With drought conditions and low stream flows continuing to take a toll in southwestern Montana, state fish and wildlife officials announced today that they will close a 30-mile stretch of the upper Beaverhead River to fishing and reduce the fishing limits on Clark Canyon Reservoir to protect wild and native fish populations.
The closure of the upper Beaverhead River--from Clark Canyon Dam to the Selway Bridge in Dillon--to all fishing will be effective from Oct. 4 through Nov. 30. Normal winter closures and open seasons go into effect Dec. 1. The lower Beaverhead River from Selway Bridge to the mouth near Twin Bridges remains open to angling.
In addition, Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks reduced the fishing limits at Clark Canyon Reservoir to protect the native burbot population, and trophy rainbow trout and wild brown trout. The emergency daily and possession limit for trout is two fish, down from five; and for burbot (or ling) the daily and possession limit is two fish down from 5. The emergency limits are also effective Monday, Oct. 4.
For the fourth consecutive year, southwestern Montana's water deficit is forcing early reductions in flow releases from Clark Canyon Dam to winter minimums. Flows will range between 25-30 cubic feet per second and result in 40-85 cfs stream flows in the Beaverhead River between the dam and Dillon. FWP recommends 200 cfs minimum flows to maintain fisheries through the reach.
The flow reduction coincides with the fall spawning period for brown trout and native mountain whitefish that populate the upper river reach and those populations are showing declines related to four years of drought and low flows.
Meanwhile, flows into Clark Canyon Reservoir charted record lows over the past several years. For the past three years, virtually no rainbow trout spawning occurred in the Red Rock River and no fertilized Eagle Lake rainbow trout eggs have been collected by FWP. Clark Canyon Reservoir serves as an important brood source for the wild Eagle Lake strain of rainbow trout and usually provides about 500,000 fertilized eggs for the FWP hatchery system. An emergency drought-related angling closure has been in effect since May for Red Rock River from Lima Dam to Clark Canyon Reservoir where biologists have recorded substantial losses in large rainbow and brown trout. Similarly, the stocked rainbow trout population declined dramatically with extremely poor survival in three of the past four years in the reservoir.
“Under these low water conditions, angling restrictions and modifications in our planting program help mitigate for drought related losses in our rainbow trout and wild brown trout and burbot populations,” said Dick Oswald, FWP fisheries biologist.
Streams are closed to fishing when low-water conditions or high temperatures, combined with fishing pressure, would lead to an unacceptable level of stress on fish. Montana's streams and rivers contain populations of wild trout that replenish through natural spawning. It is critical that sufficient numbers of wild fish are conserved to repopulate the fishery when conditions improve.
The emergency reservoir limits will remain in effect until conditions improve in trout populations and reservoir storage, Oswald said.