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Thursday, October 29, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Outdoors blog

Montana encourages conservative stream fishing during drought

Rainbow trout on the rise.
Rainbow trout on the rise.

FISHING -- Montana, the first Northwest state to enact drought-related fishing restrictions, is encouraging anglers to continue helping the state's wild trout beat the heat and this year's low stream flows.

As the region creeps into the dog days of summer, Montana fisheries managers continue to monitor native trout streams that have endured nearly two months of stressful low and warm water conditions.

"It's always encouraging to see our anglers' willingness to help Montana's trout beat the heat," said Bruce Rich, FWP's chief of fisheries. "We appreciate everyone's effort to help spread the word about what we can all do to help conserve Montana's wild and native trout."

Earlier this month, "hoot owl" fishing regulations were enacted on 13 western Montana streams to reduce impacts on drought-stressed fish. The regulations allow fishing during the coolest hours of the day between midnight and 2 p.m.

"We're just now heading into what are typically the toughest weeks of the summer for water temperatures and flows," Rich said. Addition restrictions aren't expected, but they are possible if conditions deteriorate.

Rich advises anglers to be extra cautious handling trout, urging the use of heavier-than-usual gear and tackle to land fish quickly, rubber-bag landing nets, and keeping fish in the water while the hook is removed and the fish released.

Catch-and-release fish handling techniques that minimize stress to the fish include:

  • Use barbless hooks.
  • Land fish quickly once they are hooked.
  • Keep fish in the water as much as possible and avoid handling them if you can.
  • If you do handle a fish, wet your hands before touching it and do so gently.
  • Take care not to touch a fish's gills.

Low flows, high water temperatures, and competition for space and food stress most fish, and especially trout. When the need arises FWP's drought policy provides for the use of angling closures when flows drop below critical levels for fish, when water quality is diminished, or when maximum daily water temperatures in a stream reach at least 73 degrees for three consecutive days.

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

While air and water temperatures have moderated to more seasonal norms recently, stream flows are still critically low.

Drought related fishing closure updates in Montana are at, then click Restrictions & Closures.

Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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