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Paddlefish season on Yellowstone, Lower Missouri canceled; still opportunity on Upper Missouri

The 2020 paddlefish seasons on the Yellowstone and Lower Missouri rivers (yellow tag) are canceled in response to Gov. Steve Bullock’s extension of the directives for social distancing and non-resident quarantine to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

As of now, paddlefish season on the Upper Missouri River from Fort Benton downstream to Fort Peck Dam (white tag) will remain in place and the drawing for these limited tags occurred April 6. The fishery opens May 1 and is conducted in a more dispersed manner. There are also no proposed changes to the archery paddlefish season (blue tag) in the Dredge Cuts below Fort Peck Dam. Both of these opportunities are subject to change if angler congestion becomes an issue.

Anglers heading to these locations are advised that United States Army Corps of Engineer campgrounds around Fort Peck Lake and Dredge Cuts, and the Bureau of Land Management campground at the James Kipp Recreation Area on the Upper Missouri River, are closed to overnight camping due to COVID-19 concerns. Visitors are encouraged to contact these agencies and the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge for up-to-date information regarding any restrictions before traveling to these areas.

The yellow tag season, which runs from May 15 to June 30, draws large groups of anglers to Intake Fishing Access Site, Sidney Bridge, Richland Park and other areas. Many people travel from all over the United States and Canada to participate.

“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,” said FWP Fisheries Division Administrator Eileen Ryce. “The risk of spreading COVID-19 through paddlefishing is not acceptable given the governor’s guidelines for social distancing.”

During the 2018 season, 718 paddlefish anglers (92.5% of all anglers) fished from three public access sites on the Yellowstone River during 15 harvest days. Anglers represented 156 different cities, 18 states and South Africa. Residency of anglers for the top six states included (% by state): Montana (66.5%), Wyoming (19.5%), North Dakota (5.6%), Colorado (1.6%), South Dakota (1.3%), Idaho (1.0%), and 13 additional states (3.5% collectively).

The closure will last the entire season and applies to both harvest and catch-and-release days. Aside from a temporary closure due to flooding concerns in 2011, FWP has never had to cancel a paddlefish season.

"We understand the importance of the Yellowstone River paddlefish season to the local communities and anglers," said FWP director Martha Williams. "This closure isn't made lightly and is done with the health and well-being of our communities and residents in mind."

Anglers who have already purchased the yellow tag will be eligible for refunds. Those anglers should contact the FWP Licensing Call Center at 406-444-2950 to process a refund.

For the time being, anyone fishing or recreating in Montana is encouraged to adhere to social distancing guidelines and travel recommendations issued by Gov. Bullock, which can be found on Montana’s COVID-19 website at

Most of FWP’s outdoor facilities including most state parks and fishing access sites remain open for day-use-only recreation. Responsible social distancing is recommended, if a parking lot at a fishing access site or state park is full, consider another place to recreate. Also, it is a good idea to recreate in your local area.

Currently group-use sites and campgrounds are closed. Fishing piers are also closed to all but handicap access due to the risk of high congregation.

Maintenance at FWP facilities will be cut back and public opportunities limited:

Overnight camping will not be allowed.

Visitor center closures will be extended at least through April 24.

Bathrooms may be limited.

Sites will be regularly patrolled by enforcement staff.


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