The 2019 paddlefishing season on the Yellowstone and Lower Missouri rivers will start on Wednesday, May 15.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Region 7 fisheries manager Mike Backes has no predictions for this season, but he doesn’t expect a fast and furious start based on current river flow projections.
A pulse in river levels typically increases paddlefish migrations, but last season there were such high volumes of water at times — and multiple river pulses due to rain and continuing snowmelt — that fish were much more spread out. As a result, angler participation was also spotty at times, extending the harvest to 15 days before the 1,000-fish harvest target was approached. Compare that to the 2017 season which was fast and furious and closed in just over three days.
According to 2018 tallies, 714 paddlefish were processed at Intake fishing access site near Glendive, and Backes estimated that another 194 fish were caught elsewhere. That makes for an estimated harvest of 908 fish. Of the fish processed at Intake, 470 were females (65.8 percent) and 244 were males.
“Approximately one in 10 fish was a small male, potentially from the year 2011,” Backes noted. “Sixty-two fish were reported via the mandatory reporting phone number; of those, 21 had jaw tags, 19 were harvested from the Powder-Yellowstone River confluence, two were from the Tongue-Yellowstone River confluence, and only one was reported from the Missouri River. One tag return came from a fish tagged on the Missouri River upstream of Fort Peck Reservoir.”
Anglers may harvest only one paddlefish per season. As in the past, anglers may only select one area to fish for paddlefish in Montana: Upper Missouri River (white harvest tag-1,000 tags available through the drawing), Yellowstone River and Missouri River downstream of Fort Peck Dam (yellow harvest tag-1,000 fish harvest target), and the Fort Peck Dredge Cut archery-only season (blue harvest tag).