Faced with elevated water temperatures and declining flows, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) will close fishing between the hours of 2 p.m. and midnight on important bull trout streams in the Blackfoot drainage beginning Friday, Aug. 23.
These “hoot owl” restrictions apply to Morrell, Gold, Belmont, Cottonwood, Copper, and Monture Creeks; the North Fork of the Blackfoot River; and Landers Fork.
According to FWP Regional Fisheries Manager, Pat Saffel, limiting fishing to the coolest hours of the day is a response called for in the Blackfoot Drought Response Plan, established to protect fisheries that are threatened by drought conditions. The drought plan was developed by the Blackfoot Drought Committee, a group of irrigators, local landowners, anglers, fishing outfitters, state and federal agents including FWP, and members of various conservation organizations including Trout Unlimited, and is coordinated by the Blackfoot Challenge.
As water reaches flow and temperature triggers, the plan also calls for reductions in water use from water right holders as part of a “shared sacrifice” approach to improve stream flow and reduce stress on the trout fishery. FWP has an instream flow water right on the Blackfoot River and has asked junior water right holders to conserve water. Many irrigators have been participating by following a voluntary drought plan. Others will be receiving a call for water this week and are asked to follow a drought plan to offset use of their junior rights.
On the main Blackfoot River, temperature and flow triggers that prompt fishing restrictions have not yet been met. Saffel says that longer nights, cooler air temperatures, and reductions in water use from irrigators may be enough to keep the main Blackfoot free of restrictions, but the Blackfoot Drought Committee is monitoring conditions daily. FWP may institute restrictions or a complete fishing closure if necessary. The drought plan calls for an all day fishing closure on the Blackfoot River and bull trout streams when river flow drops below 500 cfs at the Bonner USGS gauge. On Wednesday August 21, flows were 544 cfs.
The Blackfoot tributaries are the third west-central Montana area to be placed under restrictions this summer. Fishing is also closed from 2 p.m. to midnight on the Clark Fork River from Perkins Lane Bridge near Warm Springs downstream to Flint Creek and then from the Clark Fork-Bitterroot confluence just west of Missoula downstream to the Flathead River. On the Bitterroot, fishing is prohibited from 2 p.m.-midnight on the entire length of the river, excluding the East and West Forks.
Other river restrictions are in place in other parts of the state. Anglers can stay up to date on all emergency angling restrictions by going to the FWP home page at fwp.mt.gov and selecting Drought & Fire.