By Montana Grant

Posted: July 3, 2022

Montana officials are continuing to develop management and user standards for the Madison River. Currently, the rivers continue to be pounded. Last Friday, I drove from Belgrade to Ennis. The section of the Madison River from Warm Springs to Blacks Ford had nearly 50 fishing boats and rafts. 8 out of 10 were guided trips. The water was cooler and clearer in the morning. Salmon flies were also active. When I returned in the afternoon only 20 or so boats remained, and the water was again off color from the snowmelt.

Our premier waters are being over fished. The once quality fishing experience has been lost. Now you must fish in a fleet of boats or crowds along the banks. Hook scarred; lipless, one-eyed trout are the new normal. For many of the non-resident anglers, the Montana experience is exceptional because many come from polluted and even more crowded and neglected waters. Anything is better than their abused, crowded, and damaged home waters. 

Not all groups see the Madison River issue the same. For shuttle companies, state licensing, taxes, trout shops, Outfitters and Guides, the fiscal value takes priority. For Conservation groups, the environmental needs are most important. For the fishery Biologists, the fish are important. For the fishermen, it’s about having the freedom and resource to fish. Each groups wants and needs do not flow together. There needs to be positive consensus to protect the fish. 

The new rules and limits are about to be released for a required 28-day public review. Hopefully there will be some real protections for the fish. Perhaps training and education for guides and anglers are needed. Guides could be the best answer to ensure proper Catch and Release along with ethical, sporting, and healthy fishing and education. Some of the issues relate to capping trips for outfitters and guides. The limits would be set at trip numbers from 2019-2020. These years broke records for fishing pressure and may need to be lowered.

Commissioner Pat Byworth supports taking leadership on this long and drawn-out process. While the Commission continues to extend, delay, and review, the problem is only getting worse. Last year’s dam failure wiped out an entire year class of trout, especially the fall spawning browns. Survival of mature fish is also poor. Poor Catch and Release skills is taking their toll. This Springs high flows also stressed the fish population, while fishing pressure continues to break records. 

Commissioner Byworth believes that” everything is not fine with this fishery. It is time for the Commission to take initiative and leadership.”

Other Commissioners are in no hurry to tackle this issue. Commissioner Tabor says that “I am in no hurry to do something this monumental!” This process has been dragging along for years. When some ideas surface, there are immediate repercussions that create controversy.

It is time to focus on the fish. Without them, everything else dries up.

Montana Grant


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