Because they won't strike at bait, the only way to catch a paddlefish is to snag them with big treble hooks. When you tie into a big paddlefish, trust your stout surfcasting gear and prepare for a fight that can last upwards of an hour, especially in the heavy current of the Missouri River.
Eastern Montana’s huge Fort Peck Reservoir might just be the nation’s best spot to hook a record-class walleye. Dave Fuller hoists a pair of double-digit walleye, hooked on back-to-back passes with a leech on a bottom bouncer.
Apex predators. Walleye are voracious predators, feeding on minnows, panfish and pretty much anything they can fit in their ample, toothy mouths.
Fort Peck produces outsize walleye due to a couple of factors. The first is the big reservoir’s size (134 miles long, 1,500 miles of shoreline) and remote location. It simply doesn’t get the kind of fishing pressure that smaller, more accessible lakes get. Fort Peck hosts the annual Governor’s Cup Walleye Tournament this Friday and Saturday, and winning weights are expected to be in the 70- to 80-pound range for 10 fish.
Fort Peck is best known for its walleye fishery, but it also produces decent numbers of channel catfish, sauger, trophy smallmouth bass, northern pike, lake trout and even Chinook salmon.
The most obscure species in Fort Peck is the native paddlefish. These big vegetarians top out at over 100 pounds and spend much of their lives in the plankton-rich waters of the reservoir. They are snagged by anglers when they swim up the Missouri River in the spring to spawn.
Because they won’t strike at bait, the only way to catch a paddlefish is to snag them with big treble hooks. When you tie into a big paddlefish, trust your stout surfcasting gear and prepare for a fight that can last upwards of an hour, especially in the heavy current of the Missouri River.
Walleye paradise. Western walleye anglers love structure, and Fort Peck has plenty of it, from points to sunken humps to piles of shoreline rock and rubble. Fort Peck Reservoir was formed when the Missouri River was dammed in the 1930s, flooding the Missouri River Breaks. All those points and shallow bays hold walleye.
Seen from an airplane window, you can see all the structure and massive scale of Fort Peck. The reservoir only has a handful of boat ramps, which adds to its solitude but also keeps angling pressure pretty low.
Every year Fort Peck Reservoir produces walleye in the 15-pound class. Don Schlegelmilch shows off a spring walleye that weighed 14.5 pounds.
Big eyes, sharp teeth and a voracious appetite make walleye formidable predators. Most Fort Peck anglers have luck trolling bait (leeches and live minnows are favorites) on spinner rigs. The magic depth is usually between about 12 and 20 feet, though some of the lake’s biggest walleye are caught in deep, open water.
Want to catch the biggest walleye in the nation? Consider eastern Montana’s Fort Peck Reservoir, where double-digit walleyes are the norm and you can have the lonely lake pretty much to yourself.