Be A Boat Inspection Station Pro

This August 2-8, we’re celebrating the first ever Watercraft Inspector Appreciation Week with our partners at Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks and Protect Our Waters Montana. Thanks to our inspectors, aquatic invasive species (AIS) spread is being reduced in our waterways, and we owe them our gratitude and our courtesy when we pull through the station. We know it’s tough to be patient at the boat check when you’re excited to get out on the water, so here are a few tips to make your inspection a breeze.

Clean, Drain, and Dry your gear and watercraft after every use!

Thanks to the magic of self-serve carwashes, this step is easier than ever! Find the closest wash bays near your home (most take credit cards now) and make cleaning out your boat part of your chores at the end of a day on the water. The best time to wash everything is right before you put your boat into dry dock. Pull the plugs on your vessel and allow all water to drain out of your bilge, live wells, bait wells, and motor. Store your boat with the motor in the down position. All inspectors check your motor and if it’s already empty, you just saved yourself a few minutes waiting for it to drain.

Make sure your anchor and anchor rope are clean of mud and vegetation.

If you’ve got some mud and weeds on there, clean them off and also mind your anchor rope to make sure it’s also clean and dry. It’s easy for small bits to get stuck in pulleys, cleats, and fasteners. Anytime you pull your anchor up off the bottom of the lake or river, make sure to get it clean before you put it back in the boat. Makes cleaning up later even easier. This also goes for removing weeds from your lure. Keep the weeds in the water, not in your boat.

Ask yourself “Where and when did I go boating last?”

If you know you’re about to hit the check station, run through your memory banks before you pull in. Inspectors will always ask where you were, how long it’s been, and where you plan to go next. If you’ve recently been in a waterbody with AIS concerns, know that you’re going to get some extra scrutiny. It helps if all your gear is clean and dry!

Get an Inspection Passport for Each Boat and Keep them Handy

If you’re a “frequent flyer” ask your inspector for a Boat Passport for each vessel. Keep them in the glove box of the car you use to tow. Then you’ll always have them for the inspectors when you pull through.

Be courteous!

No body likes a grumpy person. When you remain polite and courteous to your watercraft inspectors, they will get through your inspection faster, guaranteed. The only thing you get out of making a fuss is a longer inspection. Be prepared, answer the questions you’re asked, follow instructions, and they’ll get you on your way as quick as they can.




Stop Transboundary Pollution: Sign Our Petition to DEQ

I was lucky enough to get the chance to fish the Kootenai River this summer with one of the people that knows the river and its fish better than just about anyone. Between reminders to “set” and “skitch” our dry flies, Tim Linehan shared with us nearly a lifetime of knowledge about a wide range of topics from hatches to patterns, as well as stories about friends and fish. While Tim’s homewaters are wonderfully remote and wild, they also face challenges.  So our talk also turned to the very real and persistent threats facing the Kootenai and Lake Koocanusa from foreign mining companies in Canada. Of course, we had a banner fishing day, but it also doubled down my personal commitment to stand up for these coldwater fisheries.

For more than a decade, Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has led an effort with partners in government, science, and communities to develop a site-specific standard for selenium pollution that flowing into Koocanusa and the Kootenai from coal mining in British Columbia. At the levels already present in this lake and river system (with more on the way from four new coal mines in the permitting process), selenium poses significant threats to aquatic life as it moves through the food web. As fish tissue concentrations of selenium rise, they can experience liver damage or failure, growth deformities, and stunted growth and fitness. Ultimately, mature female fish with toxic levels of selenium in their system experience drastically reduced production of viable eggs to the point of entire spawning seasons of fish being unsuccessful. As selenium moves through the aquatic and terrestrial food web, many other species are susceptible to a similar fate – population crash.

MTU has reviewed, participated in, and encouraged this process from the beginning with an emphasis on the goal of having DEQ set a site-specific standard for selenium in the lake and river that is based on sound science in the interest of protecting one of northwest Montana’s most valuable and intact wild and native trout fisheries. The current standards being proposed by DEQ do just that. MTU fully supports this proposed rule amendment and the site-specific selenium standard it proposes.

Unfortunately, there are a small group of special interests that are attempting to derail this important rule at the last minute. The DEQ needs to hear from Montana anglers now that our coldwater fisheries should not be the dumping ground of polluted mine waste. Despite what the opponents say, the public process to get here has been fair, open, transparent, and collaborative. This is our chance to stand up for our water and fish – please join me and add your name to our petition by clicking the picture link above.

Clayton Elliott, Conservation Director


FAS Map shows LWCF dollars in action on Montana rivers

Montana Trout Unlimited is advocating for dedicated, permanent, full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). This federal program has been critical for the protection of important cold-water habitat and for securing public access to our land and water in Montana and across the country. The LWCF, which uses revenues from offshore drilling to fund conservation and recreation projects on public lands, has been essential in developing more than three-quarters of Montana’s Fishing Access Sites (FAS). Montana currently has over 350 FAS locations that are used daily, by residents and visitors alike, for recreational access to our lakes and streams. These access points are an important part of Montana’s rich tradition of outdoor recreation. 
We recently released this new interactive FAS Map, showing current and potential water access locations, to show the need for this important funding. A permanently fully-funded LWCF would help secure potential new access points and protect critical habitat. It could also be used to improve established FAS locations in need of better facilities. 
Here is the link to the FAS Map on our website.
You can read more about the importance of a fully funded LWCF in these recent new stories:

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





Tip of the Hat 2019 set for July 13

One day each year, Montana Guides and Outfitters donate their tips to Montana Trout Unlimited for on-the-ground conservation projects in their backyards.  If you guide and want to give back or fish with a guide and want to pad your tip – Saturday, July 13th is the day.  With your help and LOTS of strong arming encouragement from event founders Tim Linehan and Brian Neilsen, this 4th year will take us over $10k in donations. For more information about participating in Tip of the Hat, contact MTU’s development director, Kelley Willett.