There’s Controversy Swimming around 2020 Proposed Fishing Regs
By angelamontana

Posted: September 6, 2019

Neal Cote of Bob Ward’s Sports and Outdoors in Missoula is part of our Catchin the Big Ones and Hunters’ Breakfast crew on Friday mornings at 8:00am (aired live from Paradise Falls).  If there’s one thing Cote knows, it’s fishing.  Okay, if there are two things he knows, they are fishing and hunting.  As you may have heard this morning on Hunters’ Breakfast this morning, Cote is very particular about the bucks he goes after.  He scouts for a certain buck and will only take the one he is after–if he doesn’t get it, then he doesn’t get it–however, does are a different story.  That’s pretty cool in itself and takes a lot of time and patience.  Well, patience is not something Neal has in regard to the proposed fishing regulations for 2020, and YOU (the general public) are running out of time to submit your comments on these proposed regulations.  The deadline to comment is September 15th, and if you fish in Montana, you should have something to say.  But, what issues does Neal have with these proposed regulations?  Let him tell you here:

If you get a chance, please go on to the FWP website and take the survey about the proposed fishing regulation changes. The changes were shown to only 849 Respondents and 32 Letters and e-mails this spring. As you review these proposed changes, make note of the percentages of those for and opposing these. The changes to Bass regulations in general and on specific waters targeting Smallmouth Bass are pretty radical. A lot of these changes are in response to Smallmouth Bass being illegally introduced over the last five to fifteen plus years. Apparently Smallmouth Bass are the new villain, taking center stage from Walleye and Northern Pike. There are several changes that are actually great ideas, but……

I am all for streamlining regulations to make them easier to read and easier to follow in the field. Educating the public and making them better at fish identification should be a priority.  Just like the “No Black, Put it Back” was and still is for Bull Trout. 

That being said, as you read these proposals, it seems that FWP feels people can’t tell the differences between Large and Smallmouth Bass, so FWP has decided to lump both together and pretty much turn their back on 30 plus years of actively managing Largemouth Bass. Even going as far as allowing Spearing for Smallmouths on Seeley Lake. 

As you read further you will see fishing closures for Northern Pike on the Flathead River from Kalispell to Flathead Lake. Pike fishing would be closed from February 28 to the third Saturday in May. This is to protect accidental catches of Bull Trout, which makes sense on paper, but then allows Northern Pike protection for over 100 days each year?  FWP has lead us to believe that Northern Pike were a huge Predator and would destroy the Native Westslope Cutthrout and Bull Trout…..So we are now protecting the Pike just to make sure that a small number of Bull Trout are protected? Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big Pike Fan so I’m all for this regulation and think that we should implement it on the Clarkfork and Bitterroot rivers as well!!!

Then there are the single hook rules for the North, Middle and South forks of the Flathead river….because 43% of Cutthroat over 12 inches show scarring due to catch and release fishing.  Here is a quote from the proposed change: “This is an indication that fish are caught and released repeatedly. Estimates show angling pressure is steadily increasing. Westslope Cutthroat Trout populations are relatively low density (300-500 total fish per mile, 30-60 Cutthroat Trout greater than 12 inches per mile) and the high incidents of multiple catch-and-release events per fish could be leading to increased mortality. Restricting gear to single-pointed hooks only is expected to reduce handling stress and hook-related injury to Westslope Cutthroat Trout and Bull Trout. This proposal provides the greatest amount of protection with the least impactful amount of regulation. This regulation does not limit any particular angling opportunity but potentially reduces handling stress of sensitive fish species.” Not to point out the obvious, but pressure and increased angling pressure look to be the bigger causal of scarred fish and might be addressed differently.

And last, but not least is that Lake Mary Ronan Bass fall under this same change, as well as a complete kill order on Northern Pike. So where was this idea when Yellow Perch showed up in the 90’s? There are several others that I am not going to get into.

All I’m really saying is get on and look at the proposed changes, take the survey, let the FWP know how you feel about these changes, because it might make fishing better in the future. Don’t let 849 people make that decision for you.

CLICK HERE to review all of the proposed regulations for 2020 and comment (via take the online survey) BEFORE September 15th.