The uneducated angler might argue that there is no such thing as a “King” salmon in Montana…Take that bet! Just like in the Great Lakes, there are freshwater Chinook (or King) salmon populating the waters of Fort Peck Reservoir in Eastern Montana, and now is the time to get in on the action. For this fishery, you have two basic options. One is to bring a boat over that is equipped to successfully chase Lake Trout on Flathead Lake and the other is to hire a guide that specializes in this fishery. We have those guides in place on the reservoir and would be happy to assist you in getting a trip booked. More on that later.
In 1983, Montana FWP, along with the USFWS, established Chinook in Fort Peck, and have been “hatching” and planting numbers of Kings ever since. There have been some peaks and valleys to this fishery, mostly based on water levels, but also due to available forage and budget concerns. The good news is, this and the next two to three years, should see some of the best fishing for mature three and four year old (20-30 pound) fish.
The Fort Peck Fish Hatchery collects eggs every year, and plants them back into the lake. Since these fish do NOT spawn on their own, the hatchery, along with volunteers, plant the fingerlings every year in the Duck Creek area, so they return to the place of their “birth” just like fish in the wild do. This is what makes the fishery so productive in the area of the dam (and why you should already have made arrangements to stay at the Lakeridge, or the historic Fort Peck Inn. But you might be able to find a room in Glasgow if you head over.)
These are Tule strain Chinook, originally transferred from the West Coast to the Great Lakes, and then transported back to Fort Peck. The meat on these fish will mostly be white, but there are many variables that will color a fish’s flesh, too many to go into here. Doesn’t matter, the fish taste GREAT! Pound for pound, you won’t find a harder fighting fish in Fort Peck, and there are thousands of Lake Trout you can and will catch while trolling for the big kings.
Until the fish begin to pile into the bays as they ready themselves to spawn and die, it is a trolling game. The salmon follow the giant schools of Cisco (lake herring) and the parade of boats following each day is pretty impressive. Large flasher and fly combinations are the standard, but Brads Super Baits in the Black Jack pattern, stuffed with tuna packed in oil will put fish in the net. So too will big spoons as well as large squids or hoochies behind any attractor. Depth and color will change on a daily basis so you have to mix it up and do NOT get stuck on any one pattern.
For those wanting to go and do it on your own or those wanting a fully guided experience, your main point of contact over there is the Lakeridge Lodging and Bait Shop. Eddie, Justin, Taylor and HALEY Mindt (yes, one of the states ONLY Coast Guard certified female fishing guides) eat, live and breathe this fishery and will get you pointed in the right direction. They offer guided trips through my outfitting company as well as lodging, RV sites, and a bait and tackle selection unrivalled as it pertains to this fishery. Contact them at 406-526-3597.
Oh, and while you are over there, don’t disregard the amazing Lake Trout, Walleye, Northern Pike and Smallmouth Bass fishing! AND lastly, our Flathead Lake Lake Trout fishing is on FIRE, the best August Mackinaw fishing I can remember is happening right now. Whitefish remain hit or miss, but we have been catching a few of those as well. Just give us a call for info and I’ll see you on the water!
— Howe is the owner/outfitter at Howe’s Fishing, A Able and Mo Fisch Charters. Call 406-257-5214 or at www.howesfishing.com