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Montana proposes limits on upper Bitterroot River fishing guides

Cutthroat trout caught and released in Montana's Bitterroot River. (Rich Landers)
Cutthroat trout caught and released in Montana's Bitterroot River. (Rich Landers)

FISHING -- Growing fishing pressure and congestion on Western Montana's Bitterroot River has prompted the state to propose limits on outfitters in the river's upper reaches.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is seeking comment on proposed administrative rules and an associated draft environmental assessment for the Upper Bitterroot River and West Fork to address issues with the quality of the river experience.

The rules would restrict recreational and commercial use on the Upper Bitterroot River, from the East and West Fork confluence downstream to Wally Crawford, and on the entire West Fork below Painted Rocks Dam.

"The popularity of the Bitterroot River has contributed to growing public concern related to congestion and balance of public and commercial use," the agency says in a media release. "In response, FWP conducted surveys and established a citizen advisory committee, under the guidance of a statewide river rules process, to assess and develop recommendations for managing recreation. 

The rules, if approved, would cap the total number of fishing and float operators and outfitters on these stretches of river and require commercial use permits and annual reporting. The number of commercial floats would be limited to two per outfitter, per day in a designated river section.  A non-commercial day would be designated for each section, and no floating (commercial or private recreation) would be allowed on Fridays from Painted Rocks Dam to Applebury Forest Service Access Site.

In addition to the proposed rule language, FWP drafted an environmental assessment (EA) analyzing the impacts of the proposed rules.

To review the entire rule proposal and EA and to comment, go to FWP’s website,, under “News,” then “Recent Public Notices.”

The proposals are out for public review through Oct. 13.

FWP will also hold public hearings in early October to explain the proposed rules and draft EA, answer questions, and take public comment

  • Missoula: Oct. 2, 6 p.m., FWP Region 2 Headquarters (3201 Spurgin Road)
  • Hamilton: Oct. 3, 6 p.m., Bitterroot National Forest Supervisor’s Office (1801 North First Street)
  • Butte:  Oct. 10, 6p.m., FWP Butte Area Resource Office (1820 Meadowlark Lane)

The Fish and Wildlife Commission will review public comment and make a final decision on the proposed rule language at its regularly scheduled meeting, December 7-8, 2017, in Helena.

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Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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