Fishing limits removed on 6 backcountry lakes in Mont.

Kalispell, Mont. (AP) – Wildlife managers in Montana have
removed fishing limits from six backcountry lakes this summer as
part of an attempt to eliminate hybrid trout and replace them with
genetically pure westslope cutthroat trout.

The lakes are Clayton, Margaret and Pilgrim in the Jewel Basin
east of Kalispell, and Pyramid, George and Woodward in the Bob
Marshall Wilderness.

“Keep as many as you want,” John Fraley, spokesman for Montana,
Fish, Wildlife and Parks, told The Missoulian. “There’s nothing
like the taste of wild fish, freshly caught in a mountain
lake.”

The decision is part of the agency’s “South Fork Flathead
Cutthroat Conservation Plan” to kill off nonnatives and hybrid fish
in 21 mountain lakes that feed into the South Fork Flathead River,
a cutthroat stronghold.

Westslope cutthroat, officials said, are present in only 9
percent of their historic range in the region due to habitat loss
and hybridization with nonnative trout.

In 2007, biologists used fish toxins to kill fish in Black and
Blackfoot lakes in the Jewel Basin. The next spring those lakes
were restocked with thousands of small westslope cutthroats along
with hundreds of larger “catchable” fish for anglers.

Fraley said the project has been successful and those lakes now
provide good fishing opportunities.

“It’s just great to see them come back so quickly,” he said. “So
far, everything has gone pretty much exactly as planned.”

Clayton and Margaret lakes will be treated with fish toxins
before the lakes are restocked next spring, Fraley said.

At the other four lakes – Pilgrim Pyramid, George and Woodward –
officials are counting on anglers to remove as many fish as
possible before the lakes are restocked.

Fraley said those four lakes were also going to be treated with
toxins but recent genetic sampling showed the hybridization wasn’t
as bad as expected.

The plan, he said, is to “swamp” the lakes by overstocking them
with an abundance of genetically pure westslope cutthroats.

Of the remaining lakes included in the plan, Fraley said no
decisions have been made on how to remove nonnatives and restock
them with westslope cutthroats.

“We’ll want to wait on the latest genetics testing before we
move ahead,” Fraley said. “Everything has gone so well, but we want
to move carefully.”

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