After four consecutive years of drought, anglers in Montana know the drill when it comes to protecting the state’s fisheries during dry summers.
“Anglers can do a lot to reduce the stress on fish caused by low stream flows, higher water temperatures and competition for space and food,” said Chris Hunter, FWP Fisheries Division administrator. “Now is a good time for anglers to do what they can to give fish a break.”
Fish will "group up" to take advantage of pools where the water is deeper and cooler, Hunter said. This makes fish more vulnerable to anglers and predators.
As conditions worsen, fish may die from stress induced by the higher water temperatures, lower oxygen levels, and a lowered resistance to disease. These losses then impact adult trout numbers in future years.
Here are some tips on giving fish a break under less than ideal stream flows.
* Fish in the cool morning hours -- low water flow and rising temperatures combine to stress fish.
* If water is low at a favorite fishing spot, try another location.
* Report fish kills to the local Fish, Wildlife & Parks office.
* Be alert for fishing closures on streams hardest hit by drought.
* Work with water users to try to conserve flow.
Hunter said anglers who practice catch-and-release fishing should also keep in mind that they can minimize the stress they place on fish:
* Use barbless hooks.
* Land fish quickly once they are hooked.
* Keep fish in the water as much as possible while handling them.
* Limit the amount of time fish are handled.
* Wet hands before attempting to remove the hook.
* Handle fish gently and take care not to touch a fish's gills.
“On streams experiencing severe low-water and high temperatures, it is best to avoid catch and release fishing as it is difficult for trout to recover under these conditions,” Hunter said.
Anglers who pay attention to state drought reports, keep an eye on the condition of their favorite fishing spots and fish according to the conditions are the first line of defense in a drought, he said.
For more information on how conditions are affecting the state’s fisheries and links to some of the state’s water resources, visit the FWP web page at fwp.state.mt.us and click on “Drought & Fire '03."