Sea Monsters! The 10 Biggest Trophy Fish Ever Caught in Montana

Written by Taiwo Victor
Updated: June 9, 2023
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Montana is an angler’s paradise, with some of the world’s top fishing rivers, streams, and lakes. You can wade into its crystal-clear lakes and pebble-filled trout streams while admiring the surrounding mountains and wildlife. The Treasure State offers more than enough fish species for every angler, regardless of skill level, so you can catch a fish no matter the season. All you have to do is change your fishing style, and you’ll almost always catch something.

While visiting the area is a magnificent experience in and of itself, catching some of Montana’s prized fish is another story. Fish records in Montana come in many shapes and sizes. From the 142-pound paddlefish captured in 1973 to the 0.01-pound emerald shiner caught in 2006, catching a world record may be as close as one cast away. Which begs the question, what are the biggest trophy fish ever caught in Montana? This article will uncover the 10 biggest trophy fish ever caught in Montana and other fascinating facts.

10 Biggest Trophy Fish Ever Caught in Montana

1. Brown Trout — 32.42 lbs

Brown Trout

Montana’s record brown trout measured 32.42 pounds.

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Brown trout are larger than other trout. The usual size is 14 to 24 inches long and 2 to 10 pounds, with exceptional individuals reaching 20 inches in length. Montana is famous for its excellent trout fishing, but that reputation was further strengthened in 2021 when an angler caught a new state record brown trout.

Robbie Dockter snagged, battled, and caught a 32-pound, 37-inch brown trout while fishing the Marias River on March 3, 2021. Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) confirmed his catch as the new state record. Robbie Dockter smashed Montana’s 55-year-old state record for brown trout, which had been on the books since 1966, established by E.H. Bacon. Bacon’s record fish measured 29 pounds and was captured in Wade Lake.

2. Channel Catfish — 35.18 lbs

Channel catfish

The biggest channel catfish caught in Montana weighed 35.18 pounds.

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The typical channel catfish weighs two to four pounds and reaches at least 12–24 inches in length. A 35.18-pound channel catfish caught on July 7, 2019, by Colstrip angler John Smith has been validated as a new Montana record. Smith, 40, was trolling with his 16-year-old son Brandon on Castle Rock Lake when he hooked into the monstrous 38.75-inch fish. He was attempting to catch walleye with a light panfish/trout rod baited with a Beetle Spin and a one-eighth-ounce Mister Twister jig at that time.

3. Chinook Salmon — 32.05 lbs

A black streak along the gum line of the Chinook Salmon gives them the alternate name of blackmouth.

The largest Chinook salmon caught in Montana weighed 32.05 pounds and was 38.125 inches long.

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Chinook salmon can grow as long as 59 inches and as heavy as 129 pounds, but mature fish are typically 36 inches and 30 pounds. On August 16, 2020, airport manager Greg Haug caught a large, super-sized salmon, breaking a 29-year-old “Big Sky Country” record. Haug was well aware that fish in Fort Peck tend to be larger and better than in any other place, regardless of the catch. This is because Fort Peck fish consume ciscoes rather than smelt, and it’s the equivalent of eating butter instead of cauliflower. He eventually caught what he thought was a pretty good Chinook salmon. The “pretty good” Chinook salmon weighed 32.05 pounds, was 38.125 inches long, and had a girth of 26.5 inches.

4. Largemouth Bass — 9.58 lbs

largemouth bass

The largest largemouth bass ever caught in Montana was 22.5 inches long and weighed 9.58 pounds.

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The largemouth bass attains a length of 13 to 20 inches and a weight of one to five pounds. On April 24, 2021, a largemouth bass caught in Billings Heights’ Lake Elmo set a new state record. The 9.58-pound, 22.5-inch fish broke the previous record of an 8.8-pound lunker, which had stood for more than a decade. Brandon Wright snagged the new record while fishing from shore with a worm on a hook and a 6-pound test line one morning. 

5. Longnose Sucker — 4.78 lbs

The sucker family is Montana’s third largest fish family, with an average length of 9 inches and weighing 5 pounds. A Montana angler, Jonathan Miller caught a new state record longnose sucker. He utilized a jig to land his 4.78-pound, 22.25-inch longnose sucker on May 10, 2022, in Hauser Reservoir near Helena.

6. Rainbow Trout — 33.1 lbs

What Do Trout Eat - Rainbow Trout Bursting from Surface

The biggest rainbow trout ever caught in Montana weighed 33.1 pounds.

