The Stream Doctor

November 24th, 2003

Email YOUR Questions directly to the Stream Doctor. This is your opportunity to get an experts professional opinion on anything stream related.

Q. From Mtroutflys: We have all heard how whirling disease is killing trout. What I want to know is what steps are being taken to cure and control this disease? Do you feel that it can be controlled, and if so, how long will it take for this disease to be wiped out?

What effects does whirling disease have on other fish such as smallmouth bass?

A. I'll try to handle these in order, but first of all you should know that I am not an authority on whirling disease and probably don't know much more than many anglers who have read the articles in Trout, various state outdoor magazines, and the like. Even though I don't have all the answers, I think I can lead you to where you can find out more about whirling disease than you probably want! First let me try to respond to your queries in order.

What steps are being taken to cure and control this disease? As I understand it, there are several approaches being taken by various state agencies and these are related to the severity of the infection in their waters, how they perceive the potential impact, and other factors. Some states whose hatchery facilities are pretty widely infected are trying not to plant these fish in uncontaminated waters to prevent spreading the disease. Everybody is reminding anglers to wash the mud off of their boots, boats, and other gear to prevent possible transportation of the worms from an infected body of water to an uninfected one. I'm not sure what efforts are being taken to find a "cure," but this is likely to be a difficult and long-term proposal.

Do I think it can be controlled? I'm pessimistic because of the fact that both the tubifex worm and the parasite itself are already so widely spread that control will indeed be difficult. More realistically, its spread and impact can be lessened. I read sometime ago in the FFF's Fly Fisher that Montana is pursuing a program to repopulate the Madison River with westslope cutthroats to replace the rainbows lost to whirling disease. Cutthroats and browns are less susceptible to the disease.

Does it affect other fish? No, it appears to affect only salmonids.

Now that I've given you a lot of equivocal answers that probably won't satisfy you, let me suggest something that I hope will. Below are three URL addresses that contain tons of information on whirling disease, even including maps showing where tubifex has been identified. They are:

I hope you can find everything you need to know here. Also, read the article on whirling disease in Trout (Spring 1995, Vol. 36, No. 2; there's another article in that issue, but modesty keeps me from telling you who wrote it!).

If you have a question, please feel free to contact me.
~ C. E. (Bert) Cushing, aka Streamdoctor
105 W. Cherokee Dr.
Estes Park, CO 80517
Phone: 970-577-1584

The 'Stream Doctor' is a retired professional stream ecologist and author, now living in the West and spending way too much time fly-fishing. You are invited to submit questions relating to anything stream related directly to him for use in this Q & A Feature at

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