fly fishing the Madison River, Montana
Al's Point of View

It’s “Getting Western” on Montana’s Madison River

Several years ago (?4) a commission was appointed by the state to study the increasingly popular and crowded Madison River in Montana. The picture below was recently posted by the Trout Stalkers Fly Shop in Ennis.

getting western on Montana's Madison River

There have been reports of conflicts at access sites, and between wading fly fishers and boaters. In addition, there is concern that the increased fishing pressure might be harming the fishery. Indeed, a fish-count done 2 years ago revealed that the fish population was reduced roughly 50% from the most recent twenty-year average (see Is Montana’s Madison River Being Fished to Death?). The biannual fish count is due to be done this summer (2021). Why the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), having seen a 50% change in fish numbers, didn’t do a count last year is puzzling.

After two years of study, the commission released a report with recommendations for public comment. The recommendations were similar to those previously implemented on two other busy Montana rivers, the Beaverhead and Big Hole. Among the recommendations was a cap on the growth of outfitters, and creation of fish sanctuaries (no fishing zones). Absent were any recommendations regarding the “wade-only” portions of the river.

Pushback was both swift and harsh from outfitters and other commercial interests reliant upon the fishery’s tourism. Locals were also upset that the crowded wade-only sections were not addressed. Many, myself included, have stopped fishing the Madison River in the summer months due to the large crowds of fly fishers present on a daily basis.

In response to the feedback, the report and its recommendations were tabled, with no actions taken. After a year, a new commission has been appointed to restudy the river and its fishery. A new report is due in two years, 2023.

Last week, to borrow a western phrase, things “Turned Western” on the Madison River. An apparently frustrated local or locals, took some action of their own. The tires of 15 out of state vehicles parked at FWP access sites were slashed.

The Madison River fishery is in trouble, due both to reduced fish numbers and frustrated anglers. Surely it should not take another 2-3 years to study and perhaps implement measures to save it. If nothing is done, the fishery is likely to decline further, and anglers will stop coming to fish it. In the interim, one can only hope that the recent streamside violence does not escalate further.

written by Al Simpson, August, 2021.

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