Fishermen hunt walleyes for a number of reasons. Walleyes taste good. They present a challenge to catch. And well, it’s fun!
Today, walleyes are one of the Treasure State’s most popular game fish. In fact, hundreds of anglers from across the country converge on Fort Peck Reservoir each July to compete in Montana Governor’s Cup, a walleye fishing tournament with tens of thousands of dollars at stake.
Walleye fishing is good for Montana fishing communities, the local businesses in those communities, and the recreationists who enjoy casting a line.
But—it wasn’t always this way.
“Around early February of 1983, I was invited to attend a meeting in Glendive concerning the poor fishing at Fort Peck,” recalls Jim Jessen, founding member of Walleyes Unlimited of Montana. “Steve Schindler from Glasgow gave a presentation and initiated a discussion on forming an organization in northern Montana for improvement of warm water fisheries. Glendive formed a chapter that night.”
Walleyes Unlimited of Montana was born. In addition to Glendive, early active chapters included Glasgow, Great Falls, Havre, Malta, Poplar, Sidney, and Wolf Point. (Today, there are seventeen chapters across the state and two in northern Wyoming.)
“The major reason behind the formation of the organization was the great fishing that North and South Dakota was having. This was the result of the introduction of smelt to Lake Saskatchewan in the mid-Seventies, plus an active walleye management program,” Jessen explains. “Also, in 1982, the federal government decided to get out of the fish hatchery business and turned the hatcheries over to the states if they wanted them.”
It was proposed that the warm water hatchery at Miles City be closed, and there was a widely held belief that Fort Peck was too big to stock with enough walleye to make a difference.
Walleyes Unlimited didn’t accept that point-of-view. Each chapter spent countless hours working with local legislators to save the Miles City Hatchery. Meanwhile, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks began walleye egg collections, and through trial and
error, developed a highly successful spawning program.
“Walleyes Unlimited volunteers and local FWP biologists should be commended for working together. This continues to result in the excellent fishing that we have today,” says Jessen.
Through the efforts of many, Fort Peck has become one of the premier walleye fisheries in the Northwest, with numerous walleye waters enjoyed throughout the state.
Get out and appreciate them!
For more information about local walleye waters or to become a member of Walleyes Unlimited of Montana, visit montanawalleyesunlimited.net.