FWP hears comments on limiting outfitter traffic in upper Bitterroot

Source: NBC Montana
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Kevin Maki

HAMILTON, Mont. – Anglers weighed in on proposed changes that would limit commercial use of the upper Bitterroot River and the West Fork at a hearing Tuesday evening in Hamilton.

The hearing attracted a sizable crowd.

A citizen advisory committee made up of various groups, including outfitters and noncommercial anglers, made recommendations after complaints that outfitters and guides were crowding the river.

Fishing and floating operators would need permits between Painted Rocks Dam and Wally Crawford Fishing Access. That’s a span of more than 30 miles.

Permit holders would be restricted from floating certain sections of the river on certain days,

Some outfitters said the proposed regulations would dissuade customers from coming to the Bitterroot and would hamper what they say pumps millions of dollars into the local economy.

Supporters of the proposed changes said many local anglers aren’t fishing the upper Bitterroot and West Fork anymore because commercial floaters are crowding the waters.

“If you have completely unlimited growth,” said Bitterroot Trout Unlimited’s Dave Campbell, “then pretty soon people are going to say, as Yogi Berra famously said, ‘Nobody goes there anymore.’ It’s too crowded.”

Campbell said part of an angler’s “fishing experience” is the “tranquility” of being alone on the water.

But outfitter Jed Fitzpatrick said, “These restrictions become a thorn in our side, and it’s one more thing that we have to deal. Already as an operator I pay hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to operate as an outfitter.”

Fitzpatrick said local outfitters and guides, plus their clients, play an important role in the Bitterroot’s economy, not just in businesses involving fishing, but also in hotels, restaurants and retail.

A Fish, Wildlife and Parks environmental assessment is available for public input.

Another public hearing on the proposed changes will be held in Butte on Oct. 10.

Public comment ends Oct. 13.

The Fish, Wildlife and Parks commission will issue a final decision on the proposed changes in December.