Paddlefish season opens May 1 on Upper Missouri River

Posted at 5:42 PM, Apr 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-29 19:42:44-04

GREAT FALLS — The 2021 Montana paddlefish seasons kicks off on May 1 with the opening of the Upper Missouri River section from Fort Benton downstream to Fort Peck Dam.

Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks said in a news release that paddlefish anglers must have a white harvest tag, which is issued through a lottery system, to participate in catching and keeping a paddlefish from this section of the river. FWP mails these tags to successful applicants.

Unsuccessful paddlefish lottery applicants will be issued a snag-and-release only license for the Upper Missouri River. Others may also purchase snag-and-release tags for this fishery at FWP offices or online, even if they are not part of the lottery.

Montana has three unique paddlefish seasons, and anglers may select only one area to fish for paddlefish:

  • Upper Missouri River from Fort Peck Dam to Fort Benton (white harvest tag)
  • Yellowstone River and Missouri River downstream of Fort Peck Dam (yellow harvest tag)
  • Fort Peck Dredge Cut archery-only season (blue harvest tag)

The paddlefish season on the Missouri River below Fort Peck Dam and in the Yellowstone River below the mouth of the Bighorn River opens May 15, and requires a yellow harvest tag. The archery fishing season for paddlefish in the Fort Peck Dredge
Cuts below Fort Peck Dam opens July 1, and requires a blue harvest tag. As in the past, anglers may only select one area to fish for paddlefish in Montana. For more detailed information please refer to the 2021 Paddlefish Regulations.

All harvested paddlefish must be immediately tagged and reported within 48 hours. Reporting options include: on-site where fish were harvested (at check points like Intake Fishing Access Site or self-creeling stations along the Upper Missouri), on the phone hotline at 1-877-FWP-WILD (877-397-9453) or 406-444-0356, or online at MyFWP at

The website provides this overview of paddlefish:

The Paddlefish is Montana's largest fish. Everybody thought paddlefish were gone from Montana's rivers, extinct like the dinosaurs until someone accidentally snagged one in 1962. Fish experts got to work right away placing paddlefish in new homes so they would disperse and help the species regenerate. Paddlefish were planted in Montana's Yellowstone River in 1963.

Scientists have put tiny radios in some paddlefish to see where they go when they're released. They seem to go everywhere they can, sometimes hundreds of miles from where they're released. Glendive, Montana is the best place to go for fishing for them. The Intake Diversion Dam 17 miles north of Glendive is crowded with fishing fans from the middle of May through June every year.

Most paddlefish are about 5 feet long, but some grow to 6 feet and can weigh more than 100 pounds. The biggest paddlefish caught in Montana was 142 pounds. They can live to be 30 years old.

Here is a video called "Paddlefish: Anatomy of a Living Fossil"