The 2019 paddlefishing season on the Yellowstone and Lower Missouri rivers will start on Wednesday, May 15.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Region 7 Fisheries Manager Mike Backes has no predictions for this season, but he doesn’t expect a fast and furious start based on current river flow projections.
A pulse in river levels typically increases paddlefish migrations, but last season there were such high volumes of water at times – and multiple river pulses due to rain and continuing snowmelt – that fish were much more spread out. As a result, angler participation was also spotty at times, extending the harvest to 15 days before the 1,000-fish harvest target was approached. Compare that to the 2017 season, which was fast and furious and closed in just over three days.
According to 2018 tallies, 714 paddlefish were processed at Intake Fishing Access Site near Glendive, and Backes estimates that another 194 fish were caught elsewhere. That makes for an estimated harvest of 908 fish.
Of the fish processed at Intake, 470 were females (65.8 percent) and 244 were males.
“Approximately one in 10 fish was a small male, potentially from the year 2011,” Backes noted. “Sixty-two fish were reported via the mandatory reporting phone number; of those, 21 had jaw tags, 19 were harvested from the Powder-Yellowstone River confluence, two were from the Tongue-Yellowstone River confluence, and only one was reported from the Missouri River. One tag return came from a fish tagged on the Missouri River upstream of Fort Peck Reservoir.”
Anglers may harvest only one paddlefish per season. As in the past, anglers may only select one area to fish for paddlefish in Montana: Upper Missouri River (White Harvest Tag-1,000 tags available through the drawing), Yellowstone River and Missouri River downstream of Fort Peck Dam (Yellow Harvest Tag-1,000 fish harvest target), and the Fort Peck Dredge Cut archery-only season (Blue Harvest Tag).
Paddlefish anglers reminded of harvest reporting requirement
FWP reminds anglers that anyone harvesting a paddlefish in Montana is required to report it within 48 hours. This is true even if anglers process their own fish. People can meet this requirement by reporting to the processing station at Intake FAS or by calling 1-877-FWP-WILD (1-877-397-9453) or 406-444-0356 or by visiting fwp.mt.gov and clicking on MyFWP. The numbers are also found in the 2019 Montana fishing regulations (page 85) as well as in the paddlefish regulations pamphlet (page 1). Please use these numbers, as FWP recently discovered that the call-in numbers listed on some of the small yellow cards given to anglers purchasing tags were incorrect. FWP encourages Upper Missouri River anglers who were unable to report their paddlefish to report using the correct numbers. All harvested paddlefish reported to the on-site locations on the Upper Missouri or through MyFWP have been submitted and these anglers do not need to re-report their fish.
A harvest report should include the angler tag number, jaw tag number (if present), length (eye-tail fork), sex, date of harvest and harvest location. Instructions for reporting should be included when the paddlefish tag is sold.
Anglers not reporting a harvested paddlefish will not be eligible to purchase a paddlefish tag the following year.
Paddlefish harvest updates can be obtained by calling the Region 7 office at 406-234-0900, or by visiting the Facebook page at Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks – Region 7.
Anglers also should note that paddlefishing (harvest or catch-and-release) is closed in all yellow tag areas, except Intake FAS, on Sunday, Monday and Thursday. Paddlefish harvest days are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday in all yellow tag areas. The season will end June 30 or sooner if the harvest target is approached. For more details, see pages 84-87 of the 2019 fishing regulations.
Upper Missouri River paddlefish season under way
This year’s Montana paddlefish seasons kicked off on May 1 with the opening of the Upper Missouri River section from Fort Benton downstream to Fort Peck Dam.
Anglers need to be aware that substantial flooding occurred around the Fred Robinson Bridge and in James Kipp Recreation Area this spring. As a result, camping will be considered “primitive” for most of the paddlefish season as crews clean up and fix damaged infrastructure. The access road and public boat ramp at the James Kipp Recreation Area is fully operational.
Anglers interested in river flows in the Upper Missouri should use the United States Geological Survey website for information, particularly the Landusky gauging station. The direct link for the USGS Landusky web page is http://waterdata.usgs.gov/usa/nwis/uv?site_no=06115200.
For 2019, a total of 1,000 paddlefish harvest tags were available through a drawing for the Upper Missouri. Successful applicants may harvest a fish anytime during the season, from May 1 through June 15. Those anglers not successful in drawing a harvest tag were issued a “snag and release” license for the Upper Missouri.
Additionally, anglers who did not participate in the tag drawing who want to participate in the snag and release fishery can still purchase an Upper Missouri River Paddlefish Snag and Release License online, at an FWP office, or at any license provider.
The archery fishing season for paddlefish in the Fort Peck Dredge Cuts below Fort Peck Dam opens July 1.