As fish tales go, this one’s long and fuzzy.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks bear manager Jamie Jonkel’s morning routine follows a regular pattern. He opens his email and hurriedly sorts through the piles of photos and videos people have sent him from their remote game cameras the night before. He has to be quick, before the daily load crashes his mailbox.

“I’m getting pictures from hundreds of cameras and videos,” Jonkel said. “It’s great, because instead of someone calling to say, ‘Hey, there’s a grizzly in the area,’ they’re sending pictures of the lion feeding on a dead deer, or a skunk squeezing through to get the chickens. We’re getting incredible footage from all over Montana.”

He’d been waiting for images from a certain tributary of the Blackfoot River near Seeley Lake, where FWP fisheries biologists knew rainbow trout went to spawn. A few people had set up a night camera on a spawning stream, and Jonkel was hoping to see if the area bears were using the food source.

He got black bears chasing trout, all right. Then he caught a mountain lion.

“I’ve never heard of a mountain lion fishing,” Jonkel said. “There are fishing cats in South America — they will dive in and grab fish out of the water. And it may be pretty common in places like Alaska and Vancouver. But I did a quick search, and couldn’t find anything on mountain lions fishing around here. This may be the only time in Montana that I know of where it’s been documented.”

One infrared video shows an adult mountain lion peering into the shallow stream and then pouncing into the water. The second clip shows the lion with a good-sized trout wriggling in its mouth.

FWP fisheries biologist Ladd Knotek said rainbows often hover above their redds, or egg nests, for a while before and after spawning. That makes them good targets for fishing predators. But he’d never encountered a lion on that list.

“It’s just not something you hear abut,” Knotek said. “It’s extremely rare.”

Kerry Foresman, retired University of Montana biologist and author of “Mammals of Montana,” noted that “when preferred prey are not available, the mountain lion will opportunistically take whatever is available, including small mammals, birds, fish and insects.”

But the Seeley-Swan area isn’t hurting for prey animals, and has plenty of lions too.

“We live in fairly good mountain lion habitat,” said Adam Lieberg, who works Northwest Connections in Condon and manages an extensive game-camera archive. “They’re very elusive, so you don’t see them very often. And we’ve got no images of mountain lions eating fish.”

Jonkel said the behavior was likely limited to a single lion or lion family that had discovered the extra source of seasonal protein.

“It’s learned behavior, where mama said, ‘Hey, let me show you something,’ ” Jonkel said. “It’s no different than one guy figuring he can get half a cigarette from an ashtray if he goes there every day. It definitely knows what it’s doing. And it’s a unique thing and kind of a wonderful thing we’re able to capture.”

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.

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(11) comments

gomer13

Perhaps it's not. Stupid law but it's the law

danh

Have seen this before while floating the Selway river...very cool.

gomer13

It is illegal to use game cams during any open big game season. I think it is the law that is wrong, not the people using the cameras, but fwp needs to either abide by their own laws or change them.

trad man

it is illegal to have a game camera recording during a big game season, right now it is Bear season so how is it that all these law breakers are sending pictures to a F&G biologist??? And like the pictures last fall of elk and several Mountain lions, there were never any charges filed or a follow up on the videos being illegal or charges pressed as these were taken during the bow season? What is the deal here F&G?? What kind of message are you sending out to everyone?? Some folks have the money to have these pictures come onto their TV, when and during the exposure, how fair chase is that!! Let's see, hey a bull just went by my camera, better get out there right away and kill him before some other camera nut does.

Objective observer

The FWP attributed the video to private landowners. Perhaps it is legal to have game cameras on your own property, even during hunting seasons. You raise a good point. If you get an answer, please post here.

Roger
Roger

Perhaps this is more common than once thought - lions are very secretive so it's unusual for anyone to observe them. Cats do what they can to survive, and if fishing helps them survive - why not do it? Perhaps these trail cameras will document more unusual behavior in wildlife.

COMMON SENSE
COMMON SENSE

The footage has been impounded as evidence. FWP is pressing charges against the Mountain Lion, seems it didn't have a valid hunting/fishing license.

lakeguy406

Like a guy getting "half a cigarette" ?

Tracker

I have the same question, pl.

pl

So WHERE'S the footage for the rest of us to see?????

pl: The video is attached to the story. Do you see the Related Link: Video of mountain lion fishing? That's it! FWP would not give us a copy of the videos, so we provided a link to the site where FWP posted them. Sherry Devlin, Missoulian editor

Edited by staff.

Frannie

I bet if you click on “Related Links: Fishing mountain lion” you’ll find it.

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