MADISON RIVER AMBASSADORS!!!
By Montana Grant

Posted: November 28, 2021

Members of the Madison River Work Group have proposed an Ambassador Program for the fishing access sites along the uncomfortably crowded Madison River. These paid, FWP trained folks would “help best practices, launch, and provide a presence” at select access sites.

The MT FWP has already proposed funding for this program. Outfitter Dave Kumlein has proposed spearheaded this idea. It is good to see that something is being done to address the major challenges for the overfished and crowded Madison River.

This Ambassador Program is like the one being used in Missoula along the Clark Fork River. These programs are required to “improve infrastructure, traffic, congestion, and poor behavior”. The Madison River Foundation has also shown interest in the program.

The Madison River Fishery needs a “robust well thought out recreation plan” to help manage and protect this fishery. Ambassadors would serve as one part of this plan. Targeted access sites would include Lyons Bridge, Varney, and Ennis fishing access sites.

Fishing pressure along the river has dramatically increased in the past 5 years. In 1989, the Madison boasted 118,000 angler days of pressure. In 2019, 264,000 angler days were recorded. Since the Pandemic, out of work nonresident anglers have flooded the fishery exceeding 300,000 angler days.

Local towns are experiencing a huge population growth as more people are moving into southwest Montana. There is also an increase in outfitters, fishing shops, and interest in fly fishing. Good luck is needed to catch a fish without hook scars from previous Catch and Release incidents. Many fish lack lips, operculum, scales, and eyes. Improper handling, overplaying the fish, extended cell phone photo sessions, and incorrect nets, dull hooks, lack of forceps, and other poor incorrect Catch and Release skills are evident.

So, what would these “Ambassadors “do?

Do Ambassadors have any Legal Authority to enforce rules and regulations?

Would Ambassadors also address the busloads Summer Tubers that float the river for fun and fill the access sites.

Would Ambassadors launch boats? Many recreational boat owners can’t back up a boat trailer efficiently.

Would Ambassadors break up fights, pick trash, and be hosts?

Would Ambassadors serve as Traffic Cops and enforce rules and regulations?

How do Ambassadors help the crowded, over fished, and stressed fishery?

                Streamlining boat launching simply adds more boats onto the river.

More boats, means more fishermen, means more impact to the fishery.

More crowds mean more poor behavior, congestion, litter, overuse, and traffic.

Some thoughts and ideas that have also been suggested by fishermen I have talked with are.

Create/ require education programs that train anglers on proper Catch and Release skills.

                Create regulations that protect the fish, not just the Fishing Accesses, and fishermen. Enforce these rules. Identify the Fishing Carrying Capacity and enforce it. Guides and Outfitters could be the best trained, experienced, and ethical mentors and teachers to control and protect the fishery.

Make the upper Madison Fly Fishing only.

Close all upper Madison Access sites to overnight camping. The Raynold’s Pass site gets packed, and pounds that area’s fishing, during the summer.

Make some sections of the river walk/wade only.

                Require recreation fees for Tubers and non-fishing boaters to maintain and manage access sites.

                Create a Catch Limit. Once fishermen have caught this limit, say 10 fish per day, twice a possession limit, rods are put away. This would promote shorter drifts.

                Nonresident anglers would be required to use a guide.

                Montana Guides would be required along the Madison River. No out of state guide trips. This would restrict the parades of guide trips coming from Idaho, Wyoming, and …

The challenges for the future of the Madison River are complex. Choices and challenges need to focus more on the health and wellness of the fishery than the fishermen or fiscal rewards. Once the fishery is of the quality it once was, then we can properly deal with how to keep that standard in place.

Ambassadors would certainly be welcome to “Provide a Presence” that ensures education, regulation management, and stewardship of this once amazing resource.

Honestly, ALL FISHERMEN, need to always be, Ambassadors along every watershed.

Montana Grant