The Big Hole River and its continued state of peril; trout numbers again at historic lows

The Big Hole River’s trout population is still in decline. Conditions appear dire as ever and the worst seems yet to come.

Experts around southwest Montana say that, among the many factors at play, we should be looking at disease and bureaucratic failures as to why the Big Hole is in its continued state of peril.

It’s clear that change – change beyond the stale bickering of outfitters and ranchers within their own echo chambers – is needed.

“Anglers will point to the ranchers with the full ditches and then the ranchers will look at all the fishermen on the river in August,” said Pedro Marques of the Big Hole Watershed Committee. “And we know those arguments, and it’s just not worth (the time). We’ve been having those discussions for 28 years, and they don’t change.”

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Recent data from three sections of the 153-mile freestone river in southwest Montana showed the fewest number of brown and rainbow trout since data was first collected in 1969. Counts in 2021 shed a light on the brown trout problem across southwest Montana, but new data also shows a struggling rainbow trout population.

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