Outdoors blog

Heat curtails fishing on 3 Montana rivers

A raft carring anglers is put in perspective in this shot from high above on top of a rock cliff overlooking the Smith River. (Rich Landers)
A raft carring anglers is put in perspective in this shot from high above on top of a rock cliff overlooking the Smith River. (Rich Landers)

FISHING -- While rivers in the Spokane-to-Missoula region are still flowing somewhat higher that normal and reasonably cool, waters -- and fish -- farther east are feeling the heat of a drought.

Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks today advised anglers on three central Montana rivers that all fishing would close daily from 2 p.m. to midnight until conditions improve.

The "hoot-owl" closures, effective Friday, July 27, are issued for:

  • Dearborn River—from Highway Bridge 431 to confluence of the Missouri River north of Craig;
  • Smith River—from the confluence of the North and South forks to Eden Bridge east of Great Falls;
  • Sun River—from Highway 287 Bridge to the mouth of Muddy Creek west of Great Falls.

FWP's drought policy provides for angling closures when flows drop below critical levels for fish, when water quality is diminished, or when maximum daily water temperatures reach at least 73 degrees for three consecutive days. Water temperatures have exceeded 73 degrees on the Sun River for 17 days and for 14 days on the Dearborn River. The Smith River's water temperature has exceeded 73 degrees for the past seven days.

The preferred water temperature for rainbow and brown trout is about 55-57 degrees. Temperatures of 77 degrees or more can be lethal to trout.

Read on for more details.

FWP officials said one of the best short-term strategies to address heat-induced stress in Montana's wild and native trout is to reduce catch-and-release mortality by alerting anglers to fish only in the morning.

"Fishing only in the cool morning hours can help," said Bruce Rich, chief of FWP Fisheries Bureau in Helena. "We're trying to minimize additional stress on wild trout during this summer of high water temperatures and low flows. This is really important among catch-and-release anglers who should reel in their catch and release it as fast as possible. Reducing the time on the line can really help the survival of trout this time of year."

In a related matter, FWP expects to inform the owners of 37 water rights in the Smith River basin with more recent priority dates than the agency's 1970 instream flow right, that they must stop diverting water from the river. FWP's instream flow right is used to keep water in the river to protect the fishery.

These are the first angling restrictions imposed this year. For details on all emergency angling restrictions and other drought updates, go to the FWP home page at fwp.mt.gov. Click "Drought & Fire Updates".




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