FWP Fishery techinicians

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks fisheries technician Chris Hurley releases a Canyon Ferry Walleye netted during a population survey in this IR file photo.

Thom Bridge, Independent Record

With walleye numbers exceeding management objectives in Canyon Ferry Reservoir, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks proposes substantially increasing bag limits and dropping the minimum size for keeping a larger fish.

Canyon Ferry’s management plan includes triggers aimed at addressing the ebb and flow of populations, said area fisheries biologist Eric Roberts, and one of those triggers has been met.

Last fall officials sampled the reservoir in its fall gill netting survey. They caught 11.6 per net, which pushed the 3-year average to 8.6 walleye per net.

The management trigger calls for adjusting limits if numbers exceed seven fish per net in the average.

“Basically is means there’s more walleye than we’d like to see to balance out the fishery,” he said, noting the dynamic between walleye, rainbow trout and perch as a forage fish.

The current bag limit is 12 fish daily and only one over 25 inches.

At next week’s meeting of the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission, FWP will seek permission to bump the daily limit to 20 walleye daily with one over 20 inches.

“There’s lots of fish and lots of young fish so dropping back the length restriction is to protect some of the larger sized fish out there,” Roberts said.

Canyon Ferry’s walleye population has long been a contentious issue.

The fish first appeared in the reservoir in the early 1990s due to an apparent unauthorized introduction, and the population grew to become well known for producing some sizeable fish.

Predacious walleye also meant impacts to the overall fishery, most notably the fingerling trout FWP stocked, and perch.

Liberal walleye limits were eventually curbed, but in recent years anglers have voiced concerns about a lack of abundance of mid-sized fish, and high numbers of smaller walleye. Anglers have pushed for slot limits that would prohibit keeping mid-sized fish to grow more large fish, but FWP has promoted keeping more small fish to allow remaining walleye more food.

Jim Gillespie, president of the Upper Missouri River Chapter of Walleyes Unlimited, said he personally favors dropping the minimum for the single fish even further to 16 or 18 inches. Canyon Ferry has some of the best spawning shoreline in the state and the mid-sized fish that many anglers want to keep tend to easily get over-fished, he said.

The commission meets Thursday in Helena at Montana Wild, 2668 Broadwater Ave., at 8:30 a.m.

Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 @IR_TomKuglin

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