Written by: Wade Fellin
The cutthroat, named for the vibrant orange or red slash marks along its lower jaw, is Montana’s state fish. Historically, the westslope cutthroat ranged west of the Continental Divide throughout Montana but their numbers are rapidly declining due to hybridization with rainbows and degradation of habitat. More and more fisherman are catching cut-bows and fewer and fewer anglers are catching true cutthroat. The native Westslope cutthroat is dying out due to warmer temperatures, erosion, and increased angler presence.
In order to help preserve the next generation of trout in Montana, please avoid stepping on redds this spring.
Cutthroat and Rainbow spawn in the spring in clean gravel beds, usually in swift moving water. They bury their eggs in a nest called a redd where they will grow for the next four to seven weeks. The fry will remain under the gravel for a week or two after they hatch and are will still be very vulnerable.
Redds are oval patches of gravel about three feet wide in one to three feet of water. They can be identified clearly by the gravel color which is lighter than the surrounding riverbed. Inconsistent mounds and depressions in the redd site indicate nests. Redds are typically on gravel bars near islands or in below riffles where clean water can flow over them.
Do not walk upstream of a redd because the eggs need clean water. Do not walk on a redd because you will crush the eggs or fry. Avoid shallow gravel bars and keep your eyes open.
Don’t overpressure spawning trout either. If a fish is acting odd and seems to be protecting an area, leave it alone. She’s exhausted and not in the mood to play! Spawning bows and cutts will appear darker than normal, with more vibrant belly colors. They will often appear sluggish because they have expended most of their energy on spawning.
They need all the help they can get, so once again, tread carefully!
Wade Fellin is operates and guides out of Big Hole Lodge in Wise, Montana.