Fisheries biologists with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks shared concern today after fishermen on the Madison River reported seeing dead whitefish floating on the popular riverbank earlier this week. A social media post today (5/21) confirmed hundreds of dead fish have been discovered by wildlife officials.

Wild fish caught in Idaho
Getty Stock/Christian Nafzger

Over 800 dead whitefish discovered, plus trout and other species.

Anglers first found the dead fish in the Beartrap Canyon area of the Madison River. Since the initial report on Tuesday (5/18), Montana FW&P staffers have floated the river and walked the banks from just upstream of Ennis Dam to the Warm Springs Boat Launch, approximately a ten-mile stretch of river. So far, they have counted:

  • 814 whitefish
  • 11 brown trout
  • 6 rainbow
  • 3 suckers
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Fish die-offs aren't entirely uncommon.

While alarming, mass quantities of fish dying off at the same time isn't super rare. In 2016, an estimated "tens of thousands" of fish died over a large stretch of the Yellowstone River. In 2020, hundreds of fish deaths (also on the Yellowstone River) were credited to proliferative kidney disease, an issue caused by a water parasite.

Fish, Wildlife and Parks staff will continue to monitor the dead fish situation on the Madison River. They ask if anglers see dead or dying fish, they can call the FWP Bozeman office at 406-577-7900, adding that more information will be released as available.

Madison River access is under debate.

The Madison River is one of Montana's most popular fishing and recreation sites, with thousands of boaters, floaters and recreationists attracted to its waters each year. Called, "Montana's busiest river", state officials have been conducting public input regarding future management of the crowded, heavily fished waterway.

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