Fishing is Good and the Bears are Back

Wesley Sarmento, Bear Management Specialist, and Katie Vivian, Fisheries Biologist, visit with interested parties in Valier to educate and update bear and fishing conditions in the area. 

Photo by Carol Green

 Katie Vivian and Wesley Sarmento took time to visit with local residents last week at a public meeting hosted by the Valier Area Development Corporation. Katie is the Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Fisheries Biologist for the Choteau area and Wes is the Bear Management Specialist for Region 4 North covering Muddy Creek to Teton River. Both had good information to impart.

     Some interesting data from Vivian’s report confirmed that fishing at Lake Frances has been good due to a healthy water year in 2017. Higher water levels provide better spawning habitat (shrubbery) leading to better fishing 3-5 years later as fish, particularly walleye, mature. Walley tend to reach 15” and in three years in Lake Frances.

    FWP stocks 50,000 walleye fingerlings in Lake Frances annually. Unfortunately, when water levels are low resulting in lost habitat those fingerlings serve primarily as food for larger fish. 

    Sportsmen may be concerned about angling pressure on Lake Frances. However, Vivian assured they are tracking numbers to make sure it is not getting overfished. FWP collected data last summer at the town ramp and fish station by a creeler employed by FWP, through netting to count one year olds, and at the Valier Ice Fishing Derby in January of this year.

    Vivan also reported that Lake Frances produces nice perch. “Yellow perch are the number one walleye forage. If they can survive until they are a little larger, the bigger fish tend to leave them alone and feed on smaller fish.” Consequently, low water leads to low perch as their protective habitat is diminished. 

    Data collected over the last 20 years concludes that although individual years fluctuate, angling has been steady over the last two decades. FWP will be hiring a creeler for the 2023 season.

    “The bears are awake,” confirmed Wesley Sarmento as he gave an overview of the bear management efforts in the area. His report included the number of bear complaints, conflicts, and preventive measures taken in 2022. 

    Carcasses are the number one attractant for grizzly bears. Sarmento personally removed more than 50 dead animals and supervised a carcass driver who removed 462 dead animals across Region 4 in an effort to protect livestock. FWP provides carcass removal for free.

    Grain spills are another major bear attractant. “We removed more than 26,000 pounds of spilled grain last year and installed bear doors on grain bins.”

   “We installed 20 electric fences and three dog fences,” added Sarmento, “and hazed 18 bears to keep them away from people.” A handful of bears had to be relocated or put down. Interestingly, they found a yearling that had been killed by another bear and another bear that pathology determined died from bird flu.

    “We have a new Bear Education Trailer,” Sarmento mentioned, “We are shifting to a more Ag focused education approach.”  Additionally, FWP engages in Human Safety Education to help individuals be better bear aware, including how to properly use bear spray. Check the expiration date on your bear spray. Even if it hasn’t been discharged, the o-ring can begin to break down and fail.

    One attendee asked why the bears are moving out (eastward). Sarmento’s answer was, “When the population reaches a number the system can handle, reproduction levels off and they move out. We just have so many bears competing against themselves.”

    You can be added to a Bear Aware Alert list by texting Wesley Sarmento at 406-450-1097. 

    For information on the creeler opportunity, contact Katie Vivian at 406-466-5621 or

   VADC would like to thank both Katie Vivian and Wesley Sarmento for taking time to share their information and expertise and Valier School District for the use of the Mult-purpose Room.


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