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Rattlesnake Creek

Rattlesnake Creek is the source of much of Missoula's municipal drinking water. It is a historic cutthroat and bull trout spawning stream. In 1903 Montana Power Company built a dam across the stream for the purpose of constructing a municipal water system, stopping all fish migration upstream. Recently a fish ladder was installed to help native trout to reach the upper 15 miles of excellent spawning water above the dam. The fish ascent a series of eleven 8-inch steps in a curving channel sculpted into the bank on the eastside of the creek, about 100 ft. below the dam. Then they swim about 100 ft. through an underground culvert into the reservoir above the dam. A series of grates provide a light source for the fish to follow upstream. The total length of the ladder is 100 ft.

At the upstream end of the reservoir the fish enter a trap that is monitored daily by biologists. All the fish are netted and the native fish are placed in the stream above the reservoir trap, where they can continue their migration to critical spawning habitat in the Rattlesnake Wilderness Area. All non-native fish, including rainbow and brown trout, are returned to the stream below the dam, where there are 5 miles of spawning stream down to the Clark Fork River. This is an opportunity for native fish preferring the more specific habitat for Westslope cutthroat and bull trout in the upper 15 miles above the dam. It is the first time trout are free to return to their historic spawning stream since the dam was built and the fishery biologists say it is working fine! ~

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