Madison River Regulation Changes in the air

Statewide, there are fishing regulation changes that are coming down the pipe and frankly, I don’t really care for all of them.  I will not go into any other regulation changes other than those here on the Madison River.  First off, I am not a fisheries biologist, however, the amount of time I have spent on river over the past 23 years of my life as an angler, guide and outfitter gives me some insight on the topic.

Throughout the Rocky Mountain West, fishery managers are on a path to “simplify” regulations.  Folks, if you can read, then you can follow the regulations as they stand right now.  Ever try to draw an hunting tag in the West?  Wading through those regulations takes time, energy and a complete understanding of entire mountain ranges that are broken apart into zones – it gets confusing to say the least.  These “proposed”  fishing regulation changes are a huge swing in the other direction from what we’ve had for a VERY long time.

Why is this?  There are many rivers in the State of Montana that are open year round (the Missouri and the Big Horn to name two notable ones) and fishing these rivers in the spring has not lead to a downfall in fish populations.  However, these rivers are busy places and getting busier all the time – especially the Missouri.  The Madison is the busiest river in the State, period. Opening it up year round will put more pressure on the fish at a time period when they are vulnerable.  I can tell you that as soon as the river is open, more anglers will come here to fish.  Will it hurt the fishery?  That remains to be seen and fisheries biologists will tell you that no, it does not hurt the fishery to fish over spawning fish.  This is where ethics comes in to play a part.  Personally, I don’t fish directly over redds (spawning nests) as I have an overwhelming feeling to leave them alone.  However, I do fish and guide rivers in the springtime and it can be difficult to avoid the redds – in some rivers redds are almost everywhere.  Avoiding the shallow gravel bars and the shallow channels is a solid choice in the months of April, May and early June.  The Madison is a shallow river and a majority of the trout spawn in the river itself.  Do we need more anglers walking on redds and hooking spawning trout?  Will that have a negative impact for the years to come?  I want to say yes, but I can’t say that it will either.  In my opinion, the Madison River needs a break during the springtime.

Below, in black ink, is what’s in store for the Madison River.  I would suggest that most of these changes will happen.  In my experience, once FWP gets this far, it’s imminent.  Your comments matter though, so speak up.  What’s alarming, is that hardly anyone knows about it and not many of us have heard a word about this from FWP.  Just this morning, the outfitters on the river received a note about the proposed changes and now that the public meetings have come and gone, all we can do it write in our comments or make a phone call.  There was not a public meeting in West Yellowstone or Ennis.

MADISON RIVER

Yellowstone National Park boundary to Hebgen Reservoir
• Catch-and-Release for rainbow trout, except anglers 14 years of age and younger may take 1 rainbow trout daily and in possession, any size.
• Combined Trout: 5 brown trout daily and in possession, only 1 over 18 inches. 

Hebgen Dam to Ennis Reservoir
• Artificial lures only.
• Combined Trout: 1 Daily and in possession, any size. .

Quake Lake outlet to Lyons Bridge
• Closed to fishing from boats/vessels

Ennis Bridge to Ennis Lake
• Closed to fishing from boats/vessels

Ennis Dam to the mouth

• Northern Pike: No limit.
RATIONALE: These regulation changes greatly simplify the Madison River fishing regulations.

What’s changed you ask?  Well, quite a bit.

For as along as I can remember the Madison from Quake’s out flow to Mac has been open from the 3rd Saturday in May till the end of February.   That was to protect spawning trout.  If these reg changes happen, then the entire river from Hebgen Dam to Ennis Lake will be open year round.

As it stands right now, anglers can fish bait from Hebgen Dam through Quake Lake. This is a change I can get behind.  I have no problems with anglers who like to fish bait, by all means, go right ahead.  But this is a gem of a river and fishing bait normally means you’re gonna keep the fish.  This leads to the next proposed change.  Anglers inbetween the lakes will no longer be able to keep 5 trout per day, per person.  I hardly ever notice anglers keeping fish except for the spring time inbetween the lakes.  This stretch of river is plum full of spawning trout in the spring time and I have seen, on more than one occasion, stringers full of big rainbows which are full of eggs.  Hopefully they do get eaten and not freezer burned.  In the past ten years, I have hardly wet a line in between the lakes during the spawn….for me, it’s a choice to leave the rainbows alone.

The final proposed change is anglers will now be able to keep 1 fish per day per person on the entire river. For what seems like an eternity, the Madison River has largely been a catch and release fishery.  My personal beliefs are that a trout is worth catching more than just one time.  Catch and release angling does in fact kill fish.  Like it or not, those of us who put em’ back actually kill a percentage of the fish.  A barbless hook regulation would help with this as barbed hook extraction take much longer than a barbless hook.   If a fish is out of the water for a couple minutes while an angler extracts a barbed hook, the fish may swim off, but will probably die a short time later.  Fish barbless folks!

So….make those comments to:  fwpfish@mt.gov    The comment period is open till September 12th, 2015.
Click here for an article on the reg changes and to read a little more about it.  I called and talked with Joel Tohtz this morning for over an hour to express my thoughts.  You can too:  406 444 1230.  Joel is the Fisheries Management Bureau Chief for Montana.


Something else for you to ponder…..

Since 2008 Hebgen Dam has not been functioning.  Hot water has been running right off the top of the lake and into the river all summer long.  Water temps have been way too high during the summer months which was not the case prior to the debacle at Hebgen Dam.  There have been quite a few years where we have seen fish die in the river due to warm water temperatures.  Are rainbows more susceptible to warm water than brown trout?  Yep, they are.  Most of us thought we would see a Hoot Owl closure on the upper Madison River this summer (and past summers) – that did not happen. Most of us altered our fishing hours accordingly to not stress out fish even more.  If you read this site very often, I have been outspoken about Hebgen Dam.  I believe the river needs a couple years, if not more, to see how things (insects and trout) react to a properly functioning, bottom draw dam before we get a sweeping regulation change like the proposal facing us right now.  The Madison will not change overnight with respect to insect hatches and trout behavior.  At this point, the water is coming from around 17 feet below the surface…better late than never.  By November, hopefully, the river be drawing from 37 feet (or around there) below the surface.  Will the hatches go back to the way they were?  Will the consistent fishing on the Madison return?  I say yes…but all in due time.  Why not wait for a couple years to see what happens with the river before we change the regulations?






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