Brandon Barnes fishing for bull trout on the South fork of the Flathead.

Potential Fishing Regulation changes on the Flathead River system for 2025-2026.

Proposed regulation Changes for 25/26

Montana FWP has released its proposed regulation changes for the 25/26 seasons and is soliciting public comment on the proposals until April 26, 2024. There are over 30 potential regulation changes in Region 1 but only a handful affect the waters that we guide at Wild Montana Anglers. Below are the author’s thoughts and observations on a specific potential regulation change that is located around Glacier National Park and the Flathead drainage.

Check out the full list of proposed regulation changes here
 

Lower Flathead River Pike Regulation

Proposed regulation 17 would end the moratorium on pike fishing in the lower Flathead river system from mid February through the 3rd Saturday in May. From my understanding, the regulation was put into place several years ago to help reduce incidental bull trout by-catch which would reduce unintended mortality through handling of bull trout. In turn, bull trout would receive less angling pressure, reducing stress and injury and would potentially help increase populations of bull trout.
 
According to local FWP biologists, bull trout populations appear to be steady with recent population estimates not showing much fluctuation in the Flathead’s middle and north forks. This is determined by counting spawning beds (redds) in the early fall when bull trout are in tributary waters for their annual spawn. Although specific drainages are seeing fluctuations from year to year the overall average does not appear to show big swings in population increase or decrease. 
 
Pike are an illegally introduced invasive species to the Flathead system. They are generally found in the lower portions of the river system. Opportunistic predators, pike can predate on several fish species founds throughout the Flathead’s lake and river system and also compete for a finite food source. This piscivorous creature is growing in popularity with local anglers due to their potential size (30+ inches), aggressive nature, and delicious fillets. It should also be noted that many anglers believe that pike have a direct impact on their beloved wild and native trout fishery by competing with and eating native species.
 
 
 
 

Single Point Hook Restriction

This proposal is also paired with a single point hook restriction extending the previous restriction (forks of the Flathead and mainstem down to Teakettle Bridge) and encompassing the entire Flathead system from it’s headwaters to Flathead Lake. The rationale for this was to help reduce fish handling time in the case that a bull trout is unintentionally hooked while fishing for pike during this time. 
 

Opinions on the Potential Regulation Change

Region 1 FWP held a scoping meeting on March 19th to get local anglers opinions on the proposed regulation changes and by far the most comment was on proposal 17. Several conventional anglers were against the single point restriction and when asked why specifically why there answers were  A: they very rarely catch bull trout when fishing the waters pike inhabit and B: it will severely limit their hooking rate when using a popular style of fishing known as bait harnessing if they are forced to use a single point hook. 
 
Several other anglers have also weighed in on the subject and are wiling to restrict the type of tackle used (single point) in order to have the opportunity to fish for pike throughout the entire year. Their rationale is to put as much angling pressure on this invasive species as possible in hopes of helping native cutthroat and bull trout populations. 
 
Whatever your position on these potential regulation changes, you have the opportunity to give input on proposal 17 or any other of the 30+ potential regulation changes by emailing your comments to fwpfishcomments@mt.gov . Be safe out there!
 

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