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Owner of fly shop in Billings talks about state’s trout population



Billings, Montana – Fly-fishing is a way of life for many people in Montana, and the sport of fishing contributes $907 million annually to the state’s economy.

However, trout populations have decreased by 20 to 25% in some regions of the state, such as the Jefferson River basin, and these fish face a variety of difficulties.

“If you just look at how many people have moved into Montana in the last decade, how many of those are recreationalists? Including anglers? That’s just more pressure. Throw in some bad weather, some hot weather, some low water, and it’s a recipe for a declining population to me,” said Rich Romersa, owner of East Rose Bud Fly & Tackle.

The last two seasons, according to Romersa, have been unusual.

“Travel traffic seemed be down a little bit, although after the last two summers, I’m not even sure what normal traffic is anymore. But Billings is growing so much that just the local business is making up for that,” Romersa added.

Although the trout populations in Yellowstone and the neighboring counties are generally typical, Chrissy Webb, the communications and education manager for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Region 5, noted that trout require stability to thrive.

“They’re what we consider a cold-water species. So, they really need that cold, clean water to do well. With these prolonged periods of drought that we’ve seen in a lot of places throughout the state, they’re of course faced with a lot of challenges,” Webb said.

She claimed that FWP is monitoring a particular problem.

“We’re still working through the process of figuring out what increased angling pressure could do to these fish,” Webb added.

While this season has been successful for Romersa, trout in Montana face a very special challenge.

“Montana does not stock its rivers and streams. We don’t do that, a lot of states do, but we don’t. So, high water, crazy low water, crazy temperatures, it definitely can impact trout populations, so I’m not really surprised by it (declining trout populations in parts of the state),” added Romersa.

According to Webb, Montana stocks its ponds, lakes, and reservoirs.

While Romersa acknowledged that adding hatchery fish to the rivers would increase the quantity of trout, she went on to say that Montana’s wild-bred population is what made the state’s trout fishing “so spectacular.”

“You start mixing that vibrant population with hatchery raised fish, you might benefit the angler, but you’re not benefiting the habitat, I’ll tell you that,” Romersa said.

The populations of the state’s rivers, however, are declining in some areas, and their recovery is totally dependent on their own capacity. Communication, according to Romersa, is the key to resolving the issue.

“When it comes to conservation, public access, educating sports men and women about catch and release and taking care of our resources, all of that stuff to me, can improve what we’re talking about today,” said Romersa.


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