Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Montana Fishery
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Montana Fishery Project

Tenderfoot Creek Bair Ranch Foundation Research Project

July 2009 - June 2014


Participating Agencies

  • Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks
Tenderfoot Brook Trout

The Smith River is a popular recreational sportfishery in western Montana, but salmonid abundances there are relatively low and believed to be potentially limited by high summer water temperatures and low discharges resulting from irrigation withdrawals and land-management practices. Smith River tributaries may serve as thermal refuges during summer and also as important spawning and nursery areas. If so, then maintaining connectivity between the mainstem river and its tributaries would be a management priority. Such use would also help identify deficiencies in the mainstem that could potentially be corrected through habitat or water management. Moreover, an understanding of salmonid habitat use and management in a thermally stressed and dewatered system could help identify potential global climate change adaptation management strategies and tactics. Our goal is to identify limiting factors in the Smith River system and evaluate the importance of its tributaries as spawning and nursery areas and thermal refuges. The research focuses on the lower reaches of Tenderfoot Creek, a largely undeveloped major tributary to the Smith River. Six PIT tag stations have been installed throughout the lower 8.5 miles of Tenderfoot Creek. This PIT tag detection network monitors the seasonal movements of about 1,000 tagged fish. Abundances are estimated by depletion electrofishing surveys, mark-recapture studies, and snorkeling. Redd counts are performed in both spring and fall. A water-level recorder and temperature loggers have been deployed to monitor temperatures and flow regimes and aid in determining reasons for movement among habitats.