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Fishing Prospects in the Seeley Swan
Clearwater Fisheries | Swan Valley Fisheries
Clearwater Fisheries -- Seeley Lake Chain of Lakes Area
by Suzanne Vernon
For the Pathfinder
Anglers will find some pretty good fishing in the Clearwater River drainage this summer, in spite of gill net studies that have shown a large decline in some fish populations due to the illegal introduction of northern pike into area waters.
Native species such as west slope cutthroat and bull trout, along with other salmonids such as kokanee, have been particularly hard-hit by the predacious northern pike. Surveys show the highest densities of large northern pike at Salmon Lake and Lake Inez. However, northern pike were also found at Placid Lake and Seeley Lake in last fall's studies.
According to Rod Berg, fisheries biologist with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks in Missoula, eight major lakes in the Clearwater River drainage have provided a fishery for native westslope cutthroat and bull trout, in addition to introduced species such as kokanee, rainbow trout and brown trout. "This exceptional fishery is now jeopardized by northern pike which were illegally introduced into several lakes in the system within the last decade," Berg wrote in a recent department newsletter.
While fisheries biologists struggle to develop a new management plan for the Clearwater River system, they are continuing to stock area lakes with trout, kokanee and bass, which still provide a good fishery for sportsmen.
Biologists note that the best fishing in the Clearwater Chain of Lakes is early summer, fall and through the ice in late December, January and early February. By mid-summer, fish become harder to catch in the lakes, due to warmer temperatures. Persistent, patient anglers will be rewarded, however. Trolling works well for kokanee. Fly fishing and spinners work at different times of the day on lake waters.
A lake-by-lake summary of fish stocking plans shows that "catchable trout" (pan-size, averaging about 10 inches in length) were released at Cottonwood Lakes and Harpers Lake this spring. But they aren't the biggest fish that find homes in area lakes. According to Jim Crepeau of the Jocko River Fish Hatchery at Arlee, large rainbow trout, most of them larger than twelve inches in length, are released at Harper's Lake and Seeley Lake each fall. These "retired brood stock" come directly from the hatchery in October and November, after their eggs have been collected at the hatchery for the last time. Some of these retired brood stock weigh ten pounds or more. Anglers catch them in the fall and winter in the lakes. By spring, sportsmen begin finding the large trout in the river system downstream from Seeley Lake.
Seeley Lake also supports wide variety of fish species, thanks to large "plants" of kokanee salmon each year (100,000 small fish, two to four inches in length), along with 100,000 four-to-six-inch westslope cutthroat. Other fingerlings include twenty-five thousand large-mouth bass scheduled for release into Seeley Lake this year.
Placid Lake also supports native trout, and introduced species such as kokanee and bass. It will also receive about 50,000 small rainbow trout this fall, in addition to tiny large-mouth bass (25,000 of them).
Lake Alva is scheduled to receive the large rainbow trout (retired brood stock) from the Arlee hatchery as they become available this fall. Alva is also stocked with about 20,000 small westslope cutthroat annually, and trout fishing is reportedly fair to good there during the mornings and late evenings.
Higher elevation lakes are good fishing now, especially for fly fishermen, and people who try a variety of spinners.
River and stream fishing started out slow this year, due to the unusually high water. Water levels have finally dropped, the water has cleared and fishing has improved considerably in recent weeks on the Clearwater River and its tributaries. Anglers will find cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, mountain whitefish, brook trout, brown trout, and other species common to area waters in rivers and streams.
Sportsmen should carefully read the fishing regulations, especially regarding westslope cutthroat and bull trout. New wording this year makes it illegal to fish for, or take, bull trout. Catch and release regulations are in effect in many areas for cutthroat trout.
For more information about fishing in the Clearwater Valley, contact the Lolo National Forest, Seeley Lake Ranger District. They have several fishing brochures available.