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Canyon Ferry Reservoir Under Siege

by Steve Luebeck

Several years ago an event occurred at Canyon Ferry that would change the nature of the fishery forever. Someone decided that, while the rainbow trout fishery was phenomenal, what Canyon Ferry really needed was a population of walleye. This person decided to plant the lake with walleye. Now walleye are reproducing in the lake and are posing a major threat to the rainbow trout. Walleye are known for their predatory skills, and rainbow trout will be their food source.

Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) has been trying to control the walleye population in the lake by netting them during the spawning season. If these fish are not controlled, they will wipe out rainbow trout and become the major fish in the lake. Introductions of fish in this manner are expressly illegal, and steep penalties result if the person can be caught. The 1997 Legislature recently increased the penalties for these illegal introductions.

Now, we are facing a fight with another fishery organization, Walleyes Unlimited, on how Canyon Ferry should be managed. Walleyes Unlimited says that it is inevitable that walleye will dominate the lake. We should accept the loss and move on. We have declared that this is unacceptable. We will not reward the criminal who illegally introduced these fish. If Canyon Ferry is lost , it will only encourage illegal walleye introductions in Clark Canyon, Harrison, Georgetown Lake and just about any other lake in our area.

We have invested too much in Canyon Ferry to just walk away. FWP, through our license dollars, spends $100,000 annually to stock Canyon Ferry each year and has invested millions in habitat enhancement and wild trout spawning tributaries of the lake. Canyon Ferry and adjacent waters support 10% of all angling in the state.

The management plan for Canyon Ferry Reservoir is up for renewal. Walleyes Unlimited has been pushing the Fish and Game Commission hard for the last several months to change the management plan to walleye. The town of Townsend is also petitioning the Commission to allow a walleye tournament on the reservoir in the summer of 1998. Please take time to write a letter to the Commission objecting to the walleye tournament proposal, and demanding that every effort be made to suppress the population of walleye in Canyon Ferry and continue to manage for trout.

Our organization will remind the Commission that the situation at Canyon Ferry is nothing short of vandalism and the people responsible for it have jeopardized millions of dollars of anglers' investment in a trout fishery that provides 10% of all angling in the state. By changing the management plan the Commission would reward the individuals responsible for the illegal introduction. FWP must manage the reservoir with the ultimate goal of maintaining it as a trout fishery. We will encourage them to liberalize the bag limits on walleye, and require any walleye caught be kept. No trophy fishery or slot limit should be allowed and, for goddam sure, NO WALLEYE TOURNAMENTS.

Members of the Commission tell us that up until now they have only heard from the walleye folks, and it looks as if we could really lose Canyon Ferry. We have been involved in this issue for over a year now. Trout fishermen outnumber the walleye supporters five to one, but most do not know the urgency of the situation. It is critical that each of you take a moment and write a short note to the Commission asking them to manage for trout and keep this valuable fishery. Please write to:


Fish Wildlife and Parks Commission

P.O. Box 20070

Helena, MT 59620-0701


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Last modified: June 10, 1998