The long-term health of one of the world’s best trout fisheries (Jefferson River Basin – which includes the Big Hole, Beaverhead, Jefferson, and Ruby Rivers) is in question according to the population data collected annually by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Unfortunately, the current reality, most impactful variables and eventual solutions are unclear and complex. While in-stream flows and water temperatures are foundational to trout health and survival, other factors such as water quality, nutrient pollution, dissolved oxygen, fungal infections and fishing pressure may also be playing some role in affecting the health of these trout.
Despite trout population data hitting historic lows, the actual fishing this past year was quite good with a lot of larger fish being caught. It’s also important to note that the trout population data in the upper Beaverhead river is within a relative average range.
While collaboration and effective communication across stakeholders and government agencies is absolutely imperative for accurately diagnosing and then managing this issue, there are real lives and livelihoods at stake as many locals are closely connected to and dependent on this world renowned fishery.
It’s easy for visiting anglers to decide to avoid this area due to the concerning data, but again, the reality is more complex. The local economies rely heavily on fishing tourism and it’s highly unlikely that angling pressure alone is responsible for these trout numbers. It’s still a great time to visit these Montana Fisheries, but it’s imperative to minimize our angling impact on the trout by using barbless hooks, stop fishing when water temps are reaching unhealthy levels, keep fish wet and in the water as much as possible, avoid fishing to actively spawning fish, use rubber nets, etc.
Preserving Paradise is a short film/mini-doc that shares some (but certainly NOT ALL) of the voices and perspectives of local stakeholders as they reflect on the current state of the river and actions that have been taken thus far.