FWP will leave Noxon walleye to anglers

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Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is done trying to eradicate the walleye population from Noxon Rapids Reservoir.

Region 1 Fisheries Manager Mike Hensler shared that sentiment at last month’s Montana Fish & Wildlife Commission meeting while explaining the ways it explored an effort to remove the non-native sport fish from the 33-mile long body of water.

Five years ago, state officials announced their intention to do what they could to greatly reduce or eliminate walleyes.

But when the angling community heard, they responded in force with more than 400 comments, and 83 percent of them were against eradication.

FWP has decided it will allow anglers to do their best to keep the walleye numbers under control. Hensler said that according to creel surveys in 2015, anglers catching walleyes in Noxon were keeping about 85 percent of them.

Since walleyes aren’t recognized as a game fish in Montana, anglers can keep as many as they want.

FWP was concerned that walleyes could take over the lake, but after two straight years of high water flows that flushed a lot of walleye eggs out of the system, that has become less of an issue.

There is still concern about how many predatory fish, including the pike minnow, a type of chub, are in Noxon because they are trending toward getting smaller. Hensler said the plan is to monitor smallmouth bass. He said only about 10 to 15 percent of bass are kept.

The dam was built on the Clark Fork River in 1959 to generate electricity.

Hensler explained that FWP tried to establish a trout and salmon fishery in the reservoir for about 20 years.

“We had virtually no luck with that,” Hensler told the commission.

While there are westslope cutthroat and bull trout in Noxon, warm water species such as bass, northern pike and walleye have all fared much better.

FWP stocked large and smallmouth bass in the river upstream and both species have done well, according to Hensler.

The state record largemouth was caught there in 2009, tipping the scales at 8.8 pounds and measuring 22.5 inches. According to montanaoutdoor.com, an angler landed a 34-pound pike.

“We still think high quality bass fishing is what we should manage for (in Noxon) and we will manage the other predators,” Hensler said.

Reporter Scott Shindledecker may be reached at 406-758-4441 or sshindledecker@dailyinterlake.com.

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