Monday, December 26, 2016

Big Changes Being Proposed for the Missouri River

For those of you that don't belong to FOAM, (or those of you that do but just don't necessarily read every email you get from them,) I've included in this post a link to the rule change proposal to the Fish and Wildlife Commission from FWP. I've also copied and pasted that rule that would affect us as guides and outfitters on the Missouri River, as it would read in the law below.

It's important to understand that the rule called the "Quiet Waters Rule," was initiated by the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers group, which is a conservation group initially started in Oregon. They do, however, have staff and board members from around the country including Montana. Their mission is:

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers seeks to ensure North America's outdoor heritage of hunting and fishing in a natural setting, through education and work on behalf of wild public lands and waters.

If you want to check them out, here is the link:

I did check out who they are and as I would suspect, none of the staff or board of directors have any practical experience in working as a guide or outfitter for either hunting or fishing. Now, the reason I bring this up is not to bash them for initiating the bill but to point out that this bill will affect those of us that make a living on these waters in question and we should have a seat at the table. I appreciate and applaud groups like this that are working to preserve our resources but would hope that in the future they include, either as staff members or as board members, folks like us that actually work in the field and rely on the resources for our livelihoods.

Remember, although this rule change has been proposed by FWP, it was initiated by Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. Please read the rule as it pertains to the Missouri River. Afterwards, you can read the letter I wrote to the site dedicated to this bill for feedback and commentary. If you want to email them as well, here you go: <> If you want to show up to the hearings yourself for public comment, those hearings are listed at the top of the proposal you can access by clicking the link below. Enjoy.

Quiet Waters rule

12.11.630 MISSOURI RIVER (1) All tributary streams of the Missouri River are closed to use of any motorized watercraft, except any motorized watercraft powered by 10 horsepower or less, from May 15 through September 15 from the headwaters of the Missouri River to the confluence with Prewett Creek.
22-11/25/16 MAR Notice No. 12-465
(2) Missouri River is closed to all swimming, boating, sailing, and floating in the following areas:
     (a) between Toston dam and 300 feet downstream of the dam; and
     (b) the reservoir between the Toston dam and the boat barrier.
(3) Missouri River from Holter Dam to Wolf Creek bridge is restricted:
     (a) to a no wake speed, as defined in ARM 12.11.101(1); and
     (b) vessels are restricted to traveling in the direction of the flow of the river.
(4) Missouri River from Wolf Creek Bridge to Pelican Point FAS is closed to motorized water craft, except any motorized watercraft powered by 10 horsepower or less, from June 1 through September 15.
To Whom it May Concern,

First let me just express my support for this rule change as it pertains to restricting motors on the Missouri River below Holter Dam. I feel like this restriction is overdue as I have personally had many encounters with boaters who have compromised the experience for clients I serve as well as just made my job more difficult. However, I don't believe the changes are enough in this regard. The Missouri  River, from the Holter Dam to Cascade, has been designated as a blue ribbon trout stream. I don't understand then, why the motor restrictions are limited to the stretch of river between the Holter Dam to Pelican Point FAS. There are nine plus miles of blue ribbon trout stream below Pelican Point that will still see pressure from motorized boats that produce wakes that not only compromise the fishing in some aspects but also contributes to unwanted noise and bank erosion, which has a negative impact on the health of the fishery. If we want to preserve the entire section of the Missouri that is considered a blue ribbon trout stream, then why wouldn't that restriction extend to the Cascade FAS?

A second point I would make is in regards to 12:11:630, (2), (b), that states,

"vessels are restricted to traveling in the direction of the flow of the river." This particular rule addresses the area of river extending from Holter Dam to Wolf Creek Bridge FAS. If one uses the definition as stated by the Coast Guard of what a vessel is, that would mean any water craft carrying passengers can only move downstream. Is this what the rule means; unpowered drift boats, skiffs, and even single carrier pontoon boats would no longer be able to row back upstream to recycle a run? If so, I would not support that change because it would be too limiting to those guides that do take advantage of that stretch of the Missouri and thus putting more pressure on the rest of the river.

As it pertains to the motor restrictions on the Missouri River, I do support some kind of change however, my concern is for where these changes are being initiated. The motor restrictions make exceptions for motors less than 10hp, which definitely benefits those guides and outfitters who use trolling motors to be more efficient at moving down stream. It just seems a little suspicious to me. Also, the rule restricting vessels from moving back upstream would effectively make the stretch of river from Holter Dam to Wolf Creek Bridge a wade fishing only stretch or worse, a stretch where guide boats would now park in runs and quite frankly, close off those runs to all other anglers. Is that the intent of this bill? Or, is this rule change proposal a result of actual studies that show those fish in that stretch are receiving too much pressure from boats that are recycling those runs? When it comes to garnering support for these changes, I think that does matter.

