Montana proposes rules limiting fishing guides on Madison River

News Type: State Source: Bozeman Daily Chronicle
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Montana officials want to limit outfitter use on the Madison River to deal with increased fishing pressure on the famous stream.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks released a draft Madison River recreation plan Tuesday that would cap the number of outfitters and limit the number of guided trips outfitters can send out each day. It would also ban commercial guiding on the river’s lowermost stretch and prohibit commercial guides from certain stretches on certain days.

The proposal comes after years of growth in angler numbers on the Madison. FWP’s draft environmental assessment said the agency counted 179,000 angler days on the river last year. It also said commercial outfitter use has increased by 72 percent since 2008.

Travis Horton, FWP’s regional fisheries manager, said unchecked growth in angler numbers could eventually harm fish populations.

“We know there’s a threshold somewhere where there’s going to be population level effects, but we just don’t know where,” Horton said.

Joe Dilschneider, owner of the Ennis fly shops Madison River Fishing Company and Trout Stalkers, said he’s worried the plan will harm his business and won’t do anything to reduce crowding.

“I think there will be a lot of unintended consequences that come from this,” Dilshneider said. “It’s definitely going to create a lot of headaches for me.”

The plan is far from final approval and would not go into effect until 2019. FWP will propose the plan to the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission next week, which will decide whether to open public comment on it.

Similar plans are already in place elsewhere, including on the Beaverhead and Big Hole rivers. The Madison proposal comes five years after a citizen advisory committee recommended increased monitoring of the river. The committee didn’t propose any limits on commercial use.

The tentative plan caps the number of commercial outfitters at 213, the number of active permit holders in 2017. It also breaks the Madison into seven sections and proposes closing one section to commercial guiding each day of the week.

Outfitters would be subjected to limits on the number of trips they can run each day. The limits were based on the number of trips run in past years, and Horton said few outfitters regularly exceed them.

On the floatable section of the upper river — roughly 37 river miles from Lyons Bridge to Ennis — an outfitter would be limited to 10 boats per day from June 16 through Sept. 30. During the rest of the year, an outfitter would be limited to five boats per day.

The limit between Warm Springs and Greycliff, on the lower river, would also be five boats.

In the two sections of the upper river where fishing from a boat is prohibited, an outfitter would be limited to three trips per day. Those sections are from Quake Lake to Lyons Bridge and from Ennis Bridge to Ennis Lake. The new plan would also ban the use of boats and float tubes for angling in both sections altogether — meaning anglers couldn’t use a boat to access a spot for wade fishing.

The plan would ban guiding from Greycliff Fishing Access Site to the Madison’s confluence with the Jefferson River, near Three Forks. FWP’s release said that’s meant to preserve the “primitive nature of this unique reach.”

Dilschneider said the plan seems rushed and “out of touch with reality of how things work on the river.” He said closing one section a day will create problems for scheduling guide trips and will likely increase crowding on the other sections. He also worries the plan will have broader economic impacts.

“It’s going to have a negative impact not only on my business but I think on the community of Ennis and the broader community that really depends on the Madison,” he said. “I’m scared about it.”

Brian Ohs, of Montana Trout Unlimited, declined to comment on the plan, saying he was still reviewing it.

John Juracek, a well-known angler and former owner of Blue Ribbon Flies in West Yellowstone, said the plan is long overdue.

“Let’s face it: The Madison River is a busy river. It’s time for a recreation plan down there,” Juracek said.