Out of Bounds

Montana Fish Records Fall

On March 3, Robbie Dockter of Conrad set a new state record for brown trout, catching a 32-pound, 6-ounce fish

By Rob Breeding

As far as fishing records go, this one was kind of a surprise.

On March 3, Robbie Dockter of Conrad set a new Montana state record for brown trout, catching a 32-pound, 6-ounce fish. 

Dockter’s fish broke the old state record for brown trout of 29 pounds for a fish caught by E.H. Peck Bacon in Wade Lake south of Ennis, in 1966. For now Bacon’s fish is still listed in the state record books.

The 37-inch fish was caught in an undisclosed reach of the Marias River. I’m guessing it wasn’t too far from Tiber Reservoir, where the fish likely found the forage necessary to get that big. You don’t grow 32-pound trout on a diet of mayflies; they need forage fish to put on that kind of weight.

Despite topping the old brown trout record, Dockter’s fish is only the third largest record trout ever caught in the state. The largest is a 42.69-pound lake trout caught in Flathead Lake in 2004. The second largest is a 33.1-pound rainbow trout caught in the Kootenai River in 1997.

Dockter told the Helena Independent-Record that he used to be a walleye guy until a conversion to trout. He was fishing with his daughter, Sierra, as Wednesday evening fishing has become a tradition for the pair. 

While the Marias is rarely mentioned in the same breath as Montana’s great brown trout rivers — see the Yellowstone, the Missouri, as well as the three rivers that come together near Three Forks to create the Mighty Mo — Tiber holds the key. The reservoir supports a smorgasbord of forage fish, as well as holdover trout, despite its reputation as a warm water fishery.

Dockter did make this surprising Marias admission: he and his daughter start targeting browns there in the spring. What’s surprising about that is he was fishing an ultralight rod strung with 4-pound line. While he wasn’t expecting to catch a state record, I still say that’s a pretty wispy setup when toothy brown trout are your target.

It took a while, but Dockter got his fish to a registered scale and it should eventually displace Bacon’s on the state record’s list.

What Dockter’s catch won’t do is bump any trout off the International Game Fish Association’s record books, not even in the 4-pound line class. The IGFA’s 4-pound line record is a 40-pound, 4-ounce monster caught in the Little Red River in Arkansas. That brown trout is the third heaviest fish in the IGFA record books, topped by a 41-pound, 8-ounce fish caught in Lake Michigan, and a 42-pound, 1-ounce fish caught in New Zealand.

Many of the fish in the IGFA’s fly fishing record books came from south of the Equator, where no trout or other salmonids are native. Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, at the southern tip of South America, features prominently, but the all-time record fly-caught brown was a 36-pound, 6 ounce fish landed in its native range in Austria.

Another state record fish recently made the news, a 7.8-pound smallmouth bass caught in Fort Peck Reservoir in October. That is the second state record smallmouth in a row to come out of Fort Peck. The previous record was 7.51 pounds.

Before that, a 7.4-pound smallie caught by Jacob Fowler in Flathead Lake held the record.

Those fish are problematic, at least from a conservation standpoint, since Flathead Lake has become one giant experiment in native fish recovery. The natives are bull and cutthroat trout, but the introduced fish species in the Big Lake are legion, including that state record lake trout.

If you’re doing it right, just about any fish on the end of your line is a miracle, but a state record fish is priceless.

Rob Breeding writes and blogs at www.mthookandbullet.com.

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