I do appreciate your time and look forward to hearing your thoughts on this. I will definitely be attending the hearing and will disseminate any information I have to those folks interested.

Thank you,

I think it's obvious that I do support some kind of motor restriction on the Missouri River and I have for years. I think it's curious the way these rule changes were written but I do support it as long as it extends to the Cascade FAS and does not limit unpowered boats from rowing back upstream in the stretch from Holter Dam to the Wolf Creek Bridge. However, the way the bill is written, no more row-rounds at the dam. I'm not sure that was the intent or if they are targeting motor boats from going back upstream. I assume, however, that they know what the definition of a "vessel" is and the intent is to limit boats from rowing back up and recycling through runs where fish are stacked up. Before you decide what your opinion on this is, just remember; and I have done the research, a "vessel" isn't just a motor boat. It's any water craft carrying passengers.

The other thing that's interesting is the time-frame for which the restrictions are to be enforced. June 1 through Sept. 15 for that stretch of the river below Wolf Creek? What that does is accommodates waterfowl hunters using boats for transportation. I'm not opposed to that and if I'm being totally honest/selfish I'd say, "Hooray!" Keep the motor boats off the river while I'm trying to make a living and then let me motor up and down the river for ducks and geese when it's convenient? Hell yeah, sign me up! But if it's a conservation effort, what's the difference what time of the year of the year it is? However, if it's meant to improve the quality of the experience during the height of the fishing season and also address what might be safety concerns for recreationists and wade fishermen, I'm also in. I guess the question for me is whether or not there are legitimate conservation concerns as to why this bill is being proposed and if there are, then why shouldn't we limit motors all year?

Again, there are opportunities for you to develop more of an understanding of this and voice your opinions and concerns. I've included the links for emailing the State as well as the bill itself with the schedule for public hearings across the state. Be a participant of the process.

Keep 'em where they live...


  1. Haha all you Tundra Adipose Johnny-come-lately purple cripple slinging wannabe naturalist guides. No more row arounds, maybe some of you may have to go back to your old jobs...doing and knowing nothing. The hatch of Guidicus Ignoranimus might be less prolific. Woo piss off and leave the trout alone. Should be no guides on the river Friday-Sunday. That's how you save a fishery for everyone.

  2. Dear Anonymous, As much as I appreciate your input on this matter, might I suggest a couple things to ensure your voice is heard? 1)Educate yourself. 2) Be tolerant. And 3) be willing to compromise. The tourism industry, including those Tundra/Adipose Johnny-come-lately, etc. etc. guides, bring millions of dollars of revenue to Montana that helps pay for the roads you drive on, the schools your kids attend, and many of the other amenities that contribute to the quality of life you enjoy. Now, that doesn't come without a cost and there is certainly a balance that needs to be met to preserve those resources for us all but using inflammatory remarks like those in your comments will never progress the conversation and will not help anyone. What I would suggest, if you want to see change, is again; educate yourself on the issue and then join us for a discussion at the hearings that will be held on this topic this upcoming legislative session. I have provided the link to the dates and location those hearings will be held. I would encourage you however, to check your preconceived notions of those you loath so much at the door. Thank you.

  3. Could you please provide a reference to support the claim that boat wakes cause erosion which degrades the fishery? I would suspect on a very large river like the Missouri the effect of lapping waves from boat wakes would not cause a significant impact in terms of bank erosion. In fact, I would think it may actually be a good thing seeing as the banks don't erode normally due to dam-controlled flows preventing erosion that would otherwise occur during flood events. As for the effects on fishing, I've fished through hundreds of boat wakes on that river and never seen it impact the fishing more than maybe putting down some risers for 15 minutes. At this point it is a natural disturbance to the fish and if you are patient you can sit up on a high bank and watch them react to boat wakes. The risers go down for a little bit and feed subsurface with all the others then return to their feeding lanes once the waters calm and the bugs start flowing in predictable patterns again. Of course, this is as anecdotal as your observations the other way but seeing as the fish numbers and sizes are still incredibly healthy on the river I can't imagine there is much of an argument to be made that boat wakes are degrading the health of the fishery overall. I'm all for limiting motorized use on every river in Montana, but the argument should be based on impacts that have actually been rigorously studied such as noise pollution which has been shown to disturb nesting birds and alter behavior patterns of other animals that use the river. What you think or feel may be a negative consequence of boat wakes based solely on personal observation is simply not enough to use as evidence for policy changes.


