The Bitterroot River Recreation Advisory Committee  and the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks have proposed several new rules for the usage of the Bitterroot River and the West Fork, which will drastically affect local outfitters like myself who have been serving the public in the Bitterroot for years. These rules will restrict the number of boats per outfitter on the river, but will not cap the total number of boats on the river. Therefore, these rules will not eliminate the perceived over-crowding of the river, but will leave it open for smaller operations, whether local or out of county, to continue to grow their business on the upper Bitterroot River to the expense of established local outfitters.

Now is the time for public comment on the proposed changes for the Bitterroot and West Fork of the Bitterroot, and therefore a local group of anglers and outfitters has been working on “Anglers for common sense”, a common sense revision to the proposed new rules. It will benefit local outfitters that have established businesses in the valley. I have added a copy of the recommended revisions below for you to read, and I am hoping you will allow me to put your name under it. If you would like you can click on this link to e-sign the petition.


As dedicated wade and float-fishermen and fisherwomen, professional guides, and outfitters, who love the Bitterroot and West Fork Rivers, we feel the proposed new regulations restricting access to the West Fork and upper Bitterroot River, while well-intentioned, may create more problems than ’solutions’.  We would respectfully suggest a few amendments for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to consider during the public comment period. We respect the process the committee has conducted over the past few months and hope they will continue to listen to and consider our suggested amendments and improvements:

1 – Remove Hannon to Wally as one of the stretches that falls under the “2 boat per outfitter per day” regulation.

This stretch relatively lacks wade-angling usage from the public due to little public access.  Wade angler displacement and pressure from commercial boats was suggested to be a problem in the conducted surveys; between Hannon to Wally there is no significant data of wade angler-commercial boat conflict.

If Hannon to Wally was restricted to 2 boats per day per outfitter, this act would overcrowd the entire river above Hamilton.  The stretch of Wally to Anglers would then become the only unregulated float on the Upper river, causing it to be overcrowded with boats daily.  Also, during low water in the mid-summer to early-fall, the Sleeping Child diversion dam would be very hard for commercialand non-commercial boats to portage daily, especially with older clients/friends who are not able to help the guide portage.

2 – Eliminate closures on certain sections on certain days of the week.

This will only create huge traffic problems on the sections that are open.  For instance, if Dam to Appleberry is closed on Saturday, then many boats will be fishing there on Sunday because they know it had no pressure from the day before.  This same problem has shown up in a similar model on the Beaverhead and Bighole:  over-crowding on reopened sections.

3 – Make it a measured and fairly balanced amount of launches per outfitter based on historic usage.

If SRP moves forward as is, the State should immediately cap the number of outfitters that have commercial usage now, so no “gold rush” can take place with new outfitters applying for a permit.

The number of outfitters to be considered for the SRP should be based on historic usage over that last 5-8 years.

Those outfitters who have the highest percentage of historic use should be proportionately granted a higher number of launches per site on a sliding scale. That is, highest historic usage gets 4-6 launches per access, lowest gets 1 launch per access. It would be highly unfair that an outfitter that is 2 years established gets the same number of launches as a 20 year established outfitter. Again, all launches, per site, based on historic use.

4 – We recommend the State address the illegal outfitting and guiding on the upper Bitterroot.

We have plenty of outfitters from other parts of the state who illegally guide clients on the West Fork. This in itself would substantially mitigate the “perceived traffic concern.”


5 – The negative economic impact these regulations could have in the Bitterroot Valley could be significant.

Stricter regulations and less opportunity for locals and guests to float the upper river will result in a downturn for hotel bookings, restaurant and café purchases, as well other local business.

Comments must be received by FWP no later than Oct. 13, and if you are interested, public hearings will be held at 6 p.m. on Oct. 2 at the FWP Region 2 Headquarters, 3201 Spurgin Rd. in Missoula; Oct 3 at the Bitterroot National Forest Supervisor’s Office, 1801 No. First St. in Hamilton; and Oct. 10 at the FWP Butte Area Resource Office, 1820 Meadowlark Lane in Butte.

You can read the proposal and make comments using this link:

For specific questions on the proposed rules and Draft EA, contact Oschell by phone at 406-542-5562 or email her at

The FWP Commission will review public comments and make a final decision on the proposed rule language at its regularly scheduled meeting, Dec. 7-8, 2017, in Helena.

Please help us in our efforts to keep the Bitterroot Valley and its river pristine, so we and generations after us can enjoy it.

I would be happy to answer any questions you have regarding the revision.

Best wishes,

Rick Thomas

Fly Fishing Always