Count me among those who would have incorrectly answered the question, "Does Montana have only one native rainbow trout?"

Like at least some (many?) of you, I would have answered no. But yes is correct. And it is enjoying a rebirth in  waters in the northwest corner of the state.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks tells us that Montana’s only native rainbow trout is making a comeback in the northwest corner of the state. While rainbow trout are common throughout much of our state due to widespread stocking, most of the places rainbow trout exist today are outside of its native range in Montana.

THE LONE EXCEPTION

The Kootenai drainage is where you will find native Columbia River interior redband trout, a subspecies more commonly known as just redband trout. Redbands exist today primarily in streams across the Kootenai River, where native strains remain intact. Culverts, small waterfalls, and other barriers have significantly isolated them.

But, Montana FWP is working to conserve and enhance fisheries for redbands in partnership with Murray Springs Trout Hatchery near Eureka. FWP restarted efforts to raise redbands this spring and the first embryos hatched the week of June 17.

Juvenile fish could be ready to begin stocking in regional lakes by summer 2025. Once the brood stock is fully developed, FWP plans to stock approximately 25,000 or more fish annually.

SPECIES OF CONCERN

Montana’s redbands are native to the Kootenai River and its tributaries as far upstream as the Fisher River, located a few miles downstream of Libby Dam. Very few strong populations exist in the U.S. and Canada, and the species is now gone from nearly 80 percent of its historical range. Redbands are considered a "species of special concern" by federal and state conservation agencies.

There will no doubt be growing pains and a lot of monitoring involved to determine whether the project will be successful. It sure makes for a fascinating reintroduction plan.

Special thanks to Silver Bow Fly Shop in Spokane, Washington, for their contribution to this article.

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