Turkey Talk - Madison Scoping Survey

November 27, 2019 

Right on time for some lively Thanksgiving dinner table conversation Montana FWP has just released a scoping survey allowing everyone a chance to offer input on future Madison River recreation management plans. I encourage you to take the survey. You can find the link at the bottom of this page.

Below are screenshot images of my responses followed by some of my thoughts on each alternative. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Happy Thanksgiving!!
Joe D.     joe@montanatrout.com

I’m not sure anyone can argue with these first two questions above. A healthy fishery is the lifeblood of our local and regional economy.

The third question is very vague. What are they really asking here? We all have a diversity of angling options and opportunities every day. You can fly fish or spin fish. Fish dries, nymphs or streamers. Wade or float. Go early or late, or all day. Fish in summer or winter. DIY or fish with a guide. Go upstream or downstream. These are some of the choices that we get to make as individual anglers. I selected unimportant because I don't think these choices should be legislated through this plan.

Alternatives 1A and 1B - Growth and crowding are at the heart of the matter here on the Madison. 1A or 1B do nothing to adress this. Very unacceptable.

Alternative 1C - This is largely supported by the majority of Madison outfitters although there are many secondary details that need to be worked out. It directly addresses growth and crowding through capping commercial use. The debate here is around which year(s) and methods should be used to establish and allocate “historical use”. Using only 2019 commercial use data for the “cap” number is the right decision that is most fair.

Alternative 1D - This is very short on critical details, and appears like it would be a dead-end path for the Commercial Outfitting businesses on the Madison. No continuity or succession over time. This would be very bad for the local economy, and totally unnecessary as commercial use accounts for less than 20% of overall use.

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. Just more rules..

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.


Thanks for your time and consideration on this very important issue! Please take the survey for yourself and feel free to share this message with others.