At the time the Forest Service assumed the administration of the watershed, streams, and lakes of this area, there were only three natural species of game fish of any consequence; the Rocky Mountain spotted trout, or cutthroat; Dolly Varden (bull trout); and the native whitefish. They were plentiful in the rivers and streams leading into Flathead Lake and in other large lakes.
In the early days, due to the laxity or nonexistence of game laws, fish were caught in nets and sold on the market. Many fish were wasted. The first bag limits were very high. Thirty-five years ago, the legal catch for trout was 40 fish per day.
Fisherman today find good fishing in nearly all parts of the Forest. Many mountain lakes have been stocked. However, other species of game fish have been introduced: grayling, rainbow trout, German brown, various species of whitefish, and salmon, not including the warm-water species. For many years, the stocking of cutthroat trout was from spawn taken from Yellowstone Lake. "Rough" fish are more in evidence than in earlier times and are gradually moving farther up the rivers and have taken over some lakes.
There are several lakes in the interior of the Forest that are void of fish. Such lakes as Argosy, Pot Lake, Dean Lake, Shadow Lake, and many others have never had any fish in them. They are seldom visited, and the demand for fishing has not reached a point to justify the expense of stocking. Some lakes that do not have sufficient spawning grounds for propagation have been stocked. This requires constant stocking to provide continued fishing. Blue Lakes, above Limestone on the Spotted Bear River, and Spotted Bear Lake are lakes in which fish live and do well, but do not reproduce.
Many fish migrate from the streams to larger bodies of water during the fall months. However, this is not true in all instances. White River above Needle Falls has not been stocked during the past 30 years; yet it is a very good trout stream. There are no whitefish or bull trout in the White River above Needle Falls because they leave and return the next season to spawn. Bull trout return to their spawning grounds in late August and the whitefish a little later.
I do not believe the fish we catch today are quite as large as 30 years ago. One criterion for the size of trout to be found in the streams of the interior is that they are generally in proportion to the amount of water in the creek; the smaller the stream, the smaller the trout.
Hungry Horse Dam was built without a fish ladder or other means of fish migration. In my opinion, this has not been detrimental to fishing in the South Fork of the Flathead River. The fishing above the reservoir has not changed since the dam was built in 1948-53. The 34-mile-long reservoir provides much more fishing than did this stretch of the river before the reservoir was created. It may develop that "rough" fish will multiply in the reservoir and be in competition with the game fish. I did not see any suckers in the deep holes in the river at the Spotted Bear Ranger Station until after the building of the dam.
The "rough" fish in the reservoir may have just as well developed in Flathead Lake as in the reservoir.
Apparently, not as many fish leave the reservoir and go over the dam through the pen stalks or overflow as was feared by some before the dam was built.
Early-day users of the Forest (as well as some people today) depended on fish to supplement their diet while in the back country. I am sure fishing in the interior of the Forest will continue to be good for a long time.