Protect the Smith – Sign the Mineral Withdrawal Petition

The deadline for Smith River permit applications is approaching and we hope you have good luck this year, whether it’s your first trip or a return visit to this special place. The Smith is revered by Montanans for more reasons than just fishing: scenic views, ancient pictographs and other cultural sites, hunting, wildlife, and more abound in and above the canyon.

That’s why we’re asking the U.S. Forest Service to protect public lands in the Smith from future industrial mining. More than 700 recent claims have been filed on public lands adjacent to the Smith’s most important coldwater tributary. The Smith many values are worth protecting.

Visit our Smith Mineral Withdrawal page to learn more and SIGN THE PETITION today!

The USFS has the power to protect these lands and their many values. Let them know that the Smith’s public lands are not the place for industrial mining.

Thank you for all you do to help us conserve, protect, and restore the Smith and all of Montana’s coldwater fisheries. Good luck with the drawing and maybe we will see you in the canyon!

Comments Needed on FWP Fish Creek Recreation Plan

Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks is currently gathering public comment regarding recreational use in the Fish Creek drainage, an essential native and wild trout spawning tributary of the lower Clark Fork River. A dependable source of cold water throughout the season, Fish Creek also provides thermal refuge to Clark Fork native fish when summer water temperatures soar on the main river. Recreational use has increased substantially in the watershed over the past 10 years. Montana TU believes it’s essential that this area is managed to preserve it’s excellent habitat values and resiliance to climate change for native species.

Two issues included in FWP’s survey are particularly important to us and we ask MTU members to comment in support of lessening the impacts to this sensitive area.

  1. Floating Closure – We support a floating closure on Fish Creek. Large woody debris is common in this watershed and essential to native trout populations. We are concerned angler use during a relatively short floating season will result in the removal of logs to maintain navigability, thus harming the fishery. Please support wade-only fishing access on the Creek.
  2. Developed Camp Sites Only – Dispersed camping already occurs on Fish Creek and increasing it will only have negative effects on future water quality. We believe camping in the drainage should be confined to developed camping areas with proper vault toilet facilities, to lessen impacts throughout the drainage to maintain clean, cold, complex, and connected water and habitat for both fish and wildlife.

To complete the survey, visit FWP’s Fish Creek Watershed Recreation Planning page for more information or use a direct link to the survey HERE. Please personalize your answers with the comment boxes provided to ensure your comments carry the most weight. The comment period closes December 20, 2022. When answering the questions, we ask that you strongly consider the values we hold dear: conserving, protecting, and restoring Montana’s wild and native trout. Thank you for your attention to this important issue.

Five Things We Like in the 2023-24 Proposed Fishing Regulations

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) is undergoing the now biennial review of fishing regulations and has proposed changes for the 2023-24 seasons. We support the vast majority of the proposed regulations and encourage our members and the public to get involved in the process. While FWP is hosting a series of Open Houses around the state, with opportunities to ask questions, we strongly recommend that interested citizens submit formal comments on issues they care about. Comments will be accepted until September 22, 2022 at 5pm. Visit for a complete list of the proposed changes and opportunities to comment online on each proposal.

Invasive Smallmouth Bass

Here are 5 things we are happy to see and support in the new proposed regulations:

  1. Fighting Illegal Introductions – Many of the proposed changes strengthen FWP’s commitment to proactively managing against illegal fish introductions. We support the efforts to suppress fish populations, like walleye, northern pike, and smallmouth bass, that have resulted from those illegal introductions.
  2. Stopping Illegal Bait Transport and AIS – Fishing regulations, particularly around live and dead bait, are an important tool in combating the spread of aquatic invasive species. Several proposals offered here provide strong protections in that regard. We support all efforts to combat aquatic invasive species from entering our waterways.
  3. Conserving Sustainable Wild Trout Fisheries – Based on sound scientific research conducted by FWP, a number of proposals seek to support natural reproduction in southwest Montana reservoirs by protecting spawning fish in tributaries through the third Saturday in May. We support efforts to create sustainable, wild populations of fish.
  4. Protection for Struggling SW MT Wild Trout – Faced with troubling declines in trout populations in many southwest Montana rivers, FWP biologists have developed a science-based, data driven approach to managing fisheries on the Ruby, Beaverhead, and Big Hole rivers. These are adaptive strategies that will evolve as the fish populations rebound, but we support the current more restrictive regulations proposed on these rivers. Further we appreciate the ability to learn from these proposals as to what types of regulations may help support fish population recovery.
  5. Expanding Angler Opportunity – We are supportive of efforts to expand angler opportunity and harvest where appropriate, namely in several put-and-take fisheries and lakes that experience frequent over-winter kills.

