Cabin Fever
The Lake Country
Fish Population Control

1989 Mildred Chaffin. Originally written for Cabin Fever, this account was included in My Forty Years Scribblins (1998).


In the late 1940s the (then) Montana State Fish and Game Department carried on a program of "rough fish" control in the waters of the Clearwater drainage. Fish traps and nets were installed at the outlets of Placid and Salmon Lakes and the string of lakes to the north. In 1989, remnants of the trap at the outlet of Salmon could still be seen.

The 1940s operation was under the direction of Clarence Ripley, manager of the state hatchery at Arlee, with workers Oscar Peckham and Allen Chaffin to pull the nets and empty them into a boat.

"We'd get half a pickup-load of suckers and squaw fish out of Placid every other day," Chaffin remembered. "And we mighty near upset the boat when we emptied the nets into it."

These captured squaw fish and suckers, "and some penos," were stored in a freezer at the Arlee hatchery to be cooked, then put through a grinder several times. This "fish mush" was then mixed with Red Dog flour and a little salt and used as food for the rearing ponds. When the "small fry" from the hatchery were judged big enough to lookout for themselves they were hauled to the Seeley Lake area to restock the lakes and streams. How many were able to dodge the cannibal fish and rustle food for themselves is not known.

Some lakes were also "poisoned" in an attempt to rid the waters of these undesirables, after which they were restocked with game fish. While they were not actually poisoned, all fish were killed in a clean sweep by a chemical that got into the gills and lungs. The game fish were still considered fit for human consumption and a number of people took them to eat.

However, neither of these operations was one hundred percent successful. New hatches, however small to begin with, have succeeded in populating the Clearwater drainage with another crop of "rough" fish.