Madison River File

Longtime friends Larry VonWald, Wyatt Deitrich and George Goodell walk single file down a path to fish the Madison River on Wendesay, Oct. 21, 2020. The three were visiting Montana on a 10-day fishing trip, the same trip they have taken every year for the past 25 years.

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Montana officials are planning a meeting next month to hear public input on an idea to delay a cap on guided fishing trips on the Madison River.

The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission is scheduled to host a virtual public hearing May 13 on pushing the start of a commercial use cap on the river from 2022 to 2023. The commission plans to take public comment during the hearing and written comments can be mailed or emailed to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. 

After the hearing, the delay question will go back to the commission for a final vote. That vote is expected in June.

Capping guided fishing is meant to help ease crowding on the world famous stream, which has long been one of Montana's busiest. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks counted about 173,000 angler days on the river in 2019. A count from 2017 topped 200,000.

Attempts to regulate use of river have been sputtering about since 2018, when FWP proposed a plan limiting guides and outfitters. That plan was ultimately tanked, and progress toward some sort of regulation moved forward in stops and starts until last fall, when the commission OK'd a plan that involved gathering more data on noncommercial river use and setting up a working group for the river in addition to capping guided trips.

The cap on commercial use would limit an outfitter to the number of guided trips they recorded in either 2019 or 2020 — whichever is higher for the outfitter. It was set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2022. 

Opponents of the change said it wasn't time to delay the cap and that doing so would create uncertainty for business owners who have been watching the regulation-setting process for three years. 

But supporters said the delay will help give more time for the new Madison River Work Group to get settled. 

The work group will develop recommendations for how to apply the new rules on the Madison. It will be made up of 12 people, including outfitters and some members with business interests not connected to outfitting. It will also include some non-commercial river users.

Applications for membership closed on Friday. 

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

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