By Montana Grant

Posted: November 10, 2019

The Madison River issue has floated to the surface again. The challenge is how to balance this wonderful resource and the extreme fishing pressure. Since the public commission failed to come to any agreement, nothing has changed. The fishery is at a “tipping point”, fishing pressure has increased, and no one agrees on any solution.

Outdoor places belong to all of us. No sport, or impact, are any more, or less, important than another. Fly fishermen are no more special than spin fishermen, or floaters, or… You get my point. The trick is to balance it all.

The wellness and health of this wonderful resource is paramount! Choices and decisions must first focus on the ecosystem, and watershed. Without this resource, everything else is just lip service.

Local organizations are dug in and will not budge. Each has filed a petition to present their solution.


The Madison River Foundation   This petitioner wants to” put the health of the river before the interest of outfitters.” They want the experts, and biologists, to make the choices based on the Science.

The George Grant Trout Unlimited group   This coalition of folks does not want to limit access but promotes closure, or restricted areas, exclusively for wading fishermen. They want two wading only sections to be created, and cap the number of outfitters, and bar guides from certain stretches on certain days. Quake Lake to Lyons bridge, and Ennis to Ennis Lake would become wade only areas.

FOAM, the Fishing Outfitters Association of Montana     Their petition proposes a third and “the fourth option”. They want to cap the number of outfitters, ask FWP to create a River Ambassador program, and investigate acquiring additional bank easements for wading fishermen. Additional regulations would need to be created, as needed. They do not support regulating any guide days or changing wade only areas. Instead, they want to implement a complex ‘tiered permitting system and an overall cap on the number of guide days. An educational program is also encouraged for all anglers. FOAM does not have the full backing of the outfitting industry.

MOGA, the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association   Did not file a petition. They disagree with the FOAM plan and want Outfitters and Guides to be responsible for writing regulations, as they decide when it is needed. They feel the FOAM plan helps small outfitters to grow but restricts the larger ones.

In the end, the Madison River management seems to be more about a net full of money than a net full of trout! Considering the money associated with over 200,000 angler days a year, 231 active outfitters, over 12,000 guided trips a year, and the shuttling, lunches, fuel, and other supporting industry, trout end up at the bottom of the discussion.

Letting the industry regulate itself creates too much power for a few groups. Finding consensus is a huge challenge. The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission needs to set the rules based on the Science. The simple fact is that extreme pressure impacts the fishery. This has happened across the country, and will happen here as well. The Madison River is still recovering from the Whirling Disease mess in the 90’s. No one is talking about water flows, out of state guide pressure, conservation, or Ecology. Fishing is no way as good as it once was. Hook scarred fish, mortality, and stress on the fish are increasing. Just visit the Lyons Bridge access site when the Salmon fly hatch explodes. The lower Madison is cram jammed with tubers during the most stressful part of the summer. Without a healthy fishery, the rest of the industry is screwed.

The good news is that everyone feels that we need to protect the fishery and better manage the Madison River.

Time to change what flies!

Montana Grant

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