By Diane Tipton, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
April 30, 2008
This time of year Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks fisheries
biologists are eager to get back out on Montana’s rivers and see how the
state’s fish are doing.
"We’ve monitored one section of the Jefferson River for nine years. We’ve
done a lot of work to improve fish habitat in the area, and that makes it
even more exciting to get back and see how the fish are doing," said Ron
Spoon, FWP Region 3 fisheries biologist.
Monitoring fish generally involves electrofishing, a mild shocking process
that stuns the fish just enough to get them to the surface, where
biologists can estimate the number of fish, examine them for hooking scars,
potential parasites, size, and the variety of fish species present—all
common indicators of how the fish are doing.
Spoon said FWP has just started surveying the Willow Springs, Parsons
Slough and the Waterloo sections of the Jefferson where spawning habitat
has been improved in the past few years and he likes what he is seeing so
"FWP and Trout Unlimited worked together to plan this project, apply for
the funds, and monitor the results. Future Fisheries Improvement Program
and TU funds allowed us to restore the quality of the spawning and
nursery-type habitat to produce more young fish for the river. We’re now
beginning to see positive results in sections near restored tributaries
despite the past several years of drought," Spoon said.
In addition to the habitat restoration work, local water users formed the
Jefferson River Watershed Council in 2001, joining with organizations such
as TU, to develop the Jefferson River Drought Plan. The plan specifies
water flows that trigger specific actions to restore water to the fishery
and when the river will be partially or fully closed to fishing to protect
To hear Spoon talk about his work it is clear the Jefferson is more than a
river to him, it is like an old friend and it connects him to other people
in the area that feel the same way about the river.
It is clear he loves his work.
"Yes. But March and April on the water can often be brutal—it always
reminds me this is not fun, it is work," he said. "Every spring I wonder if
I’m still in good enough shape to do the job."
Spoon said the waders the fisheries biologists and technicians wear keep
their bodies warm enough, but their hands get really cold after a day of
handling up to 500 fish in 35 degree water.
When asked if the experience has made him a better angler his response was
"We definitely know where the fish are, but we may not have the patience to
successfully attract them to our bait," he said. "After handling thousands
of fish every spring, many of us do something entirely different for the
The fact is, everyday angling may be a little disappointing after seeing
the big fish that populate Montana’s waters.
"It is a privilege to do this work," Spoon said. "But as a result, you
can’t help but take it personally when a stream goes dry due to drought, or
to feel encouraged when a river with problems starts to improve."