President’s Message April 2019

Published on 04/08/19

A friend ran into a guy he knew coming out of a gas station/convenience store. The other guy had just bought his fishing license and was griping about the cost ($21 resident season). Jerry was quick to point out the 18 pack of beer under the guy’s arm had cost almost that much but would be gone in a day or two except for a lingering hangover while his fishing license would be good the next 11 months. I think hunting and fishing licenses are one of the best bargains going. Of course, my white hair now qualifies me for a senior license at $10.50. The 6 fishing trips I’ve taken already have amortized to $1.75/day. My goal is to get it down to 25 cents/day which works out to 42 trips. A worthy goal.


Like many of you, when I started fishing the statewide regulations were printed on the equivalent of one newspaper sheet or 4 pages. And 1/3 of that was a map. The 2019 fishing regulations run 100 pages. That draws lots of complaints about complexity. Well, I’m biased because for nearly 40 years I was one of the guys who used to dream up those regulations. Despite the grumbles, Montana’s regulations aren’t too bad and in fact, won a national award a few years back. I fish in several states and Canadian provinces. Believe me, Montana’s regulations could be worse. But I’m sympathetic, when I go to another region or state, I have to spend some time studying the regs.

Regulations could be much simpler. But the focus would be the lowest common denominator, the regulation that protected the scarcest species. Around here that would be bull or cutthroat trout so the regional limit would be 1 fish or catch and release. That would do away with a lot of opportunity. Native fish regulations are usually conservative and make up about half the exceptions. The alternative is getting a species listed under ESA, that would not be good.

For all the pages of regulations they really break down into 6 categories beyond standard limits and seasons: closed seasons; catch and release or lower daily limits; more liberal daily limits, minimum length; maximum length, or a slot limit. FWP tries to standardize the sizes within any limit type. And, of course, you need to be able to identify fish species since limits may vary between species within the same water. If you know where you’re at, can identify species and spend time to understand the limit, you could come home with 50-100 fish a day if that’s your goal. The alternative is 1 fish daily. One of my former colleagues used to joke we should just set a regional size/number limit, say 30”. Each day you would lay all your fish nose to tail and when you reached 30”, you quit. So you could have one 30 incher, two @ 15”, a 14 incher and two 8 inchers, etc. It kind of works out. Every year everyone could wrangle over what the number should be for that year. It would sure make the regulation book slimmer.

Fish, Wildlife and Parks does a major review of fishing regulations every four years, starting now. So think about regulations that could be clarified, that you don’t think are doing any good. Also, identify fisheries that might benefit from a change in regulations. Most people just offer up a regulation: e.g., catch and release or a 12”-16” slot limit. That’s a solution that might not fit the problem. It is better for FWP if you identify what the problem is (fish are too small or catch rates low) and what your goal is (12” average size or catch 1 fish/hour). The reason for doing that is to identify the best regulation alternative and there might be a non-regulatory solution. I had one angler (25 years ago) who wanted catch and release for lake trout on Flathead Lake. His complaint was the fish were too small. The actual problem was that the fish were too abundant, we actually needed to harvest more to let the remaining fish grow better. His proposal would have actually made the fish smaller. But I could never convince him that raising the limits was the better solution. FWP will be setting regulations for 2020-2024 so contact them or FWI.

Jim Vashro – FWI President

The preceding comments are mine alone and don’t necessarily reflect the policies and goals of Flathead Wildlife, Inc.