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Protecting Rock Creek with Trout Unlimited

Sustainability from Field to Stream
Guest blog by Teresa Scanlon, project coordinator with Trout Unlimited



Why We Love Rock Creek

It’s no secret that Rock Creek, the fabled blue-ribbon trout stream tucked away in the mountains of Western Montana, is remarkable. Its steep canyon walls and sweeping valleys are home to both traditional ranching and endless prospects of recreation and exploration.

Guests can enjoy beautiful fall river scenes like this one at Montana's The Ranch at Rock Creek
Rock Creek bridge at The Ranch at Rock Creek.

The hills in Rock Creek are filled with wildlife diversity including moose, bear, mountain goats, and elk, and its waters offer prized fly-fishing opportunities.

A moose crosses Blue Ribbon Rock Creek
Moose crossing Rock Creek. Photo courtesy of Brian Bowen Smith.

That’s why Trout Unlimited’s (TU) local WestSlope Chapter is partnering with the community and other stakeholders to launch a signature program dedicated to protecting and restoring this iconic local watershed for future generations of anglers to enjoy.

A Montana fly fisherman catches a fish in his net
Fly fishing on Rock Creek. Photo by Silvio Mollov.

For over a year now, I’ve been the Trout Unlimited program coordinator, working with individual and public landowners to explore opportunities to improve habitat and connectivity for native and wild trout in Rock Creek.


Why Rock Creek Matters

Biologists recognize Rock Creek as a native trout stronghold with populations of bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout as well as wild browns and rainbows.

A large bull trout is released back into Rock Creek
Bull trout photo by Ranch Guide Madi King.

Anglers from across the country revere Rock Creek for both its accessibility and quality fishing. Yet native and wild trout populations are facing challenges, such as increasing water temperatures and barriers to migration.

Tess Scanlon of Trout Unlimited
Tess at our Whiskey & Water Weekend casting carnival.

I am collaborating with biologists and landowners to address these issues through collaborative projects that benefit both the fishery and landowners.


How The Ranch is Helping

The Ranch at Rock Creek and Trout Unlimited are working together to protect the landscape and fishery in Rock Creek and ensure future guests can enjoy it. I am working with The Ranch to explore installing fish screens on irrigation diversions on the four miles that run through The Ranch’s property.

fish screen projects help promote more sustainable waterways
An established fish screen similar to what will be installed at The Ranch at Rock Creek. Photo courtesy of Trout Unlimited.

The Ranch uses stream water to irrigate their fields for pasture and hay production. Installing a screen at the headgate, which is used to control the water intake, prevents fish from getting stuck in the ditch.

Pastures and hayfields at The Ranch at Rock Creek
Lines are cut into the hayfields by a pivot sprinkler used in irrigation.

In the process of installing a fish screen, the irrigation infrastructure used to divert water from the stream is typically updated to the latest technology. This collaborative project showcases The Ranch’s dedication to environmental conservation and helps keep fish in Rock Creek.

“Rock Creek has a special spot in my heart. Working with local animal protection and conservation groups like Trout Unlimited is so important to everyone in Montana and at The Ranch. There are people, groups, companies and land owners that care deeply and take steps to help preserve the wilds of this great state. It’s uplifting knowing that what we (The Ranch, TU, and our neighbors) do in this valley makes a difference and sets an example of what should be done. I couldn’t work for a property that didn’t care.” ~ Activities Director Patrick Little


How You Can Help

When I attended The Ranch’s Whiskey and Water Weekend, I discussed how guests could contribute to healthy fish populations on Rock Creek. Here are my top tips for protecting local waterways, especially our beloved Rock Creek.

  1. Sponsor a fish in the Race Up Rock Creek. Watch cutthroat trout run the 80k up Rock Creek to spawn! All donations go to our on-the-ground projects to protect Rock Creek.
  2. Be conscientious about when you fish. Midday water temperatures in the summer are hot. Catching and releasing fish at the hottest times of the day can stress or even kill fish.
  3. Join or support your local Trout Unlimited chapter. No matter where you live in the United States, you have a local chapter that will share with you how you can support fishing for the future. Go to TU.org to join or to learn about our research and project work across the country.
  4. Teach a kid how to fish. Building memories and a love for the outdoors breeds the next generation of conservation leaders!


Dalles Rapid on Rock Creek. Photo Courtsey of Trout Unlimited.