Out-migration dynamics of juvenile adfluvial bull trout in tributaries to the lower Clark Fork River, Montana

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


In the lower Clark Fork River, Montana, a two-way trap-and-haul program is implemented to conserve the adfluvial life-history strategy in Bull Trout Salvelinus confluentus populations in the presence of hydropower dams. We used the infrastructure in place for the program, including a permanent weir trap and multiple stationary PIT antennas, to evaluate the demographic characteristics and out-migration dynamics of juvenile bull trout, and assess the efficacy of the downstream trapping component of the trap-and-haul program. We PIT-tagged 821 juvenile Bull Trout in Graves Creek, and 144 Bull Trout in East Fork Bull River in the summer of 2019 and summer of 2020. Bull Trout in Graves Creek were primarily age 1 and age 2, with a small number of age-3 Bull Trout present (< 1%). In East Fork Bull River, age-3 Bull Trout represented 14% - 46% of the population, with a small number of age-4 and older Bull Trout present (4% - 6%). From July 2019 through December 2020, 308 tagged Bull Trout outmigrated from Graves Creek, and most out-migrants were age 2 (n = 221). In East Fork Bull River, 18 Bull Trout out-migrated, and most out-migrants were age 3 (n = 13). Capture efficiency of the permanent weir in Graves Creek varied from 83% to 100% in autumn 2019 and 2020 and was substantially lower in the spring (14%). The majority of Bull Trout out-migrated from Graves Creek during autumn 2019, spring 2020, or autumn 2020 trapping seasons (n = 276). In Graves Creek, the largest Bull Trout within the 2018 year-class were five times more likely to out-migrate at age 1 when compared to smaller fish within the cohort. The magnitude of age-1 out-migration was positively related to density. Relative changes in abiotic factors, including discharge, water temperature, and photoperiod, were cues to out-migration, and the direction of change varied by season. Understanding the demographic characteristics and outmigration dynamics of the Bull Trout in Graves Creek and East Fork Bull River enables more informed management of the trap-and-haul program and can be used to inform conservation efforts of other migratory Bull Trout populations.




Copyright (c) 2002-2022, LYRASIS. All rights reserved.