Anglers that participated in the Upper Missouri River paddlefish season this spring reported very good catch rates and reduced angling pressure from prior years. For some families, the new season structure was a welcome change after years of fighting crowds rushing to harvest a paddlefish before the quota was filled.
Butte angler Michael O’Brien and his family were ready to quit paddlefishing until the lottery tag system was implemented in 2016. ” My old man and I both agreed that most of the fun had been taken out of it, especially with the number of people there were,” said O’Brien. “Also, there was always the pressure to fill a tag before the quota was up. My mom (now 65 years old) had stopped going entirely because she was uncomfortable fishing right next to so many people, and my girlfriend had no desire to go.”
The paddlefish lottery tag change was approved by the FWP Commission in 2015, and was in response to crowding that has occurred annually since 2007 when FWP implemented the 500 fish harvest cap for the Upper Missouri River.
O’Brien and his family were successful in drawing as a “party,” so everyone in their group had a harvest tag. The family filled their tags over a long, fun weekend of fishing. He remarked that while some anglers relaxed on the bank, others took casts until their arms were sore. He also noted that everyone gave each other plenty of space.
A total of 320 paddlefish were harvested (750 harvest tags were issued in the lottery), and harvest was spread out over the six week season. The majority of fish were harvested in the first three weeks.
“One of our goals in changing to the lottery tag system was to return to the family-oriented fishery,” remarked Steve Dalbey, Region 6 Fisheries Manager. Party applications were encouraged, and those that did not draw a draw a harvest tag could obtain a free catch and release tag. “This format made it easy and convenient for family and friends to meet and participate in this unique fishing experience on the Upper Missouri,” reports Dalbey.
Also new for 2016 was a requirement that all paddlefish harvested in the state be reported within 48 hours of harvest. According to Cody Nagel, Havre Fisheries Biologist, anglers quickly learned the process for reporting, providing more accurate and up to-date-harvest information.
“In general, we received very positive feedback from anglers expressing appreciation over the new season structure and dispersed fishing pressure,” said Nagel.