The Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission agreed today to close the middle reach of the upper Big Hole River, a 28-mile stretch, to all angling effective Sunday, Aug. 24. The extremely low flows and high water temperatures threaten the survival of the river's native Arctic grayling population and other fish populations.
“With the stream flow near the Mudd Creek Gauge at less than 60 cubic feet per second and water temperatures that have exceeded 70 degrees for three consecutive days, it is critical that we take action to protect the native grayling population and the wild, naturally reproducing fish in this stretch of river,” said Chris Hunter, FWP Fisheries Division administrator. The Big Hole's drought plan recommends closure when flows drop to 60 cfs.
Today's closure encompasses the Big Hole River, from the mouth of the North Fork of the Big Hole River down to Dickie Bridge, about nine miles upstream from the community of Wise River. This reach of the Big Hole River is critical summer grayling habitat.
The closure will remain in effect until flows exceed 80 cfs for seven consecutive days, Hunter said. The upper reach of the Big Hole River, a 19-mile stretch from Rock Creek Road to the mouth of the North Fork, five miles upstream of Wisdom, has been closed to angling since July 24.
While the angling closures on the upper and middle Big Hole River total now total about 47 stream miles, the remaining 109 miles are still open to fishing. “Stretches of the river still open to fishing are the popular lower reach of the Big Hole, from Dickie Bridge down to the mouth of the Big Hole at Twin Bridges, and the headwaters downstream to Rock Creek Road,” Hunter said.
Hunter urged anglers on these open stretches of the river to avoid fishing during the hottest parts of the day and to be alert to declining water flow. Fish are stressed by high temperatures and low water.
During droughts, FWP works with irrigators, watershed groups and others to protect wild and native fish populations that must replenish through natural spawning in Montana waters. It is critical that sufficient numbers of wild and native fish are conserved to repopulate a fishery when conditions improve.
The Big Hole Drought Management Plan was developed by the Big Hole Watershed Committee, a group of volunteers representing agriculture, municipalities, business, conservationists, anglers and federal, state and local agencies.
The Big Hole River holds the last remaining native population of river-dwelling Arctic grayling in the lower 48 states. Introductions of grayling into some Missouri River tributaries have recently been made to expand its present range.For information on emergency angling restrictions and other drought updates go to the FWP home page at www.fwp.state.mt.us and click on the box titled “Drought & Fire ’03.”