Madison River File

A pack of anglers walk along the Madison River on Aug. 13.

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Montana officials this week advanced a rule change that could delay the date when certain limits on guided trips along the Madison River go into effect.

If the administrative rule change is approved, limits on the number of commercially-guided trips along the Madison River won’t become law until Jan. 1, 2023. The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission initially set that date at Jan. 1, 2022.

Commissioners on Wednesday voted four to one to advance the rule change. Only Patrick Byorth, who represents the southwestern Montana district, voted against it.

Once a notice on the proposed administrative rule change is filed with the Secretary of State, the public will have an opportunity to comment on it. Then the decision will come back to the commission for a final vote. That vote is planned for June 24.

The caps limit the number of times outfitters can take clients on guided trips along the Madison River. According to rules set by the commission, the number of guided trips each year can’t exceed levels reached in 2019 or 2020 — whichever is higher for the outfitter.

Changing the date when the caps go into effect won’t alter the limits themselves, commissioners said this week.

A new Madison River Work Group will continue to develop and monitor limits on guided trips allocated to outfitters once the group is established. Commissioners approved the process for the department to accept and review applications from work group hopefuls.

Mac Minard, executive director of the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association, told commissioners to advance the rule change.

It will take a significant amount of time for outfitters and the work group to prepare for the cap, Minard said. Not delaying the cap would put an incredible amount of pressure on the new work group, he said.

Jason Fleury, board president of the Fishing Outfitters Association of Montana, said delaying implementation of the cap will create more uncertainty for outfitters and businesses, who are already weary from the three year regulation-setting process for the Madison River.

Delaying the limits is rushing to a decision that may not be necessary, Fleury said. He advised the commission to let the working group make the decision.

The Madison River Recreation Plan has drawn criticism from some fishing outfitters and business owners. Many think it unfairly targets commercial river users as non-commercial recreation make up the majority of use.

The plan’s supporters say management of river use is necessary to limit crowding and conflict between commercial and non-commercial anglers. They worry increasing pressure on the river could eventually harm fish populations.

The recreation plan was amended and approved by the commission at a November meeting after six hours of wordsmithing.

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Helena Dore can be reached at hdore@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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