Fishin’ Season Begins (officially)

The beautiful Big Hole River in the Maiden Rock area.

This Saturday, May 21, is the official beginning of the Montana fishing season.

 To be sure, opening day doesn’t mean much when you consider how many waters are open to fishing all year around. In short, if you can stand to be out, whether hunkered over a hole in the ice, or standing in a river until your toes turn to ice, you can find places to wet a line.

 There are some changes in fishing regulations, especially on some well-known area streams. These changes are an emergency response to declining brown trout populations.

 On the Beaverhead River, in the Dillon area, the entire river is catch and release for brown trout, though anglers can have one rainbow trout daily and in possession. As before, the river from Clark Canyon Dam to Pipe Organ Bridge is closed November to the third Saturday in May

 The entire river is limited to artificial lures and single-pointed hooks. No lures can have treble or double hooks. This doesn’t exclude fly-fishing with two flies, such as a “hopper and dropper” combination. Also, this doesn’t exclude using a multi-hook lure, such as a Rapala. However, if a lure comes with treble hooks, you have a choice to clip off hook points, or replace that treble hook with a single hook.

 On the Big Hole River, from Dickie Bridge, about ten miles west of Wise River, downstream to the confluence with the Beaverhead, brown trout are catch and release only.

 Rainbow trout may be kept on Big Hole downstream from Dickie Bridge, from the third Saturday in May through November 30.

The Big Hole is closed to all fishing October through March from the BLM Maiden Rock access to the Browne’s Bridge access. I’ll note that there are two Maiden Rock access points. BLM Maiden Rock is also known as Maiden Rock Bridge. Then there’s the FWP Maiden Rock fishing access a couple mile further downstream on the west side of the river. To get there you have to cross the river at Melrose and drive north and then back east, and be aware that the road that takes you down to the river may be tricky if it has rained.

From the Browne’s Bridge access to the confluence with the Beaverhead River, it’s catch and release for rainbow trout from December 1 to the third Saturday in May. Brown trout are catch and release only.

 On all those sections, from Dickie Bridge to the confluence with the Beaverhead, the same rules for the Beaverhead for artificial lures and single-pointed hooks apply on the Big Hole as well.

At the meeting of the George Grant Chapter of Trout Unlimited in April, those rules for single-pointed hooks were the topic of some discussion. One person in the audience lamented, “Gee, that means my kids won’t be able to catch fish, anymore.” Presumably, he meant that his kids were using spinning rods with spinners or lures.

 I submit that a Mepps spinner, for example, with a single hook, whether through replacement of the treble hook or with a wire cutter, will still catch fish. If a fly angler can catch trout with a size 18 fly with a barbless hook, a lure chucker can catch trout with a spinner or a Rapala with single-point hooks.

 Upstream from Dickie Bridge, regular rules for tackle, with a daily and possession limit of five trout apply. As always, Arctic grayling are catch and release on the entire river.

 If the rules seem confusing, especially on the Big Hole River, you’re correct. Unfortunately, the crisis with trout, especially brown trout, is why these rules have been put in effect. I urge all anglers to pick up a copy of the 2022 Fishing Regulations from any license vendor or from FWP and have it along when you go fishing. If you’re fishing a stream you’re not familiar with, it’s always a good idea to check the regs to see if there are any special rules that apply.

 In any event, go fishing and have fun on Montana’s world class waters.

 Paul Vang’s new book, “Golden Years, Golden Hours,” is available at The Second Edition, Isle of Books & Books, and The Corner Bookstore, or online at

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