We hope all interested members of the public take the opportunity to get involved in this important process. If you have any questions, please reach out to us directly at [email protected].

Flood Recovery Done Right: Lessons Learned from the ’97 Flood

By David Brooks, Executive Director, Montana Trout Unlimited 

As historic flooding in the Yellowstone watershed recedes and people impacted turn to the daunting and complicated task of rebuilding, it is valuable for us to reflect on the last time the Yellowstone flooded. The aftermath of the highwater event that took place in the spring of 1997 offers lessons for moving forward now. 

Whether it’s car bodies or rock, confining rivers usually leads to downstream consequences. PC: Bill Pfeiffer

That year, a deep snowpack followed by a warm spring with heavy rains sent the river out of its banks for much of its length from Yellowstone National Park through Billings and beyond. Scenes of property and infrastructure damage were much like those we’ve seen this June. Then, as now, people think of floods as great acts of nature. To some degree that’s true. But the 1997 floods brought home the reality that how we manage and manipulate our rivers also determines how floodwaters behave. 

Between 1995 and 1998, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) issued more than 170 permits for projects along the banks of the Yellowstone River, mostly for riprap, dikes and other bank hardening that reduced natural river habitat. Many of those permits were issued in a rush following the 1997 floods. There was so little analysis of how individual projects would cumulatively impact river health and future flooding that Montana Trout Unlimited joined four other conservation organizations in taking the Army Corps to federal district court. Because of the lawsuit, projects were put on hold. By summer of 2000, our coalition prevailed. The court unequivocally deemed that the Corps had violated the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act by allowing the modification of the river’s banks without analyzing how such projects would have a collective negative impact on the river’s health and cause worse future flooding. Blanketing the banks of the Yellowstone or any river with boulders, concrete or hardened canal-like walls was increasingly harming fish and greatly increasing the flood risks to downstream neighbors. As MTU’s Executive Director Bruce Farling put it, the court decision was “the insurance policy Montana needed to prevent the slow death of the Yellowstone, one rip rap project at a time.” 

A functioning flood plain on Rock Creek. PC: Bill Pfeiffer

Since that ruling, the Corps has been more cognizant of the negative impacts of projects that reduce natural habitat in ways that accelerate and compound flooding. In contrast, maintaining or restoring riparian habitat absorbs floodwaters, slowing and reducing the rush of spring runoff, keeping that water within the river or, when it spreads into the natural floodplain, dampening the force of floods on human infrastructure like homes, roads, and bridges. In short, what’s good for fish and wildlife turns out to be good for protecting riverside property and adjacent infrastructure. Following the previous flood and lawsuit, a citizen and expert task force studied the upper Yellowstone, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in research that documented the damage caused by years of artificial bank stabilization. It also recommended better ways to rebuild and create resiliency in the Yellowstone and other rivers. 

The investment in efforts to restore natural river habitat rather than the short-term solutions of riprap or riverside lawns, to build bridges or culverts that better accommodate fish, wildlife, and floods, and to give rivers some space to rise up and move around, as they inevitably do, will pay off during future historic events, with more protections for fish and wildlife, and less risk to property and life. Rebuilding healthier rivers from top to bottom will help keep fish from being washed into fields and stranded. Maintaining a meandering river instead of straightening it can help keep flooding out of places like Red Lodge. Building better engineered bridges can keep rural residents connected to communities and reduce the need for emergency closures of rivers like the Yellowstone. Restoring fully functioning floodplains and resilient river habitat does not prevent floods, especially as we adapt to the alterations that climate change is having on the amount and timing of snowpack and spring rains. But if river restoration following the devastation of 2022 saves native and wild trout, saves on future flood cleanup costs, or saves one home, it sure seems worth considering. 

Montana Trout Unlimited comments on Proposed 2020 Fishing Regulation Changes

Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on the Proposed 2020 Fishing Regulation Changes. As we have reviewed the document, it is evident that a great deal of work and deliberative consideration went in to the development of these proposed changes. We appreciate the ability to have had the opportunity to be involved in the process, and we wanted to be sure to continue our participation in the process by offering formal written feedback on these proposed changes. Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, and the Fisheries Division in particular, have gone above and beyond to involve the public through both the scoping and public comment process. We appreciate that effort and commitment to a robust public process.

Founded in 1964, Montana Trout Unlimited is the only statewide grassroots organization dedicated solely to conserving, protecting, and restoring Montana’s coldwater fisheries. Montana Trout Unlimited is comprised of 13 chapters across the state and represents approximately 4,500 Trout Unlimited members. A number of our chapters and local members helped inform the comments on the proposed changes that are found below.

