Anglers are required to have a license when Fishing any waters in Montana. In addition to the fishing license, anglers must also purchase a conservation license.
The fishing licenses available online are:
For anglers age 12-17 or 62 and older:
(Anglers under the age of 12 don’t need a fishing or conservation license.)
For anglers age 18-61:
The conservation license is $8.00 for all residents and $10.00 for non-residents.
If fishing for paddlefish, a separate tag is needed. This tag costs $6.50 for residents and $18.00 for non-residents.
Seasons and regulations
Montana is split into three districts: Western, Central, and Eastern. The Western District rivers and streams are open from the third Saturday in May until November 30th. This is Unless otherwise noted for a specific body of water.
The Central District rivers and streams are open year-round with the exception of waterways that have closed seasons. Eastern District rivers and streams are open year-round.
Lakes are open year-round in all district unless otherwise noted.
Each district also has its own Regulations for possession and size limits. This can be confusing to anglers new in Montana. Keep the regulations book with you. It clearly states the boundaries between districts making it easier to know the laws.
The Western District has addition Bull Trout regulations in place. Listed as threatened on the endangered species list, bull trout regulations are strict.
Fishing for bull trout is permitted in only four waters in the Western District. They are Hungry Horse Reservoir, South Fork of Flathead River, Lake Koocanusa, and Swan Lake.
A catch card is required for anglers targeting bull trout on any of the waters except Swan Lake. The catch cards are free through FWP (Fish, wildlife & Parks) and are encouraged to be carried by any angler. Even if you are not targeting bull trout.
Upon catching and keeping or releasing a bull trout the following information needs to be recorded:
- Zone (where you caught it)
- Month and day of catch
This data will be used to determine the health of the bull trout population and increase bull trout angling opportunities in the future. Before heading out for bull trout check your regulations book for size and bag limits.
Like the Western District, the Eastern also has special regulations. Rather than bull trout, they are paddlefish regulations.
Any angler fishing for paddlefish, regardless of age, needs to purchase a fishing license. They also need a conservation license and paddlefish stamp. This means if an angler who is under the age of 12 is targeting paddlefish they will need a license.
Any angler who harvests a paddlefish in Montana is required to report it within 48 hours. Some waters will have FWP checkpoints to report the harvest or it can be done via phone.
When reporting be sure to have the proper fish information available. You are required to report:
- Angler tag number
- Jaw tag number (if present)
- Length of fish
- Fish sex
- Date of harvest
Paddlefish regulations are strict and enforced. So, if you are fishing for them in Montana make sure you know the rules and regulations.
Stream access laws
Stream access and private lands have been a topic of debate and controversy for the last 20 years. The access law in Montana from 1985 states that rivers may be used recreationally regardless of streambed ownership.
This does not permit anyone to enter private lands on the shore of rivers or streams. You also can’t cross private lands in order to gain access to the water.
When dealing with Indian reservations and wildlife refuges different laws may apply. Always check access points before crossing land to get to a river or putting your boat in.
Finding where to fish
Montana’s FWP is here to protect the fish and help anglers find the best possible fishing opportunities. Most anglers traveling to a destination need to buy a fishing guide to help decipher bodies of water they are unfamiliar with.
The state of Montana is on your side with their online fishing guide. The online guide allows you to customize a search of fishing waters.
You can search within certain miles of a town, within regions, or even look up specific bodies of water. The search will not only get you the regulations for the body of water, but also a very detailed map and what species you should expect to find.
Another great feature is the inclusion of nearby bodies of water. This tool is indispensable for anglers that are not familiar with the area. Making it easy to plan your fishing vacation in advance and find the best waters close to you in Montana.
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