Anglers can breathe easier about the fate of the trout and salmon fishery in Georgetown Lake as western Montana's most popular fishing hole opens for the general season this Saturday.

State fisheries biologists were concerned about the potential for a devastating winterkill of fish occurring at Georgetown Lake this year. The lake was drawn down drastically by irrigation withdrawals from Flint Creek Dam last summer. And as biologists feared, oxygen levels in the lake dipped dangerously low under the ice last winter.

The ice cover at Georgetown began to disintegrate last Saturday, and disappeared completely on Sunday, according to Wayne Hadley, a fisheries biologist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

On Tuesday this week, a reconnaissance of the lake shore was carried out by personnel from FWP and the Forest Service. Five teams of two cruised the shoreline in boats looking for dead fish. Approximately 65 percent of the shore and adjacent shallow water was visually surveyed, Hadley said in a news release.

Fewer than 30 dead trout, rainbows and brook trout, were observed, he said. No dead salmon were seen.

"This number probably represents only a fraction of the dead salmonids in the lake, since only a small fraction of the total bottom was visible to observers," Hadley said. "It does, however, suggest that no abnormal mortality of salmonids occurred under the ice."

In 1979, according to Hadley, there was extensive fish mortality at Georgetown after ice-out. And, he said, that can't be ruled out this year.

"The Georgetown population of trout and salmon was subjected to abnormally low oxygen concentrations for an extended period this winter," Hadley said. "And this may have increased the vulnerability to parasites and disease. We will monitor the situation to determine if such a problem develops."

However, he added, "I am sure that we are all relieved that the great fishery at Georgetown appears to be available for another angling season."

The fish story

State fisheries biologists were concerned about the potential for a devastating winterkill of fish occurring at Georgetown Lake this year. The lake was drawn down drastically by irrigation withdrawals from Flint Creek Dam last summer. And as biologists feared, oxygen levels in the lake dipped dangerously low under the ice last winter.

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