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In the fall, most anglers head to the Bitterroot River with a fly rod, a vest full of gear, and visions of a 20” brown trout sipping their dry fly. When I head down to the River, I carry my fly rod, a stash of plastic sacks, and a bag stuffed with sinkers, indicators, and a jumble of non-specific nymphs. Trophy trout are not what I’m after; I seek the bottom-feeding whitefish!

The sight of whitefish disaapoint many fishermen when they emerge on the end of their line. Words of resentment and frustration are spat about “garbage” fish and it is often thrown back, or worse onto the bank. Last week, when I hooked and landed a whitefish in my lucky spot a passerby remarked, “Oh, too bad it is a whitefish!” I looked up with a secret grin for I knew how good the smoked meat would taste.

smoked whitefish

The whitefish harvest can be hit or miss. If you find a spot where they school up, you can catch 30+ fish in a few hours. If you don’t, you may not feel a bite for hours. I freeze all the fish I harvest whole, sans head and guts, and smoke them once I harvest 30 fish. When people try the delicious, moist, flaky, smoked meat, their opinion about the bottom-feeding “garbage” fish changes. Often they ask to join me on the next "garbage" fishing adventure.

About the Author

Jeff Clarke

Jeff graduated from the University of Minnesota, Duluth, with a B.S. in outdoor recreation education. After college, Jeff managed U.S. Forest Service campgrounds in Northern Minnesota and ran interpretive programs for the parks. After several months in the woods, he decided to explore Western Montana and soon after was introduced to MPG. Jeff took a role with the MPG North field crew for two years where he gathered data for tree studies, completed forestry projects, worked to eradicate invasives, identified and photo documented species, and assisted MPG’s team of scientists.

Jeff manages the exceptionally hard working 20 person field crew. He leads projects focused on weed eradication, forest thinning, tree protection, prevention of soil degradation, plant propagation, field reporting, ranch maintenance, along with many other tasks. Jeff regularly monitors the effects of his restoration efforts and looks forward to seeing the long term results.

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