The Blackspotted Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarki) was announced as the Montana state fish by the State Legislature in 1977.
While designated as a singular state fish, the Blackspotted Cutthroat Trout is a term to describe two subspecies of Cutthroat Trout Indigenous to Montana, the Westslope Cutthroat Trout and the Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout.
Initially identified during the famous Lewis and Clark expedition, Blackspotted Cutthroat Trout was selected over other common fish in the region to represent the State’s efforts to preserve a quality of life that had already been lost in other states.
Recognizing the Blackspotted Cutthroat Trout
The Blackspotted Cutthroat Trout are most easily identified by their distinctive red slashes near their lower jaws, from which they derive their “Cutthroat” title.
The Cutthroat Trout can vary between 6 and 16 inches long and are typically a golden gray-green color.
The Montana State Fish’s distinguishing black spots cover the length of its body but tend to focus towards the tails of the Westslope subspecies, while the Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout tend to have more spots near their bellies and front fins.
The BlackSpotted Cutthroat Trout’s Breeding Habits
Cutthroat Trout spawn in running water and bury their eggs in a nest called a red in the spring. The eggs have an incubation period ranging from a few weeks to a couple of months.
Once hatched, newborn fry occupies their native streams for about 1 to 2 years. At this time, the full-grown Cutthroat Trout will migrate back to lakes to begin the rearing process.
Blackspotted Cutthroat Trout Habitats in Montana
Black Spotted Cutthroat Trout tend to live in cold waters and are common in both headwater lakes and stream environments.
In Montana, Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout populations can be found in the Yellowstone River, Bighorn River, and several Tongue River basins.
Meanwhile, Montana’s Westslope Cutthroat Trout can frequently be found roaming the Kootenai Watershed, the Clark Fork Watershed, and the headwaters of the Missouri River and the Saskatchewan River.
Current Threats to the Montana State Fish
Despite being the Montana State Fish, the Blackspotted Cutthroat Trout is considered a Species of Concern. This means that the current population of fish in the state is currently in decline.
This reduction in the population can partially be attributed to the loss of their habitat. However, the most significant factor contributing to the concern is the natural hybridization occurring between the Cutthroat Trout and other native species such as the Rainbow and Brook Trout.
State Government in Montana is currently working toward preserving the species. In accordance with state law, wranglers must release Cutthroat Trout when caught.