Madison River File

A pack of anglers walk along the Madison River on Thursday afternoon, Aug. 13, 2020.

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Montana officials are proposing new rules for recreation on the Madison River in response to petitions from outfitting, conservation and sporting groups.

The new rules aim to limit angling conflicts and fishing pressure as recreation levels on the Madison soar. The river is one of the most heavily used in the state.

The public can comment on the proposal and an accompanying environmental assessment until Oct. 30, and a virtual public hearing will be held on Oct. 20. After the public comment period ends, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission will decide whether to approve the proposed rules.

“With these draft documents, we now have something very tangible for the public to comment on,” FWP Director Martha Williams said in a news release.

The Fishing Outfitters Association of Montana (FOAM) and a coalition made up of the George Grant Chapter of Trout Unlimited (GGTU), the Skyline Sportsmen Association and the Anaconda Sportsmen Association presented two petitions to the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission requesting new regulations on the Madison this August.

The proposed rules include options based on the two petitions, which diverge on most issues.

A rule proposed by the GGTU collaborative would cap guided trips at 2019 levels, or 13,909 trips per year.

In contrast, a rule proposed by FOAM would cap the number of guided trips at the highest number of trips each outfitter reported in 2019 or 2020. The rule would only apply to outfitters who held permits prior to June 15.

The number of trips led in 2019 increased approximately 13% from the year prior.

The GGTU coalition also requests a “rest-rotation” rule that would prohibit guided fishing from June 15 to Sept. 30 on two stretches of the river. Guided fishing between the Lyons Bridge Fishing Access Site and the Palisades Day Use Area would be prohibited on Sundays.

It would also be prohibited between the Varney Bridge Fishing Access Site and the Ennis Fishing Access Site on Saturdays.

Another rule from GGTU would bar people from using boats to access fishing on two sections of the river from June 15 to Sept. 30 three days out of the week. Fishing from a boat would be banned on the same stretches of river on the other four days of the week.

The rule would apply to the sections of the river between the outlet of Quake Lake to Lyons Bridge and from the Ennis Fishing Access Site to Ennis Reservoir.

A rule from FOAM would prohibit fishing from a boat on the stretches of the Madison between the Raynolds Pass Fishing Access Site and Lyons Bridge and from Ennis Bridge to Ennis Lake three days out of the week.

An additional rule from FOAM would enable greater flexibility for outfitters who are forced to lead trips down the Madison due to unforeseen circumstances. Another rule establishes a working group for commercial use of the river.

FOAM and the GGTU agreed on one proposed rule. The new rule would require all river users to acquire a Madison River use stamp. The stamps would be free of charge with no limit on the amount of stamps issued. All stamp holders would have to report their river use every year.

The stamp system would help agencies collect data on non-commercial use.

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

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