Opening day catch

Joe Micheletto dragged in this 40-pound paddlefish on opening day of the 2019 season.

With paddlefishing being canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19, interest should be at a high peak for the 2021 season, which begins this Saturday in this area.

The season will run until either the harvest cap of 1,000 fish is met or the end of June, whichever comes first. There are no changes to the cap or to the season due to the cancellation of last year’s season.

Fish, Wildlife and Parks fish manager Mike Backes said changes would have been difficult due to a number of factors. “(The harvest cap) is part of annual fishing regulations and we share that population with North Dakota, so we coordinate with them. Through our coordination, we decided, well, there’s roughly 2,000 fish that weren’t harvested last year that are still out in the population but there’s no reason to change the fishing regulation in each state just to accommodate a one year change, so, yeah, it’s just a 1,000 fish harvest cap in both states,” said Backes.

A large portion of the harvested fish this year will likely consist of younger males, noting that in 2011, there was a substantial class of paddlefish born due to the water being higher than average. It takes approximately 10 years for male paddlefish to reach sexual maturity, meaning this is the year they will be going to spawn for the first time.

The return of paddlefishing season should also give a boost to the local economy and many of the area businesses, including hotels, restaurants and shops, should see an increase in sales due to the number of visitors to the area.

Anglers who do not wish to participate in the paddlefish drawing can purchase a snag and release license from a FWP office or online beginning April 9, 2021.

Anglers participating in the snag and release fishery must possess a valid Conservation License, Fishing License and Paddlefish snag and release only license.

Snag and release anglers must abide by all standard 2021 Paddlefish Regulations.

All harvested paddlefish must be immediately tagged and reported within 48 hours. Reporting options include on site where the fish were harvested at check points like Intake Fishing Access Site or roving creel staff along the Missouri, by phone at 1-877-FWP-WILD or 406-444-0356, or online at MyFWP, fwp.mt.gov.

The publication, Montana 2021 Paddlefish Regulations, or 2021 Montana Fishing Regulations, contains the specific rules for each of Montana’s different seasons and river stretches.

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