Madison River Scoping Survey is Now Available

The Madison River

The Madison River Scoping Survey was recently released. We highly recommend everyone that cares about protecting the quality of future recreation on the river to take the survey:

The growing interest in river recreation combined with the growing population of Western Montana have resulted in increasing use on many of our rivers. While we are encouraged to see more folks wanting to get outside and enjoy our rivers we also recognize the importance of setting some limits to future proof the quality of the recreational experience. We are strongly in support of a recreation plan that accomplishes the following:

  1. Sets limitations now for commercially guided fishing trips at current use levels. We propose allowing all current fishing businesses to be limited by their current use to prevent future growth. Members of the public that hire a fishing guide make up 13% of all anglers on the river.

  2. Sets limits for commercial non fishing tours on the river (such as tubing and livery services, river tours, etc). 

  3. Establishes a Fishing Access Ambassador program where employees of Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks will help river users at access points with entering and exiting the river.

  4. Initiate a system that will allow for future limitations on all floating use for members of the public in private watercraft. Only limiting anglers hiring fishing guides is not enough to future proof the river since 87% of current use is non-guided. There are similar programs in other states that have been used for decades such as Oregon and Michigan where boater pass systems are used.

There are also several bad ideas that we hope to avoid in a plan. Concepts that would ban boats in any area of the river or the concept of "rest and rotation" which concentrates users into specific zones without actually reducing user numbers need to be avoided. We suggest reviewing the negative consequences of these suggestions in our recent blog posts:

The Negative Effects of Banning Boats on the Madison River

What is Rest and Rotation and Why is it Bad for the Madison River


Here are the questions on the Scoping Survey as well as my responses:



The first 2 questions are easy to answer. We all want healthy river without crowding (Q1) and nearly everyone recognizes the economic influence that fly fishing brings to the (Q2). Question 3 is a bit vague. I enjoy angling diversity which the Madison currently provides (dry flies, streamer fishing, spin fishing, fly fishing, wading channels, floating, etc); but I don't believe the state government needs to "provide diversity"; the river already does that for us.


Alternative 1A is not an option: We need to limit commercial use

Alternative 1B also is not a great option. There are about 200 permitted Madison River Outfitters; many run very few trips but those permits could grow in the future. So capping the number of permits would do little to slow the growth of guided fishing in the future. While issuing new SRP permits may need to be limited when the river is over capacity; we should allow new entrants when the river is below capacity.

Alternative 1C is the best solution. We need to set a carrying capacity for the number of guided trips on the river which should be no less than 2018 use and no more than 2019 use. The only way to achieve this is to then assign each outfitter a limit on how many trips they can operate.

Alternative 1D is a bad idea. The river is currently healthy with high fish counts. We just need to restrict future growth; attempting to go back in time would has no justification and would have tremendous negative consequences for the tourism based economies in and near the Madison Valley.

Alternative 2A - A comprehensive and effective recreation management plan has to look at all users, and all aspects of the user experience. Doing nothing is no longer an option as overall user growth continues to expand along with the regional population. Alternative 2A is unacceptable.

Alternative 2B - This is a baseline solution that makes sense. Previous surveys indicate that a large part of user dissatisfaction occurs at the Fishing Access Sites. FAS ambassadors are a popular idea, although it’s debatable how effective they might be at reducing social conflict. There are several sites where boat ramp and parking area re-designs would certainly improve traffic flow.

Alternatives 2C, 2D and 2E  - These are some of the worst ideas in this survey and are all “very unacceptable”. None of these address growth, or would reduce crowding. In fact, they would all likely increase crowding and conflict in other areas of the river.

Alternative 2C - “Rest and Rotation” on the Madison is a bad idea that will degrade the user experience here and will exacerbate the primary issue of crowding and conflict. Putting more people into less space is the wrong approach. It will cause more problems than it solves. If you eliminate large float sections of the Upper Madison (Lyons to Ennis) to commercial and/or non-resident users several days each week, it will cause crowding in the other reaches as well as other unintended consequences. Not a solution.

  • During periods of high-water, low-water and big winds, this will potentially force floaters into unsafe sections of the river.
  • Rest & Rotation will kill the fishing culture of the Madison. Guides and non-commercial users alike make float and fishing plans based on many factors like: weather and water conditions, timing, half-days vs. full-days, insect hatches, personal preferences and others. Taking this freedom and flexibility away would be a blow to the spirit of freedom and to Montana’s fishing culture.

Alternative 2D - Eliminating “float to fish” boat access in either of the current wade-fishing reaches does not address crowding and will certainly be met with tremendous blow-back from many directions. Without first ensuring public access easements through these reaches, this basically amounts to privatizing access to large and significant stretches of the Upper Madison. Public access is the holy grail of Montana’s recreation-based economy and any moves away from this are unconscionable.

Opening the entire river to fishing from boats would do much more to alleviate crowding. This would in fact help spread people out, which by definition is the best solution to crowding.

Alternative 2E - This idea does nothing to address or alleviate crowding. Attempts to micro manage the behavior of users on a daily basis just creates extra rules. The simple solution is to limit the number of people recreating on the river through a permit system; but then once anglers are granted use they need to be able to spread organically throughout the system.

Alternative 3A - The Lower Madison has a unique set of management challenges due to the high-summer “bikini hatch”. This is a relatively new phenomenon that is growing rapidly as Bozeman expands. Therefore doing nothing (Alternative 3A) to manage recreational use on the Lower Madison is unacceptable.

Alternative 3B - We need better data and analysis to make informed and effective management decisions for the Lower Madison. Alternative 3B is a no-brainer.

Alternative 3C  - Makes no sense, and is very unacceptable. Eliminating commercial use in the Grey Cliff to Three Forks reach is a strange idea catering to very narrow special interests. This would reduce commercially accessible water by 18 miles, therefore putting more people in less space. Not a solution.

Alternative 3D - The suggestion that this reach is any more “primitive” than the rest of the Madison is unfounded. It is just the longest reach between improved FWP boat ramps. Another improved boat ramp in this section would help alleviate crowding in the rest of the river.

Alternative 4A - The largest and fastest growing user segment is the non-commercial public. This is a simple fact, and is being driven in large part by the rapid growth of Gallatin County, Bozeman, Big Sky as well as visitation to Yellowstone National Park. In order to preserve the overall quality of the recreational experience on the Madison we have to address this segment with a comprehensive management plan. Unlimited growth is the motto of the cancer cell. Allowing unlimited growth will be disastrous. We should not wait another 10 years.

Alternative 4B - The wording and specifics here are not sufficient to really endorse this idea, but the general premise is sound. We need to develop a system for regulating non-commercial use on the Madison in addition to commercial use. This is a difficult challenge and there are many details and nuances to be evaluated and ironed out. This will almost certainly be next up on the agenda after a commercial use plan is adopted and we should begin by looking at models already in place in other parts of the country.

Alternative 4C & D - Discriminating, managing and limiting access based on residency is a horrible idea. “Resident’s Days” may seem like a good idea to Montanans that have no connection to the small towns and recreational tourist economy based around this river. But if you live near the Madison, or depend on non-resident anglers and visitors here to make a living in a 4 to 6 month window, this is a terrible protectionist idea. The Madison River is a National Treasure that people from all over this country and the world hold dear to their hearts. Discriminating based on residency sends the wrong message to the rest of the world and will only harm everyone here with absolutely no benefit.

Thank you for taking the time to learn about the important issues related to establishing a successful Madison River Recreation Plan. Please make your voice heard:

Take the survey:

Email the commissioners: [email protected]


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