Montana State University

Mobile anglers help with whirling disease study on Montana rivers

August 10, 2005 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service

Kiza Gates and Adam Grunstra use a mild detergent to collect mud samples and clean boots in an effort to understand angler movement and the spread of aquatic diseases in Montana. (Photo courtesy of Kiza Gates).   High-Res Available

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Tel: (406) 994-4571
Flitting birds were the only ones stirring when Kiza Gates and Adam Grunstra pulled up to the Cameron Bridge fishing access near Bozeman. A man snoozed in his car. An exploded cooler laid around the corner from a sign that forbade fireworks.

A quiet day is sometimes the case for Montana State University students who are studying whirling disease and angler movements in Montana.

Gates and Grunstra are visiting six Montana rivers this summer for Gates' master's degree in biological sciences. Grunstra, an undergraduate student in fish and wildlife management, is Gates' technician. The two are asking anglers on the Gallatin, Madison, Missouri, Yellowstone, Beaverhead and Bighorn about their fishing and gear-cleaning habits. They're washing boots to collect the mud they'll examine later. They're handing out brochures on the transmission of aquatic diseases and sometimes cleaning boots and fishing gear.

Abundant spring rains led to high waters which means that anglers were slow to fish the Gallatin River this summer, Gates said as she waited at the Cameron access.

When a visitor finally arrived, he climbed out of his truck, eyed the side channels of the Gallatin and continued his cell phone conversation. He didn't fish, but told Gates and Grunstra he might return after a meeting.

"We thought about keeping diaries of funny things people do at access sites," Gates said. "When you are there six hours at a time, you see lots of interesting things."

They're getting a taste of Montana's angling culture in addition to their official research, said Gates who grew up in Oregon, learned how to flyfish in college and became the only angler in her family. Grunstra came to MSU from Maryland. Used to working hard for his fish, he said he still can't get over the "awesome fishing" in Montana. He and Gates are amazed at Montana's wild and native trout and prolific hatches.

"The insect hatches here are like nothing I have ever seen anywhere else," Gates said.

As the researchers explained their washing and sampling equipment, John Warden parked his truck at the access and donned his waders. Agreeing to participate in the survey, the high school teacher from Reno, Nev. said he knew about whirling disease and New Zealand mud snails but had never seen a fish with whirling disease. He usually cleaned his boots after fishing.

"By all means," he said when asked if he'd like more information about whirling disease.

Gates started interviewing anglers last fall as a trial run for this summer. Planning to continue next summer, she said she'll start writing up her results in the fall of 2006 and hopes to present them at professional meetings and publish them in scientific journals. In the meantime, she has already learned a thing or two about Montana anglers. For one, they're surprisingly warm and interested in her study. For another, they're highly mobile.

"So many people who have fished here have fished in other places around the country, even around the world fairly recently," Gates said.

Out of 100 anglers interviewed on the Missouri River in preliminary work, one had fished in New Zealand within the previous 30 days. Besides the United States, the anglers came from Austria, Bermuda, Canada, England, Ireland, Italy, and Norway.

Such movements increase the likelihood of spreading aquatic nuisances and disease, Gates said. Researchers, in fact, are wondering if anglers could be the vector for whirling disease. They may carry the microscopic spores between streams if they don't clean and dry their gear properly.

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks is a partner in Gates' research project. The FWP has a similar program, but it requires anglers to participate, Gates said. It involves reservoirs as well as streams and has a boat-washing station. That program is headed by Eileen Ryce, a former graduate student at MSU.

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or