It was the year of the mussel

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Reviewing the highlights of the year is the customary topic for columnists between Christmas and New Years.

More than once I’ve related some of my best catches of the year, including fishing destinations that provide lifetime memories.

The biggest fishing news of 2016, however, isn’t about landing 26-inch rainbows on the ‘rez or pitching Crazy Charlies to wary bonefish.

Matter of fact, the biggest fishing news of 2016 isn’t a highlight at all, but rather one of the most significant threats — perhaps the most significant threat ever — to our treasured, world-class Montana fishery.

In early October, annual sampling detected the presence of invasive mussel larvae at the South Bootlegger Fishing Access site on Tiber Reservoir.

Later that month, larvae were found at Yacht Basin and Silos FAS on Canyon Ferry Reservoir.

Suspect samples have also been detected on the Milk River below Nelson Reservoir and the Missouri River south of Townsend.

As of Dec. 15, divers, snorkelers, and specially trained mussel-sniffing dogs had not found any adults.

But let’s get real!

In late November, after some initial wheel-spinning, Gov. Bullock formed the Montana Mussel Response Incident Team, comprised of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and the Governor’s Council on Invasive Species.

Task Forces include: Inspection stations and decontamination, closures and restrictions, control, monitoring and sampling, and economic impacts.

So what’s next?

Will any waters be closed next summer? Will I have to buy a sticker for all my boats? Is Flathead Lake doomed?


This problem is new to all of us, including professional biologists and politicians.

The best thing we Montanans can do, at this time, is to stay informed.

Go to for background information and weekly briefings.

Have a fun and safe Happy New Year!

Jerry Smalley’s Fishful Thinking column appears weekly in the Hungry Horse News.

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