What could be a safer place from exposure to contagious diseases than experiencing the great outdoors along Montana’s pristine Yellowstone River? In a move that has most Montanans scratching their heads in bewilderment, Montana’s Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) has canceled paddlefish season on the lower Yellowstone to “keep Montana safe.”
In what seems satirical, but is very real, the May 15 to June 1 paddlefish season – an annual tradition for many – was canceled for Montanan’s “health and well being.”
FWP Director, Martha Williams, said, “We understand the importance of the Yellowstone River paddlefish season to the local communities and anglers. This closure isn’t made lightly and is done with the health and well-being of our communities and residents in mind.”
While fishing access sites like Intake (near Glendive), Sidney Bridge, and Richland Park are heavily trafficked during the season, there is no reason why the seventy miles of river from Intake to the Missouri Confluence can’t be safely accessed from remote locations and private property.
Furthermore, there is no reason why anglers, by necessity, have to violate six feet of social distancing while fishing even at the popular rivers accesses. The average paddlefish rod is seven to nine feet, and most anglers know that standing in closer to the next sportsman is likely to earn you a switch or hook to the eye. In fact, there might be fewer places that can ensure proper social distancing than on the shore of a paddlefish expedition.
Perhaps FWP bureaucrats have never actually seen paddlefishing be done (pictured below).
The FWP Fisheries Division administrator, Eileen Ryce, said, “The decision to cancel the yellow tag season on the Yellowstone River is based on the reality that paddlefishing here is the opposite of social distancing. The risk of spreading COVID-19 through paddlefishing is not acceptable given the governor’s guidelines for social distancing.”
The statement surely leaves any Eastern Montana sportsman confused as to what Ryce was suggesting. Fishing in the great outdoors is hardly a health crisis.
While some grab-handing and high-fives might be given in the average year, there is nothing about angling that necessitates being in a crowd.
Another reason given by FWP for canceling paddlefish season is that people regularly travel to Montana to take part in the unique conditions that make the sport so lucrative and successful along the lower Yellowstone. A simple suggestion and solution might very well have been to void tags given to out-of-state residents, allowing locals who already live along the Yellowstone to take part.
With this order, the many Eastern Montanans who own property along the river won’t even be able to step outside their door to snag a fish from the privacy and seclusion of their own property.