Freshwater Fishing
Painting of cutthroat trout in a river

A look at the record sized fish caught in Montana

Painting of cutthroat trout in a river
Rex Trulove's image for:
"A look at the record sized fish caught in Montana"
Caption: Painting of cutthroat trout in a river
Location: unknown
Image by: Knepp Timothy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Montana is a state that attracts a great number of fishermen every year. Part of the reason is that the state, the fourth largest, has so many rivers, streams, lakes and ponds. Another part of the reason is the number of fish that are available to catch, both native and introduced, and many of them are large specimens. State fishing records indicate the possibilities for fishermen.

About state fish records

As with nearly any state, not all record breaking fish make it into the books, for various reasons. In some cases, fish species may only be caught in certain bodies of water, too. This means that the records that are kept by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MFWP) in regard to the largest fish should best be thought of as a guide rather than as a tremendously accurate record. Additionally, because of the number of fish species that have been and can be caught in Montana, only some of the most popular or largest are covered here.

Brown trout

The record for the largest brown trout in the state was set in 1966 when a brown was caught out of Wade Lake, weighing 29 pounds. Wade Lake is located near both the Idaho and Wyoming borders. Brown trout are not native to Montana but have been stocked throughout the state.

Brook trout

In 1940, John Cook caught a brookie that tipped the scales at slightly more than nine pounds. The fish was caught out of Lower Two Medicine Lake, which is located in northwest Montana, near the Canadian border and very close to Glacier National Park. Brook trout are also an introduced species.

Rainbow trout

A rainbow weighing over 38 1/2 pounds was caught out of Kootenai River in August of 1997. This river is located in extreme northwest Montana after flowing from Kootenai Lake in Canada, through Idaho. Rainbows aren’t native to Montana waters, though they are among the most popular game fish in the state.

Cutthroat trout

The largest recorded cutthroat was caught out of Red Eagle Lake in 1955. It weighed in at 16 pounds. Red Eagle Lake is located in Glacier National Park. Cutthroats are native Montana fish and there is little doubt that there are more large individuals out there waiting to be caught.

Bullhead catfish

A black bullhead catfish weighing over two and a half pounds was caught out of Smiley Slough in June of 2009. The largest yellow bullhead caught in the state weighed a more modest one pound and was caught out of Yellowstone river in 2012. Neither kinds of bullheads are native to Montana, according to the Montana department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Channel catfish

Dwarfing the bullheads that have been caught, the largest channel catfish caught in the state came out of the Missouri River and tipped the scales at over 30 pounds. The fish was caught in 2009 and channel cats are native to the state, primarily in the Missouri River drainage.


At over 31 pounds, the largest recorded Chinook salmon was caught in 1991 out of Fort Peck Reservoir. Chinooks aren’t native to Montana, however they have been planted in a number of places within the state. Fort Peck Reservoir is also where the largest Coho salmon in the state, also planted, was caught. The Coho weighed nearly five pounds and was caught in 1973. A record setting kokanee salmon was caught out of Hauser Lake, located about 10 miles from Helena, in 2003. 


Bass aren’t native to Montana, though fishermen have a good deal of success in catching these planted species. The biggest largemouth bass weighed over 8 3/4 pounds. It was caught out of Noxon Rapids Reservoir in 2009. The record smallmouth was caught in 2002 in Fort Peck Reservoir and weighed about six and a half pounds.

Northern pike

Pike in Montana are planted fish, however the largest caught in Montana weighed 37 1/2 pounds and was brought in at Tongue River Reservoir in 1972. This reservoir is located in southeast Montana, near Little Bighorn National Monument. 


Not surprisingly, the largest fish caught in Montana, in general, are native fish: Sturgeons. In 2010, a shovelnose sturgeon weighing 14 pounds was brought out of the Missouri river. The largest pallid sturgeon was much bigger at 60 pounds. It was caught in 1979 out of Yellowstone River. Both of those sturgeon were small compared to the largest white sturgeon caught. The monster was caught in 1968 out of Kootenai River and weighed an astonishing 96 pounds.

While this is only a partial list of the record fish caught in the state, it isn’t difficult to see why people flock to Montana every year for the chance of catching fish that might break old records. Many species have been introduced, but many kinds of fish are native to the state. They furnish ample opportunities to catch fish and it is quite likely that the records listed above will be broken in the future. It is little wonder that Montana is often thought of as the fisherman’s playground.


More about this author: Rex Trulove