UPDATE, December 2, 2021: Flows have been restored on the Upper Madison River. According to NorthWestern Energy, the entity which operates the dam, “Hebgen Dam gate is open and outflows to the Madison River are restored. The water in the river is rising as desired. Crews completed the gate repair just before midnight.”

While it was amazing to see the huge show of support from volunteers to relocate stranded fish, it will be a while until we understand the full impact of this event.

Tuesday, November 30th, a malfunction at Hebgen Dam shut off river flows on the Upper Madison River, south of Bozeman, Montana. A complete fishing closure is in effect from Hebgen Dam downriver to Ennis Lake, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. Local accounts are reporting hundreds of stranded fish and vulnerable redds after the spawn. This event will likely have lasting impacts on this portion of the Upper Madison and its trout fisheries. If you are in the area and want to help, head down to the river and ask Montana FWP Officers how you can help.


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Montana FWP adds, “the impacts to the fishery are still unclear. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks staff and volunteers will be on the river Wednesday moving stranded fish back into the river channel, and NorthWestern Energy staff have advised that it is safe to do so. Because flows are unable to be restored immediately, it’s likely that cold temperatures will have a greater impact on spawning redds than foot traffic.”


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Gloria from our team was able to head to the Madison River today (12/1/2021) to assist the crews of people with trying to help the fish, here is what she had to say.

Photo: Gloria Goñi

“Yesterday the Hebgen Lake Dam on the Madison river malfunctioned causing a drastic drop in water levels in a matter of fifteen minutes. Fish were left stranded in isolated pools and on gravel bars and brown trout spawning redds were exposed putting at risk the upper Madison’s current fish population as well as generations to come.”

Photo: Gloria Goñi

“This heartbreaking news spread quickly throughout the fishing community. And in less than 24 hours hundreds of volunteers organized to capture and transport stranded fish into the main channel. Some of the volunteers I met on the river included: anglers, guides, outfitters, fish biologists, non-profit organizations, Montana fish and wildlife, forest service, and staff members from the dam company, Northwestern Energy.”

Photo: Gloria Goñi

“It is easy to start pointing fingers and placing blame, but today people set aside their differences and worked together towards a common cause. I am definitely biased, but I really don’t know of a more passionate, driven, and hardworking group. The fly fishing community never ceases to amaze me.”

Photo: Gloria Goñi

“Northwestern Energy has scuba divers assessing the broken section and is working to find a remedy. That being said, the long-term effects on this 55-mile section of this world-renowned river will take time to fully understand. Humans can be awful— they can tear up landscapes, pollute pristine waters, and destroy habitats for wildlife. But those same human hands can do truly beautiful things. And today the Upper Madison River community did just that.”

Photo: Gloria Goñi

This is a developing story, and we will provide updates as they become available.

Feature image from Chris @featherflicker.

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