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Guiding for the Future


Montana rivers are undergoing increased demands for water, recreation, and environmental services. These demands in the face of increased periods of drought and other stressors impact the rivers’ resilience and their fisheries, while also translating into the increased potential for conflict among users.  The August 2016 closure of 183 miles of the Upper Yellowstone River and its tributaries to all waterbased recreation was a wake-up call to the fishing industry and other river users that: 1) business as usual will not suffice, and 2) there is the need to step-up as advocates for, and stewards of, the river. With increased human pressures and a limited resource, the fishing/guiding industry is placed on notice that guiding goes beyond the boat, the truck, and the fishing rod. There is the need to proactively demonstrate a commitment to the resource on which their livelihoods depend.  The Upper Yellowstone Watershed Group is the proud initial watershed sponsor of Guiding for the Future. For more information, visit the website of Guiding for the Future.

The Program

The Montana Fishing Guide Certification Program is a course of study and testing to elevate the expertise and professionalism of fishing guides, and to ensure program graduates understand that safety, ethics, regulations, and conservation are core responsibilities of a professional guide, long before a single fish is landed.  
Akin to continuing education requirements in other professions, participating guides will undergo a curriculum that strengthens competence, increases knowledge and skills, and establishes their commitment to helping steward the rivers on which their livelihoods depend. Participants will be evaluated and tested on their knowledge and performance.  Successful completion of this course will provide participating guides, outfitters, and fly shops with a set of credentials that distinguish them to outfitters, clients, other river users, and agencies. 
An important aspect of this program is to increase cooperation between guides, Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks, and other aquatic resource stakeholders such as private landowners and the broader tourism & recreation industry. The program also has the specific task of developing a cooperative monitoring program with agencies and landowners. At present, remarkably little is known about the “state of the river” for many of Montana’s rivers beyond rudimentary flow and temperature data and sporadic fish population data. Fishing guides are out on the water day-in and day-out, providing “platforms of opportunity” to collect ongoing information on river dynamics, trends, and biological assessment. Mirroring a nation-wide trend, state and federal agencies can work with the guide community to develop citizen science and voluntary monitoring protocols that will greatly enhance the information needed to effectively manage the state’s rivers and enhance fisheries. 

Course Syllabus
On completion of this course of study, participants will have demonstrated an understanding and tested competence of the following.

  1. History of Fish and Wildlife Conservation

    • Outcome: Understand the broad outline of fisheries management history, and how that has evolved over time to current day.

    • Content: North American Model, state management of fish and wildlife, Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program, economics of fishing, role of anglers in ensuring future conservation. 

  2. Game Laws and Regulations

    • Outcome: Appreciate why we have them, how they are established, and role of fishing guides in compliance.

    • Content: basic laws and regulations that govern fisheries management and sport fishing, Montana Stream Access Law, water rights, water leasing, wild trout policy, and most common violations.  

  3. Fish Biology

    • Outcome: Working knowledge of fish species, their status, life histories, anatomy and physiology, and science behind proper fish handling.

    • Content includes: fish identification, fish behavior, how fish physiology relates to fish handling. 

  4. River Hydrology and Aquatic Ecology

    • Outcome: Understand basic hydrology and aquatic biology as it effects coldwater fisheries, water flows, and the like.

    • Content: water flow, temperature, physical/seasonal changes, productivity, food webs, fish habitat needs, connection with “reading water.” 

  5.  Water Usage and Challenges

    • Outcome: Basic working knowledge of where water comes from, how it is used in the Upper Yellowstone and Upper Missouri river systems, and threats.

    • Content: river flows, water use (e.g., irrigation, groundwater pumping, urban water supply and treatment), potential impacts to fisheries (e.g., effects of warm water temps and reduced flows and link to disease outbreaks), aquatic nuisance species. 

  6.  Guide as Stewards

    • Outcome: Training in a set of river monitoring and assessment techniques that will be part of a system-wide effort

    • Content : ethics and behavior, improving guide-landowner-FWP relations, river monitoring and fisheries assessment techniques. 

  7. Beyond Flies and Drifts

    • Outcome: Gain knowledge and training in being a more skilled, well-rounded, and more financial savvy guide.

    • Content: teaching techniques, safety, ethics, tips for wowing clients, business management basics, the region’s history (geological, cultural, and natural.

If you are interested in participating in the certification program, or assisting with the steering committee, please contact us.

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