(photo courtesy of gallery.nanfa.org)
This year’s Montana paddlefish seasons will kick off on May 1 with the opening of the Missouri River
The paddlefish snagging season below Fort Peck Dam on the Missouri River and in the Yellowstone River below the mouth of the Bighorn River opens May 15. The archery fishing season for paddlefish in the Fort Peck Dredge Cuts below Fort Peck Dam opens July 1.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks biologists continue to monitor these unique populations and take a conservative approach to managing these long-lived fishes.
Fisheries managers in FWP’s Regions 6 say paddlefish reproduction was good in 2011 following the high water, but biologists will not be able to fully verify this until 2018 — when males mature and spawn for the first time.
The brightest spot for natural reproduction continues to be in the Missouri River section above Fort Peck Dam, where it appears that some limited level of reproduction has occurred in most years.
“Our population models suggest that we are harvesting paddlefish at or near sustainable levels,” said Region 6 Fisheries Manager Steve Dalbey.
Region 7 Fisheries Manager Mike Backes is less optimistic, however.
“We are concerned that nearly all of the fish that are being harvested are from one age class, that being 1995,” Backes said. “Because of that we’ll continue to closely evaluate the current harvest level.”
All paddlefish anglers should obtain a copy of the Montana 2013 paddlefish regulations, which contain specific rules for each of the different seasons and river stretches. There have been no changes in any of the regulations from last year’s rules. Some of the regulation highlights are:
Upper Missouri River
On the upper Missouri River section (upstream from Fort Peck Dam to Fort Benton) the season opens May 1. A white paddlefish tag is required for this stretch of river, and all paddlefish captured must be either tagged and kept or immediately released.
• The fishery will again be managed with a 500-fish harvest target, and the harvest season will close on a 24-hour notice.
• Once the 500-fish target quota is reached, catch-and-release fishing will continue until June 15. Specific fishing hours apply (6 a.m. – 9 p.m., MST), and there is no night snagging allowed.
• Anglers should call the Missouri River Hotline at 406-464-2169 for current information on harvest status.
• Catch-and-release snagging is open May 1 to June 15.
• Anglers are reminded that all catch-and-release paddlefish must be released immediately and may not be gaffed or lifted out of the water.
Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers
The paddlefish season on the Yellowstone River and Missouri River downstream of Fort Peck Dam begins May 15. A yellow paddlefish tag is required for this stretch of river and must be properly placed on the first paddlefish caught on a harvest day.
• The daily fishing hours are 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. (MST). Harvest days are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
• The harvest season will close with 24 hours notice if it appears that the harvest target of 1,000 fish may be reached or exceeded.
• At Intake Fishing Access Site, the harvest season will close immediately when it is estimated the harvest target has been reached.
• Catch-and- release snagging for paddlefish in the Yellowstone River and the Missouri River downstream of Fort Peck Dam is only allowed at Intake Fishing Access Site and on designated catch and release days.
• Catch-and-release days at Intake are Sunday, Monday and Thursday.
• Following the paddlefish harvest closure, catch-and-release snagging will continue only at Intake Fishing Access site for 10 consecutive days following the closure date or through June 30, whichever comes first.
• Anglers can access the Glendive Chamber of Commerce website at http://www.glendivechamber.com. Or call the FWP Region 7 office in Miles City at 406-234-0900 to find the current number of harvested paddlefish at Intake Fishing Access Site.
In the Fort Peck Dredge Cuts area downstream from Fort Peck Dam, a special archery season for paddlefish will be open from July 1 through Aug. 31. A blue paddlefish tag is required for this location.
Other selected paddlefish regulations include:
• An 8/0 maximum hook-size restriction for all river stretches that are open to paddlefishing;
• Only one paddlefish can be harvested per season per angler;
• Special handling and transporting rules apply;
• The color coding on paddlefish tags is: yellow for the Yellowstone River and lower Missouri River; white for the upper Missouri River above Fort Peck Dam; and blue for the Dredge Cuts area below Fort Peck Dam for archery paddlefishing. The appropriate tag is required to fish for paddlefish in each of these river sections, and anglers must choose only one stretch of river to fish;
• All harvested fish must be properly tagged and should be reported to FWP creel clerks working onsite as quickly as possible;
• When a paddlefish is captured and tagged, the fish must be removed from the river by the end of that day (9 p.m. MST).
“Because river conditions and fishing pressure from anglers can change quickly, anglers are advised to check on paddlefish harvest status before they leave home,” Dalbey said. “That one call could save a lot of traveling time just to find the season has already closed or is close to being finished.”
For more on the paddlefish seasons, see the FWP website at fwp.mt.gov under “Fishing” and “Regulations” and “Eastern District” then click on “Paddlefish Regulations” for a pdf file. Or pick up a copy of the 2013 paddlefish pamphlet with all the current regulations at FWP offices or any other license provider.
(Report by Cathy Stewart, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks – Region 7)