Tuesday, August 6, 2002
Motoring Across Hungry Horse Reservoir
Hungry Horse Reservoir is a 23,813 acre impoundment that was created in 1953 after the construction of Hungry Horse Dam, the upper most dam in the Columbia River hydro-power system. Hungry Horse Reservoir is managed for flood control and power production thus draw downs are common.
Prior to the dam, the South Fork Flathead River was connected to the Flathead River system. Bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout would migrate from Flathead Lake to spawn and rear in South, Middle and North Fork tributary streams. Construction of the dam blocked upstream passage and 40% of the available spawning area for these fish. There was no consideration for fish passage in the construction of the dam. Fish from the South Fork can no longer return to Flathead Lake but use the reservoir to rear and reach maturity.
Hungry Horse Reservoir and the South Fork Flathead River basin are unusual in that their watershed is one of few watersheds in the West were exotic species such as brook, brown and rainbow trout are not common. Brook and brown trout are entirely absent while some rainbow and hybrid cutthroat populations exist in high mountain lakes that drain into western tributaries of Hungry Horse Reservoir. The Flathead National Forest is currently working with Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, & Parks to reduce these threats to native fish.
Preventing invasion of exotic species is crucial to preserving aquarian ecosystems because exotic species often out-compete, prey upon, or hybridize with native fish and are often the greatest problem influencing our native fisheries. Fishery populations are currently very strong. The South Fork Flathead is one of a handful of watersheds in Montana where bull trout populations are healthy. The reservoir receives very little angling pressure and the many hidden bays can provide you with the solitude that you cannot find on larger water bodies.