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FWP Proposes New Flathead River Fishing Restrictions

Westslope cutthroat trout.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
Westslope cutthroat trout.

Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks is proposing fishing tackle restrictions on certain sections of the Flathead River. The move is meant to protect westslope cutthroat and bull trout as angling pressure increases.

Tackle restrictions would apply upstream of the Teakettle fishing access site off U.S. Highway 2 near Columbia Falls.

"And so that would include the middle, north and south forks of the Flathead and those tributaries on those rivers," says FWP spokesperson Dillon Tabish. "Anglers could only use a single hook on those sections of the Flathead River."

FWP says angling pressure has been increasing on all three forks of the Flathead River over the last decade. The agency says the proposed single-hook measure would protect bull trout and cutthroats from handling stress and hook-related injuries.

"The population estimates for westslope cutthroat trout in the three forks of the Flathead are relatively low," Tabish says. "There’s approximately 300 to 500 fish per mile, which is two to three times less dense than other tributaries of that size typically."

Larger cutthroats are showing signs of repeat catch as well. Angling for threatened bull trout is not allowed in the Middle and North Forks but anglers can catch-and-release in the South Fork, and harvest two bull trout per season with a registered catch card. Angler surveys and catch cards indicate increased pressure on bull trout.

FWP is asking for public comments on the proposed single-hook regulation on the Flathead and other measures through Sept. 15. The agency will also hold public meetings in Thompson Falls, Kalispell and Libby Aug. 20 through the Aug 22.

The department is asking for public comment on the tentative fishing regulations. Input can be submitted via email at FWPregs20@mt.gov; or via mail to Fishing Regulations, P.O. Box 200701, Helena, MT 59620; or through a survey link, which will be available on the FWP website starting Monday, Aug. 19. FWP will accept public comment through Sept. 15, and the online survey will also be active through Sept. 15.

Aaron Bolton is Montana Public Radio's Flathead Valley reporter.
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