    I could go on and on but I won't.

    Anecdotal? Yes, but I have seen first hand that boat traffic puts fish down and muddying up the water along the bank is a factor in that. How long does it take for a bank to clear up and fish start to see bugs again? It depends on the bank and factors such as current, depth, etc. Some banks it might be fifteen minutes. Some banks it might be the rest of the day. And some banks don't hold fish anymore at all because the banks have been knocked down and now there isn't sufficient habitat for fish to hold. (Specifically, I can point out the bank river-right above the Cascade Bridge, if you are familiar with that stretch of the Missouri, which I assume you are. There are also channels that have been destroyed by erosion on that stretch that no longer hold fish along their banks.) And I would make the point that regardless of how long it takes, why should people have to wait just because it's someone's "right" to run up and down the river in a jet-boat? Who's rights are more important. Why should one's rights be impeded or compromised for another's?

    Now let's talk noise pollution and the health of a blue ribbon trout stream. One of the indicators is the quality of experience for the angler. If you don't think the noise of a motor negatively impacts an angler's experience, you need to ask the anglers. I do and overwhelmingly they say they don't like to hear or see the jet-boats racing up and down the river while they are fly fishing. In fact, those are comments that have been documented by FWP surveys.

  5. Holy shit you are literally the first person who has provided actual valid references to support a claim when asked, thank you. I had no idea boat wakes could be so damaging and I'm happy to be able to quickly learn more about it.

    One other thing I would say is that erosion is a necessary process in a river system and it still may be that boat wakes are providing an ecosystem service that has been lost since the rivers were dammed. That bank above Cascade is absolutely destined to erode no matter what. The riparian vegetation is gone and it is on an outside bend. It actually SHOULD erode but they will undoubtedly rip-rap it eventually anyway. There should always be areas of river and stream systems that have lots of fish and some that don't. That is a sure sign of a healthy river. In fact, in some areas especially above Craig I would suspect there are way too many fish to the detriment of amphibians, aquatic invertebrates, and smaller fish species.

    As for rights, I could go to another blog and see a bunch of boaters asking why the rights of fly-fishermen supersede their right to boat on a big-ass river especially when there are already so many non-motorized sections of trout streams in the state already. Why should people have to only use drift boats or wade just because it's someone's "right" to fly-fish in a quiet area with no disturbances? Who's rights are more important? Why should one's rights be impeded or compromised for another's? This is definitely going to come up as an argument at those public meetings.

    Finally, I would like to make it clear that I absolutely am in favor of getting motorized boats off as many rivers as possible, and I was saying that noise pollution is a great argument for more restrictions. I'll definitely be adding erosion to that argument once I figure out what the erosion situation is on the Missuori (i.e. is the wake-induced erosion actually detrimental?).

    Thank you for the detailed response and thank you for giving a flying fuck. There needs to be more guides like you out there.

    1. Thanks for the feeback. I've been out of commission for a few days traveling and what-not for the holidays. Let me address this for a minute:

      "As for rights, I could go to another blog and see a bunch of boaters asking why the rights of fly-fishermen supersede their right to boat on a big-ass river especially when there are already so many non-motorized sections of trout streams in the state already. Why should people have to only use drift boats or wade just because it's someone's "right" to fly-fish in a quiet area with no disturbances? Who's rights are more important? Why should one's rights be impeded or compromised for another's? This is definitely going to come up as an argument at those public meetings."

      There are a few things at play here, one of which has to do with normative behavior. The majority of people using the resource are doing so without a motor ripping up and down the river and the expectation of the majority is that they don't feel like they should have to be subjected to it while fishing on a river that is designated by the State as a blue ribbon trout stream. So basically, it's the actions of a few that are ruining the experience for the masses and eventually, the masses get together and make rules or at least that's how it's suppose to work.

      The other thing I'd say is that there are two different "rights" that we are talking about here. One is passive and the other is active or probably more accurately, intrusive. Me rowing a boat down the river doesn't affect anyone else but someone jetting past me does create an imposition. It's a nuisance that I'm forced to have to deal with. My only repercussion is to get the rest of us that feels the same way and pass a bill that addresses it.

      I will say this; if the jet-boaters, (and it's not all of them,) were more considerate and would show a concern for those trying to enjoy the peace and quite of floating down a river, casting hoppers or whatever it is, we wouldn't be having this issue and there wouldn't be folks proposing this bill.

      Thanks again for reading and reacting.