Montana Trout Unlimited has great interest in the effects of proposed changes to Montana’s fishing regulations, especially given the increasing challenges facing our native fish resources by threats like climate change, competition and predation from introduced species, and increasing angling pressure. We continue to promote fisheries management that preserves and improves populations of wild fish, with a significant priority on native fish species, such as cutthroat trout, bull trout, and grayling. While our fishing regulations are but one tool that is available through which we can accomplish these goals, we do believe that they do play a significant role in native fish conservation.

Montana Trout Unlimited offers our support the following proposals in the Proposed 2020 Fishing Regulation Changes:

  • Proposal 4 (Clark Fork River): This proposal cleans up the regulations by making fishing catch and release only for Cutthroat Trout from the mouth of the Thompson River to the Idaho border (namely the Thompson Falls, Noxon Rapids, and Cabinet Gorge Reservoirs). We support the standardization of Westslope Cutthroat Trout management on the entire Clark Fork River, and therefore we support this proposed change to catch and release for Westslope Cutthroat on this stretch of the river.
  • Proposals 7, 9, 10, and 15 (Main, South, North, and Middle Fork Flathead River): We support these proposals to restrict terminal gear for the mainstem Flathead and tributaries, including the main three forks above Teakettle Fishing Access Site. Under these changes, anglers would be restricted to single pointed hooks, no treble or double pointed hooks. We know that angling pressure on native fish in these waters has drastically increased in recent years and that increase is forecast to continue. Our members have seen and heard from many local anglers and guides alarming and often fatal mouth damage (ripped mandibles, missing mouth parts) due to hooking-caused wounds, as well as reports of dead fish, likely due to poor playing and releasing techniques, dangerous terminal tackle and increasing angling pressure. Treble hooks play a large part in these wounds. We support efforts to eliminate the use of multi-pointed hooks in the Flathead River system. We believe that removing multi-point hooks from use on populations of threatened native fish will result increased survival and in better overall survival of the population. Again, Montana Trout Unlimited supports these proposals.
  • Proposal 17 (Swan River): We support the conservation of the native Westslope Cutthroat Trout populations in their native range, and therefore we support the proposed change to catch and release regulation for Cutthroat Trout and liberalization of limits on Rainbow Trout on the Swan River.
  • Proposal 34 (Smith River): With the increasing river usage and angler pressure on the Smith River earlier in the season (i.e. March-May), we believe that the proposed changes to implement the standard fishing season (the third Saturday of May through November 30th) for the tributaries between Camp Baker and Eden Bridge to be a responsible regulation change to protect spawning fish during these early months. In these months during higher flows on the mainstem, anglers are increasingly targeting these short stretches of tributaries putting unnecessary stress on spawning populations of Rainbow Trout. We support this proposal.

Montana Trout Unlimited supports modifications to the following proposals to the Proposed 2020 Fishing Regulation Changes:

  • Proposal 2 (Western District Bass Regulation): As part of Proposal 2 to change the standard regulation of Bass in the Western District, the Department would separate regulation of Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass and set a possession limit on Smallmouth Bass of 15 daily and in possession. Montana Trout Unlimited does not feel that treating an illegally planted, aggressive species as a normal game fish and as such believes that setting limits and seasons is consistent with the intent of the Unauthorized Placement of Fish rule (ARM 12.7.1501). The proposal itself notes that there have been 18 confirmed illegal introductions of Smallmouth Bass in the past years and that Smallmouth Bass can outcompete native fish populations. During the scoping process, 68% of respondents supported no possession limit for illegal Smallmouth Bass, but the Department decided to include a 15-fish limit, which moves down the road toward making this dangerous invader an accepted part of our fishery and establishing more illegal populations in Western Montana. We suggest reverting to the original no possession limit in the final regulations.
  • Proposal 31 (Lower Madison River): Under this change, the Department is proposing a permanent “Hoot Owl” restriction for the Lower Madison River from Warm Springs Day Use Area to the confluence of the Jefferson River from July 15 to August 15. Fishing would be prohibited from 2 p.m. to midnight during those thirty days. Montana Trout Unlimited strongly supports protecting trout during these acutely warm water conditions – the likes of which have become the norm for this stretch of river in recent years. We are concerned about the lack of the consistent use of this important tool across the state as we are seeing increasingly warmer waters that are negatively impacting native fish, often because of real or perceived challenges in the short notice of public education and enforcement challenges. We believe that moving to permanent Hoot Owl restrictions will actually make the regulations more predictable and user friendly for anglers. Our only suggestion is to go back to the original proposal that was offered during the scoping period of the Hoot Owl restrictions being in place on the entire stretch below Ennis Dam for the entire months of July and August. 72.5% of survey respondents supported that proposal, and it is certainly supported by the scientific data on stream temperatures on this stretch in recent years. The water temperatures are predictably exceeding healthy thresholds every year, and the original proposed regulation change would be more protective of the fishery resource in this stretch. We hope that you revert to it before you finalize the regulations.

