Heads Up-Madison River Coup


Active Member
WFF Supporter
I do not see that river getting any less crowded in the foreseeable future. In a state with thousands of miles river of with solid trout fishing, there are a handful of rivers that are big draws, and the Madison is the biggest. People who love fly fishing and who visit Montana are going to want to fish it. That’s always been the case and always will be unless the fishery collapses.

Until there is evidence to support that current useage is endangering the fishery, I say let the tourists have it....in the summer. There are soooo many good rivers, especially in that part of Montana that have few people on them during peak tourists months. Go fish those. One good thing about the Madison is it is very long, very productive river that can handle heavier pressure. Imagine if all those tourists spread out to some of the more fragile fisheries in the area? If you are a local, fish it pre-runoff, maybe battle the crowds a day or two when the salmon flies show up and stay away until October! Tough pill to swallow for locals, I get it. The state needs the tourists dollars though and the tourists are not going away. Use the thing you have over all those visitors to your advantage - local knowledge.

I’ll probably get $h*t for this post and I get it. Some out of stater telling you how to react to a situation on your local river. The situation is not all that unique though. This situation occurs to some extent nearly everywhere. It happened on my home river in CT. A river I grew up on and in the summer is inundated with out of state anglers. It happened on certain rivers in Missoula where I lived, on certain rivers in CO when I lived there and it happens on beaches and creeks here in western Washington. People congregate, so find the places with good fishing where they don’t! It takes effort, I get it. As someone who seems to move every 5 years I have had to try and find those “other” places on my own in multiple places over the last 15-20 years. Worth it though. Sometimes having a big draw like the Madison around can actually work to your benefit.


Active Member
"Is the fishing still good on the Madison? If the answer is yes, that means the fish are not currently at risk. If the fish are not currently at risk, that means the ecosystem is healthy, and sport fishing is not putting it at risk."

It's all fine until it's not . The above comment is exactly the problem.....horse with blinders.
Of course, you're right to state the obvious (that it's fine until it's not). That said, the Madison is a big river with a LOT of trout in it. That means it can handle the pressure it's getting a lot better than many of the places the hordes will descend on next if access to the Madison gets restricted....

I'm all for measures to protect good fisheries while they're still good, so long as the proposed solution isn't to preserve it for the few by closing it to the many.

Incidentally, I would favor sterilization as a penalty for anyone abusing private land where owners are kind enough to allow some measure of public access. People who do that are the real driver behind proposals like this, and we don't need their littering, drooling spawn running around, spoiling everything good for the rest of us.

Kyle Spevacek

New Member
I see a lotto system coming. Not just for the Maddison but other popular rivers.
I went to Yellowstone NP this last September thinking hey there wont be THAT many people. WRONG!!
People who don't give the respect to the rivers they deserve will be the same people bitching when more and more restrictions are put in place.
Just my 2 cents.

Cougar Zeke

Active Member
Any river that has 109 boats a day going past is overfished. That's what the state recorded in July 2017 going by Lyons Bridge. That's an AVERAGE which means it could be 140 on a weekend and 75 during the week.

For the guide association to be proposing to extend the current situation is a serious joke.

The fact that the director deems that there's too much animosity to come to an agreement is your typical bureaucratic solution. Isn't she in charge for a reason?

The state should look at the current status of the Bighorn to see how far, and how fast, a fishery can collapse. It only took two years there.

Jerry Daschofsky

Will Fish for Cinnamon Rolls and Coffee.
WFF Supporter
I believe this is the experience of virtually every river that is bordered by private property. Unfortunately we live in an era where people believe they are entitled to others property and therefore have no respect for it. The law which establishes an angler's access to any given river also protects the private property rights of the people who own the land it flows through. It seems, however, the only rights many anglers want to acknowledge are theirs. This, in my opinion, is a societal problem not a river access problem and if people aren't careful we will end up with a river beat system similar to those in Europe.

While I affirm public access to public water, it is not hard to understand the frustration of people who have achieved the American ideal of private property ownership and have to stand by, powerless to prevent the abuse of people who have neither paid for the property of bear the cost of maintaining it. It is, sadly, a consequence of our culture's inexorable slide toward collectivism.
You're completely correct on that. People ignore the high water mark and do as they please. Between my privately owned waterfront I've had/have and what I've seen on the job, it's pretty bad. My cabin on the Nooch is a prime example. I have high bank with access below. Have no problem with people walking below or pulling boat off there since it's at the high water mark BUT. When they jump up on the bank and start relaxing on our lot it is a bit much. Actually have found people sitting on the edge of our lot and told them this area is privately owned but you're more than welcome to hang out on the lower bank. They would just grumble though a lot would apologize and head down the embankment. Especially since technically my boundary sits all the way across to other side of river. That emergency flood they did ripped out an upriver diversion and has taken almost 2/3 of an acre of river front from us. One couple and their kids had set up camp on our lot and would've leave. That was only time I had to contact caretakers and sheriff. Not sure what they were thinking.

