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Fly fishing basics

A fly fisherman prepares to test the waters of the Bitterroot River near Stevensville in this January 2019 file photo.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is asking for ideas from the public as it considers future changes to fishing regulations.

Anyone interested in Montana’s fisheries may take on online survey at http://fwp.mt.gov/fish/publicComments/regsScoping.html and provide feedback or new ideas to FWP on potential issues or changes to fishing regulations. Montana reviews its fishing regulations every four years, and this survey is part of its initial “scoping” to solicit public comment.

The survey is available until June 21 and tentative regulation proposals will go before the Fish and Wildlife Commission in August.

FWP already is considering several changes:

  • Allowing bow and arrow harvest of Chinook salmon from Oct. 1 through Nov. 30 on Fort Peck Reservoir.
  • Establishing no limit or mandatory harvest of northern pike and standardizing the daily walleye limit on the Missouri River from Holter Dam to Black Eagle Dam;
  • Allowing single-point lures only on the middle, north and south forks of the Flathead River.
  • Implementing a “hoot owl” restriction on the Ennis Dam to the mouth stretch of the Madison River that would prohibit fishing between 2 p.m. and midnight from July 1 through Aug. 31.
  • Changing the largemouth and smallmouth bass limits on some waterbodies in the Western Fishing District.
  • Requiring ice fishing shelters to be removed from the ice by at least March 1 in the Eastern Fishing District.

“I think at the global level we appreciate the agency going through this public comment process and think this survey is a great tool,” said Clayton Elliot, conservation director for Montana Trout Unlimited.

Eric Roberts, FWP’s fisheries management bureau chief, explained the thinking behind some of the ideas.

Allowing bow-fishing for salmon on Fort Peck came about through some requests from anglers, he said.

On the blue-ribbon stretch of the Missouri River below Holter Dam, FWP is floating a pair of regulation changes.

Roberts said that last year the agency received three angler-reported catches of northern pike near Cascade, and a limit focused on suppression is intended to “stay ahead of the curve,” he said. Biologists have seen an uptick in pike numbers upstream in Canyon Ferry, Hauser and Holter reservoirs and they are susceptible to flushing downstream, he added.

A no-limit on walleye in the same stretch of river has also been a contentious issue for years, and FWP says it is considering restoring a limit. Walleye and trout have coexisted in Missouri for decades, with biologists believing that walleye have not greatly affected trout populations. Citing concerns about impacts to trout, the commission in 2011 went against FWP recommendations to institute the no-limit regulation – a change that has caused considerable heartburn among walleye advocates.

“We definitely want to see a change on that and the problem that came about with that whole thing is it wasn’t based on science and facts but politics,” said Bob Gilbert, executive director of Walleyes Unlimited of Montana. “The bottom line is walleye are a game fish, trout are a game fish, but they’re treating the two species differently, so let’s treat a game fish like a game fish and treat everyone equally.”

Elliot said Trout Unlimited would also be keeping a “close eye” on what FWP proposes with walleye limits.

For the Flathead River, FWP has seen a high incidence of hook scarring, including on native bull and cutthroat trout. The regulation change would eliminate treble hooks with the goal of reducing the handling of fish before release, Roberts said.

Elliot applauded the proposal and says his organization appreciates FWP emphasizing the importance of management for native species in the Flathead. He also felt the Madison River hoot owl proposal had merit given a trend of high water temperatures that has virtually guaranteed angling restrictions in recent years.

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Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 @IR_TomKuglin

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