Mountain Lake Guide 2008 Edition Now Available

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At 12,551 feet, Mount Wood towers above West Whitefish Creek Lake #43 south of Nye in the Beartooth Mountains. Though it is only 4.3 acres, the lake naturally sustains a healthy population of golden trout. The lake gets very little use because of steep, difficult access.More than four decades ago, fisheries biologist Pat Marcuson started keeping meticulous notes on the natural lakes that dot the major mountain ranges of south central Montana. Fish species. Maximum, minimum and average fish size and weight. Stocking details. Availability of firewood and camp sites. Elevation and distance from trails. Trail length and incline. And detailed observations by biologists about every inlet, outlet, lakebed and spawning opportunity.

Every year since 1967, biologists and fisheries technicians working for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region 5 have updated and added to the information. Eventually they worked it into an ever-expanding electronic database. Today they consider it the most complete and detailed document of its kind.

This spring, the 2008 Mountain Lakes Guide to the Absaroka-Beartooth and Crazy Mountains went online. For the first time, this year’s guide includes GPS coordinates for those who find their way around the wilderness with help of electronics.

Marcuson, who is retired and now lives in Salmon, Idaho, said mountain lakes in the Beartooths did not get much attention from fisheries biologists before the 1960s. Most information about fish populations came from wardens who stopped and fished during their patrols.

By the early 1960s, Marcuson said, people were hauling fish between mountain lakes in buckets to try to increase high-country fishing opportunities. Illegally planted brook trout squeezed native cutthroats and other species out of their historical habitat.

Backpacking In To Fish A Beautiful Montana Mountain LakeThe problem was compounded, Marcuson said, when the state tried to plant fish in the lakes with airplanes. Pilots – many of them contracted – could not tell the difference between lakes and frequently dumped fish in the wrong bodies of water, he said.

So, in 1967, Marcuson and other state biologists began trying to get a handle on mountain lakes. Montana Fish and Game (as it was known then) hired temporary employees to help Marcuson survey lakes during the summer. They backpacked 125-foot-long gill nets and a 100 lb. inflatable boat into the wilderness to conduct their surveys. The first summer they surveyed 20 lakes. In later years, they became more efficient and were able to study 50 or more lakes per summer.

When money got tight, however, the temporary positions were the first cut. Marcuson got money from outside organizations, including the U.S. Forest Service, to continue the effort. In exchange, federal officials wanted the survey to include camping opportunities and numbers of campfire rings at each lake. That information was added to Marcuson’s report and remains there today, even though gasoline and propane backpacking stoves now are more common than campfires in the wilderness.

The guide came along later when a Helena publisher wanted to print a book about the best fishing spots in the Absaroka-Beartooth Mountains. Marcuson was afraid that such a book would list only the best fishing spots and could endanger some lakes by concentrating people to just a few places. So he printed his own version of the guide, listing every lake, with the intent of spreading out fishing pressure.

Every summer since, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologists and technicians have scaled thousands of vertical feet of trails in the Absaroka-Beartooth and Crazy Mountains to update the document and recommend planting schedules and management priorities.

For the past 20 years, Mike Vaughn has kept the guide updated annually. Earl Radonski, the full-time fisheries technician at Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks in Billings, has overseen the backcountry surveys and helped with data analysis and publication.

The result is a comprehensive, dynamic and constantly update document that gives Montana anglers and hikers some of the most complete data of its kind on 20 lakes in the Crazy Mountains and 320 lakes in the Absaroka-Beartooth Mountains.

On the Internet, the guide is available as a .pdf document at A limited number of printed editions of the 90-page booklet are available at the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region 5 office in Billings.

Captions for attached photos A Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks fisheries technician sets a net in Little Washtub Lake in the Beartooth Mountains in 2005. Sampling found little evidence of grayling that were stocked in the 2.2-acre lake during the 1990s.  — Fisheries technician Earl Radonski, right, leads the 2006 FWP mountain-lakes survey crew, which adds data annually to the department’s Mountain Lakes Guide to the Absaroka-Beartooth and Crazy Mountains.