Madison River File

Anglers pause on the upper Madison River on Aug. 1.

Montana officials have put out for public review a suite of potential regulations for one of the state’s busiest rivers.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks released this week an online survey on ways to deal with the Madison River, which set a state record in 2017 with 207,000 angler days.

The survey asks people to rate alternatives meant to address four issues: commercial fishing outfitters, social conflict and angler use on the upper river, and recreation on the lower river. The survey also wants respondents to weigh the importance of maintaining a healthy and sustainable fishery and the economic benefits of recreation on the river.

“It’s taken a long time and a lot of work to get to this point where we can officially collect input on our next steps,” FWP director Martha Williams said in a news release. “People are passionate about the Madison River, and we know it’s important for us to consider all interests in moving forward. We’re committed to doing just that.”

The public will have until Jan. 6 to take the survey.

FWP put this survey out two weeks after the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission rejected three petitions from different groups trying to force action on the river. FWP will review the survey results, write a proposal for the river and bring it to the commission in early 2020. The release said that’s scheduled for February.

If the commission approves the plan, it would go out for public comment, opening a lengthy administrative process. It’s possible some regulatory proposals could take effect next year, but any full recreation plan would likely not take effect until 2021, according to FWP officials.

It’s the latest attempt by the state to make something happen on the river, a fly-fishing destination that draws people from all over the world and fuels the economy of Ennis. The river has seen significant increases in angler use over the last several years, which FWP officials say has led to more social conflict.

This effort comes more than a year-and-a-half after the commission torpedoed FWP’s original recreation plan for the river and months after a citizen committee failed to reach consensus on a regulatory proposal.

The survey offers a few different options for managing guided fishing, which nearly doubled from 2008 to 2018. It asks respondents to rate different options — like capping the number of outfitters, or capping the number of trips, or reducing the number of trips overall.

On the congestion front, respondents are asked about two ideas people watching this process have seen before — prohibiting guided fishing on certain river sections on certain days and banning boats in the river’s two wade-fishing only sections.

That section also asks for input on the ideas of FWP hiring people to direct traffic at boat launches and or limiting boat launches to a certain time of day.

For limiting use overall on the upper river — from Quake Lake to Ennis Lake — the survey asks about capping the number of noncommercial river users, requiring anglers to buy a Madison River stamp and keeping non-residents off specific river stretches on certain days.

As for the lower river, the section downstream of Ennis Lake, the survey asks about banning commercial use of the river downstream of Greycliff Fishing Access Site, an option that was included in FWP’s original proposal. The survey also asks about preserving that stretch’s “primitive” nature.

And, in each of the four areas, the survey offers the option of doing nothing — keeping the status quo by avoiding any new limits or restrictions.

The survey can be found at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/RDWKFXW.

Michael Wright can be reached at mwright@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2638.