Bull trout have always been important to Kalispel families, who specialized in harvesting and processing them for their extremely high food value. Like all salmonids, bull trout have a fleshy adipose fin located between the dorsal fin and the slightly forked caudal fin (tail). Their backs and sides are typically olive-green/brown with small light cream to crimson colored spots. The belly is often pale yellow or white. The pectoral, pelvic, and anal fins have a white leading edge and the dorsal fin lacks markings, appearing opaque.
Historically abundant in the Pend Oreille River, adult bull trout would migrate out of Lake Pend Oreille and then swim into tributary streams to spawn, with the progeny eventually returning to the lake. This migration pattern was, however, eliminated with the construction of Albeni Falls Dam in 1952 just upstream of the Idaho-Washington state-line. The abundance of bull trout is currently very low in the Pend Oreille watershed; they are now listed as “threatened’ under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
Several factors have contributed to their decline in the Pend Oreille River: habitat degradation on the river and within the tributaries; human-made fish passage barriers into tributaries to the Pend Oreille River; non-native fish species introductions and management (eastern brook trout, brown trout, rainbow trout); and the construction and operation of three hydroelectric facilities on the main stem of the Pend Oreille River. Since bull trout are extremely sensitive to environmental disturbance, they are an indicator species for environmental change.
Bull trout and the habitat that historically sustained them are just as important to the Kalispel Tribe today as they once were.