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Rainbow trout range in size from 15 to 25 inches and 1 to 5 pounds. On August 11, 1997, Jack Housel, Jr. caught a 38.62-inch, 33.1-pound rainbow trout in the River David Thompson Bridge, setting the state record.

7. Rocky Mountain Sculpin — 0.063 lbs

There are many big fish stories out there, but this one is about a tiny fish. The Rocky Mountain sculpin can grow to be about four inches long. Sculpins are bottom-dwelling fish with a tapering body from a large head and pectoral fins to a narrow caudal (tail) fin area. On March 15, 2022, a youngster from Laurel captured a 5-inch-long Rocky Mountain sculpin in Yellowstone County Canal, west of Laurel, setting the Montana state record. According to Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, it weighed 0.063 pounds. Bridger Burroughs, 14, got the sculpin while fishing with an orange plastic worm.

8. Smallmouth Bass — 7.84 lbs

smallmouth vs largemouth bass

The biggest smallmouth bass ever caught in Montana measured 22 inches long and weighed 7.84 pounds.

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On October 3, 2020, Theron was fishing in Fort Peck Reservoir in the northeast part of Montana with his father, Jim Thompson, and buddy Nate Peressini when he caught a huge smallmouth bass. Theron was fishing for walleye with a quarter-ounce jig designed by Peressini and an 8-pound-test line. Once caught, the giant smallie attempted to fly, but its weight stopped it from breaking the surface, giving the anglers their first indication of its size. Peressini knew it was a good one when he placed the net beneath the monster. The fish weighed 7.84 pounds and was 22 inches in length, according to a scale on the boat, beating the current record at the time, 7.51 pounds.

9. Tiger Muskellunge — 38.75 lbs

tiger muskellunge

Mature

tiger

muskellunge range in length from 34 to 48 inches and can weigh up to 30 pounds.

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Tiger muskies are game fish, reaching 18-20 inches long at two years old and 25-30 inches long at three years old. Mature individuals range in length from 34 to 48 inches and can weigh up to 30 pounds. Montana’s state record for tiger muskie boasts a whopping 50-inch, 38.75 lbs.! Leo Cantin caught it in the Deadman’s Basin Reservoir on September 2, 2011.

10. Walleye — 18.02 lbs

Fishing Walleye fish in the angler's hands.

The largest walleye caught in Montana weighed 18.02 pounds.

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The walleye can grow to be around 30 inches long and weigh 20 pounds as an adult. Trevor Johnson caught Montana’s new record-breaking walleye on May 10, 2021. Johnson captured the monster walleye that measured 32.25 inches in length, 22 inches in girth, and weighed 18.02 pounds on a certified scale. According to the release, he caught the record-breaking fish using a jig at Holter Lake near Helena. The previous state walleye record of 17.75 pounds was established in 2007 at Tiber Reservoir.

Summary of 10 Biggest Trophy Fish Ever Caught in Montana

Here’s a recap of the 10 largest, record-breaking fish of different species caught in the state of Montana.

NumberFishSizeLocationDateRecord Breaker
1Brown Trout32.42 lbsMarias RiverMarch 3, 2021Robbie Dockter
2Channel Catfish35.18 lbsCastle Rock LakeJuly 7, 2019John Smith
3Chinook Salmon32.05 lbsFort PeckAugust 16, 2020Greg Haug
4Largemouth Bass9.58 lbsLake ElmoApril 24, 2021Brandon Wright
5Longnose Sucker4.78 lbsHauser ReservoirMay 10, 2022Jonathan Miller
6Rainbow Trout33.1 lbsRiver David Thompson BridgeAugust 11, 1997Jack Housel, Jr.
7Rocky Mountain Sculpin0.063 lbsYellowstone County CanalMarch 15, 2022Bridger Burroughs
8Smallmouth Bass7.84 lbsFort Peck ReservoirOctober 3, 2020Theron Thompson
9Tiger Muskellunge38.75 lbsDeadman’s Basin ReservoirSeptember 2, 2011Leo Cantin
10Walleye18.02 lbsHolter LakeMay 10, 2021Trevor Johnson

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Crystal Kirk/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

For six years, I have worked as a professional writer and editor for books, blogs, and websites, with a particular focus on animals, tech, and finance. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games with friends.

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Sources
  1. Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, Available here: https://fwp.mt.gov/fish/anglingData/records
  2. Whiskey Riff, Available here: https://www.whiskeyriff.com/2021/06/22/7-state-record-fish-caught-in-montana-within-last-9-months/
  3. The Spokeman-Review, Available here: https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2021/may/17/new-montana-state-record-walleye-caught-sixth-stat/