By Montana Grant

Posted: June 6, 2020

Currently, the Madison River is high and off color, The West Fork of the Madison River is flooding the watershed with mud and snowmelt. Above the West Fork, the river is high and cold. Fishing below Hegben Dam is a good bet but can be dangerous wading for and expert. As I traveled the rest of the Madison watershed, to its origin at Madison Junction, I saw zero fishermen!

MT FWP will soon post their recommendations for reducing fishing pressure on the Madison River, below Hegben Dam. These proposals are needed and late in coming. Like it or not, our wonderful Madison River is being loved to death!

Outfitter, shuttle, and Guide groups are already outraged, at the potential new proposals, and arguing against any type of regulations. Their anger is increasing even before any written information is available. Currently, more than 200 outfitters operate on the river. Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana outfitters promote the river. The town of Ennis is also upset at potential regulations. There are also the locals that enjoy this public fishery.

Everyone may not get everything. Their 52-page proposal will address many options suggested by many groups. This plan to ease crowding will be presented to the MT Fish and Wildlife Commission next week. The commission will vote on regulations that would go into effect in 2021.

Groups that do not want any regulations, are saying that due to the Covid19 virus, this is not the time to restrict or regulate. Others want action now. It’s been more than 2 years since the MT FWP has been trying to improve and save the Madison River from overcrowding and fishery protections. With annual fishing days of over 200,000, and growing, becoming the new norm, the fishery is under pressure. When is the right time?

Surveys and Science support that a change is needed to protect the fishery. Currently, the proposed new law would use the 2019 data as the line to cross. This line is already above a healthy limit for the fishery. We need to allow the Science to determine what’s best for the fishery.

Two sections of the river would ban boats, in the new proposal. Hegben Dam to Lyons, and Ennis to Ennis Lake, between June 15th and Sept. 30, would be closed to boat traffic. Both are restricted now. This means no boats or raft, especially in the Raynold’s Pass area down to Lyons Bridge.

Free Madison River Stamps would be required to use the rest of the river. Fishing reports, catch rates, and trip info. would be gathered. Don’t forget that the shuttle companies also enjoy a huge market. Moving trucks and boat trailers to take out public fishing accesses is a huge opportunity. Maybe some data could also come from them to see which sections of the river get the most pressure and when.

Changes to the Lower Madison are not obvious. The issue of huge floater crowds that swim, tube, and party between Warm Springs and Blacks Ford are not yet surfacing. Greycliff Fishing Access would be restricted to development. Keeping this section of the river “primitive” is the goal.

Any experienced outfitter, guide, or fisherman that has seen the decline in fishing along the Madison, must admit that something needs to change. If you haven’t, then you are sticking your head in a gopher hole. Let’s work together with the FWP to protect and preserve this amazing fishery. The river belongs to everyone.

Mad Love is the Best!

Montana Grant

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