Restoring & Protecting our local fishery

My last few columns have focused on some of the more technical nuts and bolts of Superfund. This past Saturday (May 17) was the opening day of Montana’s general fishing season. So, this week, I’m switching topic to the “rods and reels” of Superfund. Time to get our “fish on!”


Silver Bow Creek’s fish story

Trout were once bountiful in these waters. The area’s original people, the Salish, called our creek a name that loosely translates to “the place where you shoot them in the head.” This was a reference to the fact that native trout here were so abundant, the Salish people could hunt them with their bows and arrows!


This all changed drastically in 1864 when prospectors discovered gold on the creek and mining began in Butte. Silver Bow Creek’s most important function to our town’s booming new industry was as an industrial water source and a sewer for mining and municipal wastes – not as a fishery. For the next century-plus, no fish swam in Silver Bow Creek above the Warm Springs Ponds and therefore, there was no need for fishing regulations.


In 1999, the restoration of the creek began in Butte. For the next 15 years or so, the cleanup worked its way downstream. Now, more than $150 million and 28 miles of work later, the stream is alive again. Trout have returned and with them, fishing regulations.


What are the fishing regulations on Silver Bow Creek?

In Montana, the general fishing season closes every December 1 and reopens on the third Saturday the following May. What does that mean to Silver Bow Creek?


Fishing is NOT allowed on the creek from December until the third Saturday in May. Furthermore, because Silver Bow Creek is still in recovery mode, anglers are required to use artificial lures only (no bait!), and it’s Catch & Release for all cutthroat trout.


It’s nothing short of remarkable that native trout have returned to one of the most polluted streams in the West. It’s a restoration success story we love to keep on telling. That’s why it is so important for us to know the regulations – so we don’t love the stream back to death again!

Just in the week leading up to the opening of fishing season, I personally witnessed six people illegally fishing Silver Bow Creek. This is unacceptable, people. Regardless of where you’re going fishing, it’s the fisherman’s responsibility to know the regulations (see information below).


A recent symposium hosted by Butte’s Citizens Technical Environmental Committee (CTEC) focused on Silver Bow Creek’s fishery, and what challenges may be limiting its faster and fuller recovery. Nutrients, heavy metals from mining-contaminated areas, storm water, and issues due to warmer temperatures and low summer flows, were all discussed.


I would add illegal fishing and overfishing to the list of potential culprits keeping the creek from achieving its full recovery, and the half dozen anglers witnessed last week are not the only lawbreakers. Game wardens have cited people in the past. Unfortunately, it’s also not uncommon to find empty, Styrofoam worm containers discarded on the creek’s banks – more evidence of illegal fishing, since the law states “artificial lures only.”


If we expect things to get any better, it’s up to us to do better ourselves. Check your regulations before you wet your line. Help educate your fellow anglers. Or don’t be afraid to call 1-800-TIPMONT if you see someone breaking the laws. 


More local fishing opportunities

Another fishing option for local anglers year-round is Blacktail Creek from the Four Mile Road crossing, to its confluence with Silver Bow Creek just upstream of Montana Street in the middle of town. My own two boys have been fishing this section plenty the past month (see photo).


There’s also the kids’ fishing pond at Skyline Park. Plus, there is another fishing pond planned for construction in the upper Silver Bow Creek corridor as part of the final cleanup plans for Butte’s urban Superfund site. This new pond, as well as additional waste removals and stream restoration planned on both Blacktail and Silver Bow Creeks, will add to the local fishery we already have.


We have a great opportunity to catch native trout right in our front yard, TODAY. With more cleanup planned, it’s going to get better. It’s our responsibility to know how to take care of it. Learn about your local waters and what is being done to clean them up. Follow the regulations that are in place.  When we all make a difference, we can enjoy our restored fishery – and help it improve – for generations to come!


Photo Cutline: Rigley Vincent, 10, shows off a native Westslope cutthroat trout he recently caught on the fly on Blacktail Creek, near its confluence with Silver Bow Creek. This photo was taken by his big brother, Rye, while the two were fishing together – right in the middle of town!


(Montana’s fishing regulations are available wherever you buy your license or fishing gear. Plus, they are easily accessible via your smart phone by going to this link and downloading: 


To learn more about local Superfund issues, please take note of the upcoming meetings:


·       Wednesday, May 22, 7:30pm, Butte-Silver Bow Courthouse, Council of Commissioners, Joe Griffin, retired DEQ Superfund manager, special presentation on water quality standards "waiver" on Silver Bow and Blacktail Creeks;


·       Thursday, May 23, 6:00pm - 8:30pm, Montana Tech Library Auditorium, EPA public meeting on the Butte Proposed Plan. This is a formal opportunity for citizens to provide comments and input on the Proposed Plan.


·       (Tentative - TBA) Wednesday, May 29, 7:00pm, Butte Courthouse, Council Chambers, listening session sponsored by Chief Executive Palmer and Superfund staff, to explain the content of the Proposed Plan from local government’s perspective, and to solicit public input and comments.


·       Wednesday, June 5, 7:30pm, Council of Commissioners meeting to decide on final draft of comments to be submitted by Butte-Silver Bow to EPA on the Plan; draft comments will be made available well in advance -- we will get those to you as well.