Come Monday, anglers will be waking up earlier to fish on some waters in Montana. High water temperatures prompted Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks officials to close fishing from noon to midnight on eight main-stem rivers beginning Monday, July 31 until Sept. 15 or when conditions improve significantly.
FWP is also asking anglers across the state to voluntarily restrict fishing to the cooler morning hours on all other low-elevation waters, and to look to the state’s lakes, reservoirs and high-altitude streams for fishing opportunities.
“The warm water temperatures across the state are putting some of our cold water, wild trout populations at risk,” said Chris Hunter, FWP fisheries division administrator. “The eight main-stem rivers where angling will be restricted to the cool morning hours meet FWP’s fishing closure policy that seeks to protect wild trout fisheries when water temperatures exceed 73 degrees for three consecutive days.”
Rivers meeting this criteria are:
FWP Region 2 in the Missoula Area
FWP Region 3 in the Bozeman Area
· Lower Gallatin River from Williams Bridge near the mouth of the canyon downstream to the river mouth at Three Forks, about 43 miles.
· East Gallatin River, the entire 43 miles of the main-stem river.
· Lower Madison from Ennis Dam downstream 40 miles to the mouth of the river.
FWP Region 4 in the Great Falls Area
· Sun River from Gibson Dam downstream 101 miles to the confluence with the Missouri River at Great Falls.
· Dearborn River from the Highway 434 Bridge downstream 41 miles to the confluence with the Missouri River north of Craig.
· Smith River, the entire 125 miles of the main-stem river.
Region 5 in the Billings Area
· Yellowstone River from Big Timber to Huntley, a 105-mile stretch of river.
FWP closes streams to fishing when low water conditions and high temperatures, combined with fishing pressure and competition for space and food, would lead to an unacceptable level of stress on fish. When fish seek refuge in pools, where the water is deeper and cooler, they are more vulnerable to anglers and predators. Fish also can die from the higher water temperatures, lower oxygen levels and reduced resistance to disease. These threats can affect adult trout numbers in future years.
Montana’s wild and native trout, which replenish their populations through natural spawning, draw anglers from all over the world to fish in Montana,” Hunter said. “It is FWP’s responsibility to protect these wild fisheries when they are threatened. We make these decisions with the long-term well being of our fisheries and our economy in mind.”
Hunter said most studies indicate that fishing-related mortalities significantly increase when water temperatures go above 73 degrees for three consecutive days. It also takes hours for water temperature to drop in the evenings, which is why the fishing restrictions continue until midnight each day.
Hunter said temperatures above 80 degrees can be lethal to trout and he noted that the Dearborn River, north of Helena, reached 80 degrees on Saturday, July 22, and that a portion of the Smith River, south of Great Falls, reached 77 degrees on Wednesday, July 26.
Anglers, irrigators, and watershed groups have worked with FWP for decades to help ensure that enough mature wild trout survive summer’s high temperatures and low flows to be able to repopulate the state’s fisheries and continue to provide high-quality angling opportunities.
If excessively high temperatures continue, it is likely that some rivers may see full fishing closures, particularly as flows continue to drop. Some of the other fisheries that are nearing closure thresholds include: the Missouri River below Holter Dam; the Jefferson River; the Boulder River tributary to the Yellowstone near Big Timber; portions of the Big Hole River; Rock Creek (tributary to the Clark Fork near Missoula); the Thompson River; and the Blackfoot River.
Similar noon to midnight fishing closures are also in effect on portions of the Clark Fork, Jefferson and Little Blackfoot Rivers. A voluntary closure noon to midnight is in effect on the upper Big Hole River.