How did the idea, that wade fishermen “need” and “deserve” a space of their own on the Madison River, get started? How did banning boats on a section of the Madison, where they are little used, become a solution for overcrowding?

The West is home to trout rivers much larger than eastern or English rivers where many fly fishing traditions originated. Westerners wanted transportation to gain access and to fish these rivers effectively. The modern light-weight, low-profile, highly maneuverable, stand-to-fish drift boats were conceived and tuned for river systems like those in southwest Montana’s—especially rivers like the Madison. Fishing from a drift boat, raft or pontoon boat became a central part of Montana fly fishing traditions and culture.

Using one to access fishing spots on our large trout rivers may be considered a sin by some fly fishing purists, but it’s only a personal preference. The entire length of the Madison is open to wade fishing and walk-in access to five more miles of public land was recently secured.

The FWP commission may soon be considering a plan to ban boats from 25% of the upper Madison—Quake Lake to Lyons Bridge. This action would do nothing to address our concerns about crowding or overuse—boats in that section account for less than 2% of total angler days.

Social conflicts in that area of the river arise from some wader’s expectations of a special status and special considerations.

The FWP commission should protect Montana drift boating traditions and take “banning boats” off the agenda. This unimportant, contentious issue only impedes progress on this important process. Let’s move on to real solutions to real problems on the Madison.

Be heard. You can contact the governor’s office (, FWP (, or FWP commissioners ( with your opinion.

Jim Kramer