Montana is best known for its blue-ribbon trout streams. But as eight-year-old Garin Hicks proved last weekend, the state’s warmwater reservoirs are not to be overlooked.
On May 27, the young angler from Kalispell caught a 13.6-ounce green sunfish from Gartside Reservoir. Hicks’ panfish was just accepted by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks as a new state record for the species, edging out the previous record by a fraction of an ounce. That record belonged to Bette Schmieding, who caught her 13.4-ounce greenie from Castle Rock Lake in 2009 when she was just three years old.
Both reservoirs are in the eastern part of the state, with Gartside situated a stone’s throw from the Yellowstone River near the North Dakota state line. The reservoir also holds largemouth and smallmouth bass, as well as bluegills, walleyes, and pike.
Green sunfish are an introduced (non-native) species in Montana, according to FWP. They can be found throughout the lower Yellowstone and Little Missouri drainages, where they are “well suited to radically changing conditions found in prairie streams.” The species’ native range stretches from the Great Lakes down to Mexico, and includes all of the Central Plains west of the Appalachian Mountains and east of the Rocky Mountains.
As the agency points out, these “hardy little fish” rarely exceed five inches in length. This makes Hicks’ 10-inch green sunfish a whopper by Montana standards. The IGFA all-tackle record for the species is more than twice that size, however, measuring 15 inches long and weighing 2 pounds, 2 ounces. That fish was caught by Paul Dilley in 1971 at Missouri’s Stockton Lake.