Montana Trout Unlimited opposes the following proposal to the Proposed 2020 Fishing Regulation Changes:

  • Proposal 33 (Missouri River below Holter Dam): Montana Trout Unlimited fully believes that this stretch of the Missouri River below Holter Dam to Cascade should be managed first and foremost as a wild, coldwater trout fishery. We cannot support these proposed changes to the regulations that would compromise the integrity of this world-class trout fishery, and we have long advocated for the current regulation of an unlimited harvest on non-native predatory species like Walleye. The Department should prioritize the management of wild, coldwater trout in this stretch of the Missouri, as they have done, and they should continue to robustly monitor the effect that non-native species, like Walleye, have on the populations of wild Rainbow and Brown Trout in the Missouri.

Beyond the existing proposed changes that we have commented on above, a number of our chapters and member leaders have expressed the need to continue to offer our support for more aggressive efforts to protect native fish through the fishing regulations. First, in regard to terminal tackle we continue to support more aggressive and widespread restrictions on the use of live bait in our coldwater fisheries. Nearly all-scientific studies have found that fishing with bait drastically increases injury to fish. Additionally, we continue to support more widespread use of barbless hook regulations in our most prized native fish water bodies. While the use of barbless hooks cannot definitively be proven to drastically reduce mortality, it is well known that it is easier to release a fish from a barbless hook, which reduces handling time and air exposure. Lastly, as noted in our comments concerning Hoot Owl restrictions on the Lower Madison, Montana Trout Unlimited would support more aggressive permanent and mandatory temperature triggers that initiate Hoot Owl restrictions on our coldwater streams and rivers. In the summer of 2019 there were at least eight streams that reached and sustained water temperatures over 73 degrees for three days – only one, the lower Big Hole had Hoot Owl restrictions enacted.[1] For the reasons previously stated, we support more predictable triggers for Hoot Owl regulations that also better protect our fishery resources.

Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions, or if you need additional information regarding the comments that we have submitted (via email at [email protected] or by phone at 406-543-0054). Again, we thank you for the opportunity to comment, and we appreciate the open public process used by the Department to make these changes.




David Brooks

Executive Director

Montana Trout Unlimited

Clayton Elliott

Conservation and Government Relations Director

Montana Trout Unlimited





How You Can Help Save the Smith

If you care about the Smith River, we encourage you to write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, as well as to Governor Steve Bullock, your representatives, and also to Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).  While DEQ is no longer accepting comments on the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the large copper mine a foreign-owned company is proposing in the headwaters of the Smith River, they still need to hear from you. The EIS process is meant to evaluate the real risks this mine poses to the surrounding environment, especially water and wildlife, as well as the recreational economy connected to the Smith River. However, we feel this EIS drastically misses the mark and we will be seeking legal recourse to protect the Smith any way we can.

In its Final EIS, DEQ claims that this mine will not harm the Smith River.  A closer look at the EIS says otherwise.  Here are significant reasons that this is the wrong mine in the wrong place:

  1. This mine seriously risks reducing flows and increasing pollution of the Smith River’s most important trout spawning tributary. The company and the DEIS grossly underestimate how much groundwater connected to the Smith River headwaters will flow into the mine and have to be treated to remove contamination.
  2. The water the company plans to pump back into Smith River tributaries so they don’t dry up due to mining activities is highly likely to contain more acidity, nitrate, and toxins than the DEIS admits. In addition, that replacement water will be warmer than natural stream water. All of those changes in water quality are harmful to aquatic life, fish, and stream habitat.
  3. The company and DEQ haven’t properly considered how to keep contamination from mine waste out of groundwater and surface water that will flow into the Smith River system. They also have failed to evaluate the high likelihood that wastes from this mine will create acid mine drainage laden with arsenic and other mine contaminants.
  4. The company’s plans to keep mine waste and the contaminants it produces from adversely affecting the environment for decades or generations is very experimental. They provide no good evidence that it will work.  The Smith River is their guinea pig.
  5. An EIS is required to take “hard look” at the direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts of the proposed action. However, the DEIS has not properly or sufficiently examined threats to the aquatic life in the Smith River and its tributaries.

Need help drafting you letter or knowing where to send it? Contact our Outreach Coordinator for assistance. Email [email protected] for more information and assistance. Please see the addresses below for places to direct your comments.

Last but not least, our legal challenge of the EIS will require attorney’s fees, expert witnesses, and many other expenses. Visit our Donation Page to make a contribution for our effort to Save Our Smith.

Governor Steve Bullock
PO Box 200801
Helena MT 59620-0801

Craig Jones
Department of Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 200901
Helena, MT 59601