Despite the large number of nonresident anglers on the upper Madison River that has increased pressure on the iconic stream, most anglers have a somewhat positive view of their experience.
Those are just two of the details found in a Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks report released on Thursday based on angler surveys. The report is the latest step for the agency as it has attempted to find consensus on how best to manage the popular river as use has skyrocketed.
Surveys show that angler use of the river south of Ennis has climbed from about 50,000 a year in 1984 to almost 180,000 in 2016. Of the 1,262 angler interviews during a 2017 creel survey, 68.9 percent were from other states and the District of Columbia. Twenty-nine percent of all anglers identified as residents, and 1.7 percent were international in origin.
FWP is undertaking a negotiated rule-making process to address recreation management on the Madison River. The Fish and Wildlife Commission is slated to appoint the negotiated rule-making committee members at their meeting on Dec. 10.
To gather information for the report, FWP used remote sensing cameras to track boat traffic from 2015 to 2017 at a fixed point on the upper Madison River. In 2016 a mail survey was sent to anglers who had fished the upper Madison River and were identified through biennial pressure surveys. In 2017, FWP conducted a creel survey to identify and describe the current angling population, their perceptions, as well as catch rates by species and location. Creel surveys are done with anglers in person and on-site at the river.
Other significant findings from the creel surveys include:
• Gallatin County anglers represented 18 percent of interviews conducted.
• Most of the nonresident, noncommercial use is occurring between Hebgen Dam and Lyons Bridge fishing access Site, where fishing from a boat is prohibited.
• Throughout the nearly year-long survey approximately 50 percent of the use on the float fish section of the river (Lyons FAS to Ennis FAS) was from commercial users.
• Anglers from California, Utah and Colorado represented more than 21 percent of the interviews conducted.
• More than 25 percent of people interviewed had not fished the Madison River more than one year.
• While 70 percent of respondents indicate the quality of fishing is either neutral, acceptable or very acceptable, angling satisfaction is declining in some categories — 55 percent of anglers surveyed said the number of people float fishing between Lyons Bridge and Ennis was either unacceptable or very unacceptable. Similar levels were observed when people were asked to rate their satisfaction with the number of people and vehicles at river access points.
The results of the 2017 statewide angler pressure survey will be available soon, and will provide additional information relevant to the Madison River.
The angling report on the upper Madison River was primarily funded by NorthWestern Energy, which owns and operates Ennis and Hebgen Dams.
To see the complete report, click here.