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Drought has state officials weighing fishing restrictions

by The Western News
| July 5, 2024 7:00 AM

Anglers should be aware that restrictions and closures may be implemented soon due to drought conditions. 

The trigger for angling closures typically happens when the temperature of a waterbody reaches 73 degrees F for three consecutive days. However, some closures can occur at lower temperatures depending on the species being protected. 

While several waterbodies across the state are nearing the criteria, cooler temperatures forecasted for later this week could put restrictions on hold for now. These would include “hoot owl” restrictions, which prohibit fishing between 2 p.m. and midnight on drought-impacted streams until conditions improve.  

Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ Fisheries and Water Program staff meet weekly to discuss statewide conditions to prepare for likely restrictions and closures. 

There are four criteria FWP biologists consider for setting hoot owl restrictions:  

- Species of interest are present in significant number. 

- Temperature criteria have been met. 

- Fishing pressure is high. 

- Stream flow conditions. 

These restrictions are designed to protect fish that become more susceptible to stress, disease and mortality when low and warm water conditions exist.  

Anglers can help reduce stress for fish by following these practices when catching and releasing fish, though fish mortality may still occur:  

- Fish during the coolest times of day, where permitted.  

- Land the fish quickly.  

- Keep the fish in water as much as possible.   

- Remove the hook gently. Using artificial lures with single and barbless hooks can make hook removal faster and easier.   

- Let the fish recover before gently  

For more information, go to FWP’s Drought webpage at https://fwp.mt.gov/conservation/fisheries-management/water-management/drought.