Slideshow of the Big Hole River in July
- Recreating on Montana’s rivers? Don’t give invasives a “free ride.”
- Montana’s Arctic grayling, a species of concern
- Salmonflies in western Montana – fly fishing hatch during spring and early summer
The brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) is not really a trout. Though commonly called a trout, the brook trout is actually a char, along with lake trout, bull trout, Dolly Varden and the Arctic char.
True trout are light-colored with darker spots where members of the char species are dark with light spots.
The “brookie” or brook trout is a non-native fish in Montana. It was introduced to Montana from eastern North America in 1889 and extensively propagated and stocked in the early half of this century; but not so much today. Brook trout are common in all drainages throughout most of the western two-thirds of the Montana. Favored habitat is small, cold, headwaters streams and ponds, especially those that are spring-fed.
Brook trout have dark green backs, with dark gray or black wavy lines, called vermiculation patterns, continuing all the way back over the top part of the tail and down over the upper part of the sides. Many light green oval spots are present on the fish’s side, but the most distinctive markings are red spots surrounded by blue or purple halos. There aren’t many of these, but their presence helps distinguish brook trout from similar species like bull trout and lake trout. The dorsal fin has black markings and the pectoral, pelvic, and anal fins have white leading edges set off by a black line. Another key distinction is that brook trout will have black spots on their dorsal fins; bull trout will not.
The typical length is 10-26 inches and typical with is 11 ounces to 7 pounds. They can grow to a large size; trophy brook trout up to 9 pounds have been caught in Montana waters. They grow even larger in other states. The maximum recorded length of this species is 33 inches and a maximum recorded weight is 14.5 pounds.
They are fall spawners and deposit their eggs in a gravel redd during the fall. Brook trout will spawn very successfully in ponds which have upwelling springs. In full fall spawning colors, a male brookie’s sides turn brilliant orange. The normally orange fins of the lower body turn slightly reddish and are highlighted by the characteristic white leading edge of all the fish’s side and underbody fins. Because they are fall spawners, brook trout fry will emerge earlier than spring spawning cutthroat trout and this seems to give them a competitive advantage as they occupy the preferred feeding areas. This timing allows them to spend less energy to feed and subsequently achieve higher growth rates and fitness.
Brook trout will eat nearly any living organism, and larger brook trout can be voracious predators on other fish and even their own young. Brook trout are a popular game fish but indiscriminate stocking in mountain lakes has resulted in irreversibly stunted populations in many cases. They are beautiful; however, they tend to compete with and displace native cutthroat trout and hybridize with bull trout.
•A few more game fish in western Montana rivers:
Arctic grayling (a species of concern), brown trout, rainbow trout, cutthroat trout
For more information visit the following sites:
- Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks – about brook trout
- Trout Identification The Clark Fork Watershed Education Project (CFWEP)
- Wapiti Waters Fly Fishing Montana – permitted outfitter on the Big Hole, Bitterroot, Blackfoot, Clark Fork and Missouri rivers.
Read articles about a few western Montana rivers where you will find trout and char:
- Fishing articles
- Bitterroot River | Big Hole River | Blackfoot River | Clark Fork River | Missouri River
- Montana Fly Fishing Blog – entries about western Montana rivers, fishing, hatches and more
- Higher resolution photos at Merle’s photosite on SmugMug including July Big Hole River photos
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