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Low Water Conditions Are Stressing The State's Wild Trout Fisheries


Fri Jul 21 00:00:00 MDT 2000

About half of Montana's major river stretches are rated moderately to extremely dry according to the Natural Resource Conservation Service. "Fish are undoubtedly beginning to feel the stress caused by low flows, higher water temperatures and competition for space and food," said Larry Peterman, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks fisheries division administrator. "Low water conditions in spring and fall can cause spawning failures and increased predation on young fish can impact adult trout numbers in future years. If conditions worsen, we will most likely lose fish to stress from the increased water temperature and decreased oxygen available."

To help preserve enough wild trout in these threatened fisheries so that the populations can recover through natural spawning when conditions improve, Peterman recommends that anglers:

Fish in the cool morning or evening 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.

Anglers who practice catch-and-release fishing can minimize the stress they place on fish they catch by:

  • Land fish quickly once they are hooked;
  • Keep fish in the water as much as possible while handling them;
  • Limit the amount of time that fish are handled;
  • Wet hands before attempting to remove the hook;
  • Handle fish gently;
  • Take care not to touch a fish's gills.

Montana streams contain native and wild fish genetically adapted to the variety of environments, water temperatures and other conditions that exist in those particular bodies of water. Peterman estimates that a wild trout population seriously impacted by drought may take three years or more to recover.

"We sometimes close a particular stretch of a river or stream to increase the survival rate and reduce the length of time it takes for the trout population to recover," Peterman said. Effective July 1, the FWP Commission closed a 19-mile stretch of the upper Big Hole River to angling because low-water conditions threaten the river's native Arctic grayling population.

According to Peterman, FWP fisheries biologists are closely monitoring stream flow across the state. "We're anticipating that stretches of some rivers and streams, particularly in the southwest and central regions of the state, may be closed to fishing if the low-water conditions continue or worsen," he said.

For up-to-date information on stream flow and other drought indicators, check the Montana drought web page at under the heading "Drought 2000."