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No trout about it: Lake Elmo is free of clams and restocked with fish

Several months after draining Lake Elmo in Billings to get rid of invasive Asian Clams, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks has started restocking the lake with fish.

Thirty-one catfish, a few thousand Flathead minnows and some yellow perch got a new home in Lake Elmo last week. They joined about 50,000 two-inch rainbow trout and 250 cutthroat trout stocked earlier in the month. Catchable rainbow trout will also be released.

lake elmo fish chute js.JPG
Jess Sheldahl
Yellowstone Public Radio
Yellow perch drop into the water from the back of an FWP fish transport truck as part of fish restocking efforts at Lake Elmo.

FWP also installed artificial reefs — or “catfish condos” — for fish to hide and spawn. Spokesperson Robert Gibson says biodiversity is an important part of maintaining a good environment for the fish recently released into Lake Elmo.

“Until we drained the lake it was just a big muddy bowl,” Gibson said. “As long as the lake was drained we decided it was a really good time to do some work that would be impossible or difficult with a whole bunch of water in the lake.”

To eradicate invasive Asian clams, FWP drained the lake this past winter, which dried, starved and froze the mollusks.

Invasive species also affected fish restocking efforts: Snails at the Bluewater Hatchery outside of Bridger meant FWP had to get rid of fish originally destined for Lake Elmo.

“Our source for most of the fish we were going to put into Lake Elmo ended up contaminated,” Gibson said. “And we do not want to put invasive species back into Lake Elmo! We just got rid of the clams.”

lake elmo catfish js.JPG
Jess Sheldahl
Yellowstone Public Radio
One of the 31 catfish released into Lake Elmo in Billings on May 13, 2022, swims out of the shallows and out into the lake.

The new fish come from uncontaminated stock at the Bluewater fishery and from FWP hatcheries in Miles City and Lewistown.

Gibson says humans most likely brought in the invasive Asian clams found in Lake Elmo in 2019.

To avoid contaminating Montana’s waterways with invasive species, recreationists should make sure to clean, drain and dry any equipment or boats after each use.