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Montana State University > College of Letters and Science > Trout U: MSU Has the Resources and Know How to Help the State Solve Real World Problems and Preserve its Fisheries and Waterways

Trout U: MSU Has the Resources and Know How to Help the State Solve
Real World Problems and Preserve its Fisheries and Waterways

October 6, 2011 -- By Michael Becker
Waters and the Bridger Range north of Bozeman
Tagging trout in the upper Clark Fork River.
Photo by Mariah Mayfield
Sentinal fish cage used to study whirling disease. Photo courtesy of Montana FWP

Back in 2003, Montana State University trademarked a new nickname for itself, one that captured the essence of a whole slate of courses, programs and resources that have drawn students to the university for decades.

There was something fishy about the new nickname, but few seemed to mind.

“Trout U,” as the university dubbed itself, is stuffed to the gills with a massive library collection of trout and salmon materials, the Montana Cooperative Fisheries Research Unit, the Wild Trout Lab and more, including research partnerships with the Big Sky Institute and Bozeman Fish Technology Center.

At the heart of it, though, is the ecology department’s Fisheries and Wildlife Management Program. Founded in 1936, it’s one of the oldest and most successful natural resource programs in the country.

Professor Tom McMahon has been with the department for 21 of those 70-plus years, performing research in applied fisheries.

The “applied” part of that research focus means McMahon helps fish and wildlife agencies at all levels of government solve real world problems, such as whirling disease, interactions between native and non-native trout and the effects of climate change on fish.

They’re important problems to tackle, considering the tens of millions of dollars that fishing tourism brings into Montana each year, McMahon said.

“People come from all over the world to fish Montana,” he said. “There’s a long legacy in Montana to protect the quality of those streams and rivers.”

According to McMahon, MSU’s partnerships with the state and federal agencies dedicated to managing Montana’s fisheries and waterways are just one of the things about the fisheries program that attracts students.

Another draw is, of course, the waterways themselves. Montana is a headwaters state. It’s water flows into both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, as well as into the Saskatchewan drainage, McMahon explained. And, of course, the state is home to a large number of blue-ribbon rivers and streams.

That means students can study a lot of fish, McMahon said, from trout in the western part of the state to paddlefish and other species native to eastern Montana’s waters.

“We have developed a good reputation for producing good-quality students and helping agencies answer questions they need answered to manage their fisheries resources.