My friend Brett French. outdoor editor of the Billings Gazette, has reported another likely case of bucket biology in Montana.

A Montana river that fisheries biologists have been working to protect as habitat for native Yellowstone cutthroat trout has been invaded by an illegal introduction of smallmouth bass. And while the troubled waters are not close to western Montana, it's an issue that always frustrates Montana anglers all across the state. And fisheries crews have been in the process of doing what they can to curtail the invasion.

Brett tells us that smallmouth bass that were illegally planted in Cottonwood Reservoir have escaped into the Shields River. The Shields is a tributary to the Yellowstone River and prime Yellowstone cutthroat trout habitat. Next year, the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks is proposing to require anglers to keep and turn in any smallmouth bass caught on the river. By the end of the summer, the agency is hoping to have a plan worked out with irrigators to remove any bass from the reservoir.

The presence of smallmouth bass in Cottonwood Reservoir was confirmed by a Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologist this spring. The reservoir is about three miles north of Wilsall along Highway 89. The irrigation reservoir’s outlet drains into Potter Creek, a tributary to the upper Shields River. FWP explained that expansion of a smallmouth bass population in the Shields could threaten the cutthroat population via predation and competition for habitat.

Fisheries crews tried to net and electro-shock the reservoir to remove the bass this summer. Young and adult fish were caught, indicating that they may have been in the reservoir for a while. Then in July an angler reported catching a smallmouth bass in the Shields River near Clyde Park, about 14 miles downstream from the reservoir, so the concern is understandable.


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