What out-of-state residents need to know about boating in Montana in 2022

4:56 PM, May 18, 2022
5:03 PM, May 18, 2022

Why visitors come to Montana

Montana has fantastic fishing opportunities that include just under 1 million acres of lakes, reservoirs, and ponds for fishing. Additionally, Montana has more than 15,000 miles of cold-water rivers and streams with world-class - trout fishing. The state’s largest waterbody, Fort Peck Lake, is 134 miles in length, and anglers fish for walleye, smallmouth bass and chinook salmon.

Montana has diverse boating opportunities where paddlers can enjoy more than 169,000 miles of rivers that include 388 miles of wild and scenic rivers on the Missouri and Flathead rivers. Flathead Lake, in northwest Montana, is the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. Visitors flock to this area to fish, boat, waterski, wakeboard and paddle.

Aquatic invasive species could have a catastrophic impact on Montana

Aquatic invasive species (AIS) are plants and animals that are not native to Montana and whose introduction causes harm to the state’s economy, environment, or human health. AIS can flourish in new locations when there are no natural predators or environmental conditions to restrain them. This can cause them to reproduce rapidly and out-compete native species for food, water, and space. This would have negative impacts on Montana waterways, native plant and wildlife species, boating and fishing opportunities, irrigation and ag production, hydropower, and water infrastructure systems.

Watercraft and water-based equipment like fishing gear are the most common vector for the transport of AIS and are the focus of prevention efforts. Many AIS species have invaded other waters in the U.S. and Canada that we want to keep out of our waters. Some examples include invasive quagga and zebra mussels, spiny water flea, and invasive carp.

What nonresident boaters and anglers can do to help protect Montana waters

Nonresident boaters can do their part by arriving clean in Montana! Make sure your boat is free of mud, water, plants and animals before you travel, as a plant fragment can start a new infestation of invasive plants. For example, New Zealand mud snails reproduce by cloning, and some AIS are microscopic and can float unseen in bilge water (like mussel larvae). Zebra and quagga mussels are particularly bad because they can attach to anything in the water, like boat hulls. They can survive out of water for up to 30 days. Always remember to clean and drain your boat and fishing gear at the end of the day. Allow time to dry before your next outing.

Everyone bringing watercraft in, or through, Montana must stop at ALL watercraft inspection stations (even if just passing through Montana and not launching). Watercraft inspection stations are the first line of defense to protect Montana waters from AIS and ensure watercraft are not transporting AIS into the state.

Your help is needed during the inspection. Here’s what you can expect:

  • Inspectors check hull and trailer, internal compartments, bilges, live wells, anchor, and line.
  • Make sure you’ve pulled the drain plug to make sure water is drained.
  • Inspectors will ask you to raise and lower motor and operate ballast pumps to ensure they’re drained.
  • If inspectors need to clean your vessel with hot water, please note that they do not use chemicals. Hot water can kill AIS plants and animals
  • Stop at every station you encounter, allow time during your travels. After the first inspection, other stops should be brief, but you must stop.
  • Failing to stop at an AIS inspection station can result in a fine of up to $500.

Anglers should consistently clean their fishing gear. AIS such as spiny water fleas can cling to fishing line, fowling the line and New Zealand mudsnail, a tiny snail that clones, can hide in mud on bottom of wader boots.
Requirements for nonresidents bringing watercraft (motorized and nonmotorized) into Montana

Montana law requires an inspection for any watercraft coming into the state. For boaters traveling from east to west, Montana could be the first place you encounter a roadside inspection station.

Nonresident boaters will need to purchase the Vessel AIS Prevention Pass if you plan to launch your vessel in Montana. Here are a few details on the AIS Prevention Pass:

  • $30 for any motorized boat (including trolling motor)
  • $10 for non-motorized boats (canoe, kayak, raft, drift boat, fishing pontoon boats, etc.)
  • Pass is valid for the year, until Dec. 31.
  • Purchase at any Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks office or online at CleanDrainDryMT.com
  • Pass can be printed or save a picture on your cell phone (there is no decal)

Always remember to Travel Clean, Drained and Dry! Enjoy Montana and help preserve and protect the places where you fish and boat!

AIS Bureau | Montana FWP

1420 East Sixth Avenue

Helena, MT 59620
Phone: (406) 444-2440

FWP Watercraft Inspection Stations

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