their eggs once water temperatures start to warm. The forecast looks promising for the next several days so hopefully we will see an increase in walleye spawning activity.
Dale Spitzer with one of the first green female walleye of the season
“The 2 Minute Warning” for Walleye Success
Gary Parsons and Keith KavajeczHave you ever imagined the pressure a football quarterback feels during the two minute warning in the 4th quarter of the game when his team is down by four points and it’s up to him to take his squad down the field for the winning touchdown? It’s a “now or never” situation. Well obviously there’s not that kind of pressure in walleye fishing, but for many anglers this time of the year means there isn’t much time left in the open-water season and it won’t be long before the snow will flies and ice covers the lakes marking a new winter season. So now’s the time for that final drive down the field to some of the best walleye fishing of the year, not only for numbers, but also for some of the biggest walleyes of the season.
The biggest factor for successfully catching late season walleyes is to know their seasonal migrations on your particular body of water. That will tell you where to find the fish, and in turn, give clues as to what the best presentation will be to catch them. In rivers for instance, walleyes begin to migrate up river toward spring spawning areas. While they won’t necessarily set up in the same spots you’ll find them come spring, they will be close. Deep, main river holes just down river from spawning flats are good places to start the search. Vertical jigging the head and tail end of the holes should yield some fish and indicate whether or not you’re on the right pattern.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind that may increase the odds when jigging this time of year. While it’s true that the walleyes are feeding to bulk up for the upcoming cold water period, it doesn’t mean that they’ll be smashing your offering with reckless abandon. Bites can be subtle in the cool water of fall, so paying attention to details in your presentation is important. Anytime you’re vertical jigging, sensitivity is critical. You’ve got to feel what’s going on with the jig at all times. A quality, high-modulus graphite rod like the Walleye Angler Signature Series WX60ML-HM85 (available from Bass Pro Shops), coupled with a small diameter, no-stretch line like 6 pound test Berkley Nanofil will insure you’re rigged right for the task. Using the right rod and line cannot be stressed enough!
Finding walleyes on the Great Lakes in the fall is a matter of knowing migration patterns too. On Lake Erie for example, walleyes move from the eastern and central basins toward the western waters. Open water trolling tactics are still effective this time of year, but you’ll do better to concentrate your efforts more “in-shore”, than out over the main basin. Look for the majority of fish to relate closer to breaks, where the basin transitions to shallower water. The same principal holds true on Lake Michigan, be it the northern reaches near Bay De Noc, or the waters around Door County Wisconsin. Walleyes will move from the main lake toward the bays and shoreline breaks where they’ll spawn come spring.
Day time fishing can be productive, but in these gin-clear waters, trolling after dark is often prime-time for big fish. Subtle action “stick-bait” style lures that have the slow, rolling action will trigger cool water walleyes like nothing else. Since this style of small-lipped minnow bait typically only dives a few feet below the surface, it’s often necessary to use some sort of weighting system to get them down to the fish. Off Shore Tackle’s OR20 Pro Weight System, lead core line and in-line weights like Bass Pro’s XPS Keel “Fish” Weights are just a few options. A little experimentation will get you dialed in on the set-up that will trigger more biters. This is still “big water” territory, and covering water is the name of the game. That means the use of planer boards like Off Shore’s OR-12 Side Planers will absolutely increase your odds of catching fish.
Smaller lakes and reservoirs have their own set of fall patterns that require some unique approaches. From their summer hang-outs on flats and feeding shelves, walleyes in these waters like to move to such locales as main-lake points and shorelines that feature sharp breaks and access to deep water. These types of structures harbor the most baitfish this time of year, and walleyes will always be where their food source is. The fish will be loosely concentrated in spots, which makes hunting them down with your electronics efficient. Cruise likely structure searching out signs of life such as clouds of bait, and those tell-tale “arcs” indicating larger predators. With the locator/GPS technology available to anglers today, searching for and spotting fish is easier than ever. Where once we’d have to cruise a spot at 5 mph to effectively mark fish, units like the Lowrance HDS 12 Touch, have the power and resolution to allow us to search at speeds closer to 20 mph. That saves a lot of precious fishing time over the course of a day.
Once a school is located, a slow and deliberate presentation will get the most bites. It’s tough to beat a big minnow put right in the fish’s face this late in the season. Creek Chubs are a favorite bait preference, but Red Tails, Dace and Suckers will work too. Keep the bait selection on the large side … if a six to seven inch minnow looks too big, then it’s probably just right. Remember, fall on many of these waters is trophy time, and a big minnow offers a walleye the most meal for the least amount of effort.
Using bait that big means you’ll need to choose a hook with enough “gap” to get the job done too. A Mustad Double Wide Fine Wire Livebait Hook in size 1 or 1/0 (to match the size of the bait being used) is a great choice. This hook features Mustad’s Ultra Point technology (meaning its super sharp right out of the package and will stay that way in the toughest fishing conditions), a wide gap for better hooking and it’s a super fine-wire hook giving it superior penetration.
It’s nearing the end of the season … its big game time now. Late fall to a walleye angler is like the Super Bowl, because this is trophy season. This is not the time to be putting away the rods and reels and storing the boat for winter. The best part of the game is at hand. The Two-Minute Warning has sounded, so call your play, and take a shot at the end zone … this could be your year to score the winning “Next Bite” on late season walleyes.
If you have questions or comments on this or other articles of ours you may have read, contact us through our website at www.thenextbite.com.