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State Fish Blackspotted Cutthroat Trout

Updated: August 10, 2020

Blackspotted Cutthroat Trout
Blackspotted Cutthroat Trout

On February 10, 1977, Governor Thomas Judge signed the law designating the blackspotted cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki) as Montana's official state fish.

The idea for a state fish began when Norma Ashby and her husband, Shirley, of Great Falls were discussing state symbols. Both ardent fly fishermen, they wondered why there was no designated state fish.

With the endorsement of the Montana Fish and Game Department and the support of the Department's District 4 Coordinator, Nels Thoreson in Great Falls, Ashby launched a statewide campaign for a state fish on the "Today in Montana" show, which she produced on the Montana Television Network.

Two candidates for the honor were proposed: the blackspotted cutthroat trout and the Montana grayling, but other nominations were accepted. Both the blackspotted cutthroat trout and the Montana grayling were on the threatened species list. It was felt that through this kind of attention, conditions for these fish could be improved.

Blackspotted Cutthroat Trout
Blackspotted Cutthroat Trout

Proponents of a state fish set six criteria:

  1. Native to Montana
  2. Not already adopted by another state
  3. Well accepted by people
  4. A game fish
  5. Distinctive in appearance
  6. In more than one area of the state

Speaking in support of the blackspotted cutthroat trout, Dr. Louis W. Hagener, head of the Science Department at Northern Montana College, and his wife, Toni, curator of the H. Earl Clack Museum in Havre, observed that "such a fish would meet all the requirements and add to Montana's image as a fisherman's paradise of clean, clear, sparkling waters."

The Hageners also referred to the cutthroat's historic association with Montana. "It bears Captain William Clark's name from his identification of it at the Great Falls of the Missouri on the Lewis and Clark westward journey in 1805. The explorers noted in their journals: "These trout (caught in the falls) are from 16 to 23 inches in length, precisely resemble our mountain or speckled trout in form and the position of their fins, but the specks on these are of a deep black instead of the red or gold color of those common in the United States."

Blackspotted Cutthroat Trout
Blackspotted Cutthroat Trout

Nearly 1,000 votes for 23 species of fish poured in from 64 Montana towns and four other states. The blackspotted cutthroat trout received 520 votes to easily outdistance the Montana grayling's 200 votes. The rainbow trout placed third with 107 votes.

Senator Margaret Warden of Great Falls and Representative George Johnston of Cut Bank were responsible for introducing the state fish bill in the 45th Legislature. The bill passed by wide margins in both houses. Senator Warden, one of Montana's 200,000 resident fishermen, called the cutthroat "a fighting, good-eating, and beautiful fish."

Art Whitney of the Montana Department of Fish and Game agreed: "Naming the blackspotted cutthroat trout as Montana's state fish is just another indication that the people in this state will settle for nothing but the very best in protecting the way of life we are all dedicated to preserving."

Visit's Plants and Animals section to learn more about Montana trout.

Special Acknowledgements to: Montana Historical Society, Rex C. Meyers and Norma B. Ashby

Updated: August 10, 2020

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