No more illegal fish introductions to Carter Ponds

By: 
By MIKE GETMAN

The Carter Ponds just north of town are locally known as the most productive publically accessible trout fisheries in Fergus County.  Their productivity for trout rivals the best ponds and lakes in Montana.  Lewistown residents have long enjoyed an excellent trout fishery just a short drive away.  These ponds can produce big trout due to their abundance of aquatic invertebrates and lack of other competitive fish species, especially suckers.  An 8-inch fish stocked in the spring could be as large as 3-pounds after only two years.

The ponds have been stocked and managed as trout fisheries since the early 1950’s.  By the 1980’s, the primary water control structures had rusted badly, resulting in significant leakage.  In dry years, inadequate water was available to support fish on a continuous basis. In 2009, construction was completed to replace the primary water control structures in each dam. This now allows for water to be retained in each pond and to better support a long-term fishery.  This project cost roughly $430,000 and was funded by Ducks Unlimited, North American Wetlands Conservation Council, and various local, state, and federal government agencies to provide improved fishing opportunities and waterfowl production.

Unfortunately, recent illegal introductions of bluegill and yellow perch have turned these ponds into a nursery for stunted fish.  Obviously, whoever did this didn’t understand the basics of fisheries biology and destroyed these ponds except for those who relish catching 4-inch fish.  Both bluegill and yellow perch are productive reproducers which, without significant mortality from either large predator fish or angler harvest, results in too many fish for their habitat to support them to an adequate size angler’s desire.  Anglers almost always release these small ones in hopes they grow up, which they seldom do as in this situation.  

A fish pond is similar to a cow pasture. With only so much feed, it can either sustain some healthy individuals, which is what anglers desire, or many less then healthy ones that anglers ultimately release.  Even with ideal habitat and numbers, it may take up to 5 to 8 years for a bluegill or yellow perch to grow to a size where anglers are willing to harvest, fillet, and eat them.   

From 2014 through 2016, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks expended much time and finances to renovate both ponds.  Their objective was to remove the illegally introduced fish and stock them with rainbows which is in compliance with their 2013 Montana Statewide Fisheries Management Plan and based on public comments they received from the public on this proposed restoration action. The decision to remove the illegal introductions and restock trout was taken due to the unique conditions of the ponds which result is fantastic trout growth rates and the opportunity to provide similar perch and bluegill fisheries at other more suitable water bodies. 

Not everyone is supportive of this restoration, based on comments received during the public review process and some not so eloquent writings on the postings at the ponds when the illegal fish were removed.

The future of Carter Ponds lies with all anglers.  If people follow the rules, Carter Ponds will once again be long-term tremendous trout fisheries.

Be aware that Montana statute, specifically ARM  12.7.1503, provides FWP the authority to close a fishery to all fishing for an illegal introduction, which is likely if a future illegal introduction occurs after this renovation.  This may be a surprise to anyone willing to risk the illegal reintroduction of fish again.  Such an action may result in no one ever fishing Carter Ponds again.  That would be a huge loss to every local angler and the local economy.   In addition, if anyone has facts that results in the conviction of an illegal introduction at Carter Ponds and reports it anonymously through TIP-MONT (1-800-847-6668) may receive a reward of up to $15,000.  

I enjoy fishing for all species, and am as fond of catching and eating bluegill and yellow perch as much as people who only fish for those species.  As a retired biologist though, I also understand that some bodies of water are most suited for supporting one species over another.  Public demand is also why FWP is managing certain waters for warm water species locally at Big Casino Creek Reservoir, East Fork Reservoir, Petrolia, and a host of other ponds nearby.

We will be able to fish Carter Ponds in the future only if everyone abides by the rules. I encourage all anglers to accept the FWP’s fisheries management of these ponds.  If you are unaware of what public opportunities exist for various species, just visit the local FWP office, and obtain a copy of their Pond Fisheries Guide.

 

Mike Getman is a Lewistown angler.

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