Musselshell River


Musselshell River

Musselshell River

Channel Catfish, Stone Cat, and Black Bullhead swim the waters of the Musselshell River. The river has always been, and continues to be a premier spot for the catfish angler. Because of private land ownership and lack of road access, this river is relatively untapped. The last 100 miles before the river dumps into famous Fort Peck Reservoir is one of the top hangouts for Mr. Whiskers in the entire Midwest. Other than periods of heavy runoff, fishing from a boat is extremely difficult, but offers the shore angler a great shot at a true trophy Channel Cat. The action heats up in early spring, when Channel Catfish look to move from the reservoir and head upstream for a place to spawn. The average Channel Cat is in the 6-7lb. range., with a good shot at a cat in the mid-teen range on a typical trip. Catch-and-release or “selective harvest” is essential in helping keep this river plentiful with large catfish.

The Musselshell River begins with the headwaters of the North and South forks in the Little Belt, Castle, and Crazy mountains in central Montana. Converging near Martinsdale, Montana, they form the mainstem, which flows east and north through a landscape varying from mountains to rolling plains and badlands. The upper, coldwater region of the Musselshell supports five species of game fish, including native cutthroat and mountain whitefish. Abundant brush cover, good gravel bars, and clarity characterize the habitat of the South Fork. The North Fork’s excellent willow cover and undercut banks provide favorable habitat for brown, rainbow, and brook trout. Averaging 60 feet wide at the juncture of the forks, the Musselshell draws extra water downstream for irrigation. Three storage reservoirs add to its flows, Bair Reservoir on the North Fork, Martinsdale Reservoir on the South Fork, and Deadman’s Basin, a mainstem diversion. For the 50 miles from Barber to Roundup, the Musselshell widens, a number of irrigation diversions reduce stream flows, and the water becomes warmer. Riparian vegetation is commonly honeysuckle, wild rose, willow, and isolated groves of cottonwood trees. For its last 90 miles, the river broadens to 100 feet, accompanied by a rapid increase in turbidity. Vegetation adjacent to the river thins due to the arid climate, livestock grazing, and unstable and saline soils. However, the warm-water portion of the Musselshell supports a substantial resident fish population and provides spawning areas for sauger and channel catfish from Fort Peck Reservoir. The Musselshell River empties into Fort Peck Reservoir north of Mosby, 342 miles from its sources. Information from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.