BOZEMAN — The Madison River is high on the list of ultimate destinations for avid fly fishers. So, they flock to the river in numbers some say are just too high.
With a deadline looming, the Madison River Work Group, which is devising controversial limits on commercial guiding, recently decided to delay major decisions for at least another month.
“We don’t want one more day in the peak season. The outfitting community has spoken,” working group member John Sampson said during a meeting last week.
A limit on the maximum number of guided trips was due to start in 2022 but got moved back to January of 2023. The working group is now trying to come up with rules to govern those limits. That is leading to division.
At least six members strongly suggest they favor keeping the year-round limits already agreed upon. Others favor allowing more permits in the spring and fall shoulder seasons. They say this would allow new guiding businesses to get a toehold. Opponents say that would endanger the fish during spawning and low water seasons.
“Ultimately I think we’re here to protect, sustain, maintain the resource into the future,” committee member Mike Bias said.
Another fishing guide added, “Don’t move the goalposts. Because that’s going to totally screw us when we go to the public and say, now we want to shut you down. Well, you can’t seem to shut yourselves down. So, don’t move the goalposts.”
And that’s why, even if you are not a guide, you might want to care about this decision.
“There’s broad recognition that the amount of traffic, and this isn’t just on the Madison River, it’s on rivers across Montana, the amount of recreation and commercial use traffic is becoming untenable,” said committee member Zack Brown. “It’s damaging people’s experience and it has to at some point degrade the resource.”
This means after restrictions are placed on guides, restrictions on other users are likely to be flowing your way. But first, a decision must be made.
“We want a plan, and I want to see an evaluation period after that with the options for adaptations in that which would include our public comment and the other users of the river,” one guide said at the meeting.
The working group unanimously agreed to allow guides to buy and sell permits. But the group only has until June first to get a recommendation to the Fish and Wildlife commission
The working group will meet again on April 28.