Change the Game

While most folks flock to Montana to fish for trout, there are a growing number of anglers in search of new quarry. Rainbows and browns may still reign supreme, but these species are catching up.

Walleye: Sander vitreus
Conflicting theories abound as to whether walleye are native to Montana. They are officially classified as a non-native species, but that doesn’t stop them from being one of the most sought-after game fish in the state. Primarily a lake-dweller, walleye prefer larger, deeper stillwaters, but will migrate into feeder streams to spawn. Adults feed heavily on smaller fish when available, and all age classes feed on aquatic invertebrates. When targeting walleye, a good-quality fish-finder is invaluable. Seek out large schools of baitfish around rocky points and deep structure. An inflated nightcrawler on a worm harness, slow-trolled with a bottom bouncer, can be productive.

Northern Pike: Esox lucius
Classified as a non-native species in Montana, pike may or may not have isolated pockets of natives in the north-central region of the state. Pike are an insatiable and voracious predator and have been known to have devastating effects in waters where they have been introduced. Spring spawners, pike seek out weedy, vegetated areas in lakes or sluggish backwaters of larger rivers in which to breed. Late spring through early summer is the ideal time to catch pike. Target them with stick, crank, or swim baits. If fly fishing is more your style, large streamers or baitfish patterns should produce results. In either case, wire leader is recommended as pike are toothy critters and can shred even the best fluorocarbon with a head-shake or two. 

Carp: Cyprinus carpio
Carp are a common non-native species east of the Divide in Montana. Considered a nuisance by many anglers and sportsmen, carp make for great sport on light tackle and are easy to find, mainly in warm shallows in lakes and backwaters in larger rivers, and they generally prefer weedy areas. Omnivorous, carp will eat aquatic plants, invertebrates, and the eggs of other fish. Canned corn is great bait and chum for carp. Common carp are also a great way to sharpen one’s archery skills with a bow-fishing rig.

Kurt Dehmer owns Durty Kurty’s guide service in Bozeman.