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Outfitters seek independent study of declining trout in Big Hole River

Posted at 9:47 PM, Jun 22, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-23 11:37:01-04

WISE RIVER - Outfitters and those in the fly fishing business are so concerned about the dwindling trout population in the Big Hole River and other Rivers in Southwest Montana that they’re starting to put up their own money to fund scientific research that they hope will solve this problem.

“I don’t think this is a sky-is-falling, rivers-are-dead scenario. This is a call to action now so that we preserve the integrity of these rivers for the future,” said Big Hole Lodge Co-Owner Wade Fellin.

A coalition of outfitters and fishing guides recent formed Save Wild Trout in response to a report showing low numbers of brown and rainbow trout, especially young trout, in the Big Hole River. The group is raising money to pay for a pathologist to conduct an independent study of fish in the Big Hole, Ruby, and Beaverhead rivers.

“We’re essentially not really confident that Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the governor’s office is doing enough to get to the bottom of what’s going on. Why is one of the most iconic rivers in Montana and possibly the Western United States is suddenly falling to 50-year lows in trout numbers,” said Frontier Anglers Owner Shaun Jeszenka of Dillon.

In an June 19 letter, Governor Greg Gianforte assured the Save Wild Trout group that “FWP has prioritized and will develop and implement additional fish population and health studies on the Big Hole, Beaverhead, and Ruby rivers.”

Fellin will share the data from their independent study with FWP in the hopes it will help come up with a solution sooner than later.

“We need to fix this now so that these fisheries are resilient, and we’ll have a robust fishery moving forward,” said Wade Fellin.

Craig Fellin started guiding on the river with Big Hole Lodge almost 40 years ago and said the Big Hole is more than just a river.

“My heart and soul. It’s one of the most beautiful rivers in the world and there’s more to fly fishing than catching a bunch of trout. Just to float down this river rejuvenates the soul,” said Craig Fellin.

Save Wild Trout hopes to have an expert hired and working on the river this summer and will continue research next summer.