The 2023 yellow tag paddlefishing season on the Yellowstone River and Missouri River downstream of Fort Peck Reservoir starts Monday, May 15. Monday is a designated catch-and-release only day, meaning the only place paddlefishing is allowed May 15 is at Intake Fishing Access Site (FAS). All other areas are closed to paddlefishing on catch-and-release days.
Tuesday and Wednesday, May 16 and 17, will be the first harvest days of the season during which paddlefishing is allowed in all designated areas. Sunday, Monday and Thursday are designated catch-and-release days for paddlefish, and Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday are harvest days. Catch-and-release days restrict paddlefishing to the Intake Fishing Access Site only near Glendive.
The paddlefish season will run from May 15-June 30, unless catch rates approach the 1,000-fish harvest cap and trigger an earlier closure.
A free paddlefish cleaning service will be provided and funded by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks at the Intake FAS for the first five weeks of the season.
There is one regulation change to note this season. The entire length of the newly constructed two-mile-long Intake Bypass Channel is closed to paddlefishing. This new regulation was adopted after printing of the 2023 fishing regs booklet and is not listed. The bypass channel will remain open for passage of boats and angling for other fish species.
Prior to construction of the bypass channel, fish migrating upstream to spawn would concentrate below Intake Diversion Dam and draw large crowds of anglers. But the new bypass could shift those historic patterns and more widely disperse paddlefish upstream.
High, turbid river flows trigger paddlefish to migrate, and area rivers are already on the rise. According to FWP Region 7 Fisheries Manager Mike Backes, river flows are predicted to increase modestly next week at Sidney. Flows on May 9 approached 20,000 cubic feet per second, which is generally adequate to stimulate a few fish to migrate upstream. Similar conditions are projected for opening week. Based on that, Backes anticipates that most angler success will come from downstream locations (Sidney Bridge-Richland Park-State Line), as the concentrations of fish will be higher in these locations. He expects fish densities will be low at Intake and upstream locations until river flows exceed 20,000 cfs.
“I do expect a few lucky anglers will find a paddlefish or two anywhere between Miles City and Intake the first harvest day, May 16, and certainly by the first weekend of paddlefish season Friday, May 19 and Saturday, May 20,” Backes said.
Paddlefish anglers are subject to mandatory harvest reporting within 48 hours via the phone hotline, MyFWP, angler check stations, or self-reporting boxes (Sidney Bridge and near Powder River Hwy 10 Bridge).
Harvest data and updates will be available on the Region 7 Facebook site at Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks – Region 7. Daily updates may not be practical until nearing the harvest cap, but anglers can expect weekly updates.