Outdoors Report: Saving water for Montana trout

Posted at 11:46 AM, May 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-14 13:46:21-04

TWIN BRIDGES – It sounds simple, but fish need water to survive and in this Outdoor Report, Winston Greeley tells has the story about one-way Fish, Wildlife and Parks saves water for trout.

"Hells Canyon Creek is one of the few really viable tributaries in this part of the Jefferson and tributaries make all of these mainstem fisheries work and without them, we wouldn’t have the quality fisheries that we see in those big rivers," said Ron Spoon with FWP.

In order to make Hells Canyon a viable tributary, Spoon used a unique way to bring back water to the stream.

"We put three water users on to a gravity pipeline system to serve the irrigation and at the same time we leased the water that was saved by that project and so it has created this really healthy situation that supplies rainbows for the Jefferson," Spoon said.

Not only did trout start spawning in Hells Canyon, but Spoon was able to collect eggs from those fish to start another spawning tributary down river. And now today the Hells Canyon water right is allowing biologists to start a spawning run on the Big Hole River just up the road.

"With that one change in how that system functioned, now not only is there thousands of fish in the Jefferson, there’s fish running up the Big Hole and now we are hopefully able to start runs in these other streams following that same sort of pattern," FWP’s Jim Olsen said.

While there are many challenges to leasing water rights for conservation, Hells Canyon shows that simply saving a little water can vastly improve a fishery for Montana’s anglers.

"We have a chronically de-watered stream list and there’s 180 streams, like this Hells Canyon, that are on that list and this lease is just one of those 180 streams, so we need to do more of this," Spoon said.