Montana’s Madison River saw a swarm of more than 179,000 angler days in 2017. During the height of salmonfly season that traffic is condensed—like a resort parking lot the morning after a colossal dump on the slopes. Now Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) is aiming to alleviate the stress, announcing this week that it’s taking the next steps in “addressing increasing concerns about crowding and social conflict on the river.”

Curbing the number of outfitters and restricting guided fishing days on specific reaches, during specific times, top a list of proposed changes to how the fishery would be managed between Quake Lake and the Madison’s confluence with the Jefferson River, near Three Forks. 

Kelly Galloup owns and operates the Slide Inn, just downstream of Quake. He says that the shift would be disastrous for both outfitters and non-guided anglers.

“This is the same thing they did on the Big Hole, but on that river they had more than a hundred miles to play with. Here you have less than 50, and you’re going to close a 6- to 10-mile stretch? I think it’s going to create a bigger problem by forcing a higher number of guides into fewer places.”

He continues, “Rivers are self-regulating. If you’re a decent guide, and you show up and see 40 boats at the launch, you say ‘f—k it’ and go downstream.”

With those kinds of bottlenecks becoming more common, anglers are becoming more vocal. FWP says the proposed strategy comes as a response to years of public input. Irked flyfishers, according to the agency, want to see the crowds thinned, both on the water and at the put-ins.

But Galloup contends that targeting guides and outfitters isn't the solution. “What you have to realize is that these guides aren’t guiding themselves,” he says, “they’re guiding people from across the country. People who spend $5,000 to $10,000 a week to come here and fish.”

“If we lose those people, it’ll be nothing but broken down trucks on the roads and a bunch of drunks in the river.”

FWP makes its presentation to the Fish and Wildlife Commission on April 19. From there, the commission will determine whether or not to open a public comment period.

Details of the draft Madison River recreation plan include:

-Establishing a cap on the number of commercial outfitters at 2016-2017 levels
-Restricting commercial use based on the reach of river, and 2016-17 levels of use
-Designating one reach of the river every day for non-commercial use (the rotating closed sections include reaches from Quake Lake to Greycliff Fishing Access Site)
-Prohibiting any commercial use from Greycliff Fishing Access Site to the to the Jefferson River to preserve the primitive nature of this unique reach
-Prohibiting the use of any vessel or float tube to gain access for angling in the two walk/wade sections to help eliminate conflicts between boats and wade anglers
-Prohibiting the use of glass containers on the river

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