Old Man

A very Old Man
WFF Supporter
I live in Montana for 13 years now I don't really like to fish big wide rivers. So I don't fish the Madison. I think I have fished it about 5 times since I've been here. I can always find some a small out of the way skinny water to fish. Some of those small waters will surprise you as to what is in them. And I have a few staked out now.


Active Member
WFF Supporter
"Is the fishing still good on the Madison? If the answer is yes, that means the fish are not currently at risk. If the fish are not currently at risk, that means the ecosystem is healthy, and sport fishing is not putting it at risk."

It's all fine until it's not . The above comment is exactly the problem.....horse with blinders.
Actually Shad is correct. The fish population on the Madison is monitored by shocking surveys every other year.

Here's the deal with C&R and why it preserves a fecund fishery like the Madison.

The normal annual mortality in a fertile river is 30 - 65% of the trout population. This is without any fishing at all. Fish die because every river has a carrying capacity so nature takes "care" of overpopulation whether we fish or not.

C&R mortality is 4.2 - 4.5 % so you need to C&R about 20 fish to "kill" one fish. So for every fish that dies from fishing, another that WOULD die, lives.

On fertile rivers like the Madison, C&R fishing has no effect on population density.

How do I get these facts?

The best scientific study on fly fishing mortality is the article presented at the Wild Trout VI Symposium in 1997 and subsequently published in the peer reviewed journal North American Journal of Fisheries Management Volume 17, Issue 4, 1997. The editors of both the Wild Trout Symposium, which is the major symposium for trout fisheries, and the NAJFM reviewed the article and found it noteworthy.

See pg. 72 of the Wild Trout VI Symposium:


Here is the full article from the Idaho Fisheries Dept:

The abstract from the North American Journal of Fisheries Management Volume 17, Issue 4, 1997 is here:

In addition to this, there are "Hoot Owl" regulations the limit fishing when water temperatures are elevated.

Here are the results on trout mortality from 2015-17 Angler Survey. Trout populations are STABLE as far as I have nee able to determine.

Click on the link below and then click to download the complete report:

"Total catch and release mortality for Rainbow Trout is the average angler day (5.6 hrs) during the summer period x a CPH of 0.64 for Rainbow Trout = 3.6 Rainbow Trout caught per day. The product of 3.6 Rainbow Trout per day x 110,842 angler days is approximately 400,000 fish. Assuming 8% mortality for Rainbow Trout, the total calculated catch and release mortality would be approximately 32,000 individuals during the peak season. Brown Trout mortality would be predictably less at 4,700, and Whitefish approximately 40,400 mortalities. Long-term data sets of Madison River fish populations (Pine Butte, Varney, Snoball) have shown consistent population numbers bounded by predictable interannual and decadal fluctuations, save the early 1990’s when whirling disease severely impacted Rainbow Trout and Whitefish numbers (Moser and Lohrenz 2017)."
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Active Member
Any river that has 109 boats a day going past is overfished. That's what the state recorded in July 2017 going by Lyons Bridge. That's an AVERAGE which means it could be 140 on a weekend and 75 during the week.
Cougar Zeke,

There is a bit of fallacy in the logic that to many outfitters makes the river “overfished”. Grammatically that may be true but the river is not “over catched”. I have lots of business clients from back East that visit the Madison occasionally every summer and float the river with outfitters (the 9-5 kind). The typical readout on their trips is maybe 5-8 trout in boat for a whole day if they are lucky. I’ve heard of 1-2 fish days. These are paltry numbers for the Madison. This is also validated by many locals who float the river mid-summer. By contrast, my typical visit to the lower end of the Channels section (Ennis to Ennis Lake walk-wade) via kayak typically results in 25-50 fish days, the great majority of substantial size. There’s no evidence that the fishery is declining from “over fishing”. There are two reasons for this. 1) early morning pre-dawn starts, 2) Fishing places where no else has fished in days, if not weeks. I know several Bozeman and Ennis anglers who follow the same routine—early pre-dawn starts to fish waters untouched by the hoards to follow. They have no complaints about the fishery.

The result of banning boat access to walk-wade sections will just move those boats into the other sections of the river. Numbers will go up, not down. Taking away 14+ miles of boat access only benefits landowners, not the fishery. The result of limiting outfitters won’t affect the fishery, but locals who fish the river will be happier (unless they own a business that depends on tourism).

Rob Allen

Active Member
178 outfitters on the Madison... Didn’t realize it was that high.

That's the number of outfitters, how many guides is each of those outfitters running?
This works both ways, some might be running 20 guides others might only run a trip every other year. There are outfitters in Missoula that guide the Madison but might only make trips there occasionally.

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