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Conservation > Fisheries Management > Habitat > Water Management Drought

Restrictions and Closures

Fishing and Waterbodies

ow stream flow conditions and related high temperatures clearly effect fish habitat and fish health. Under sever conditions FWP may restrict or curtail sport fishing when necessary to protect a species or population.

Current conditions:


Additional information

"Hoot-Owl" Restrictions

What are “Hoot Owl” restrictions?

Hoot Owl restrictions refer to a Time of Day Closure for angling due to drought conditions. The Time of Day Closure prohibits angling between the hours of 2 PM and 12:00 AM (Midnight).

What is the origin of the phrase “Hoot Owl” restrictions?

The term “Hoot Owl” comes from logging operations in the early 1900s. During the summer months, western forests typically are extremely dry and hot and fire potential is correspondingly also very high. Loggers working in the forests to cut and move trees used a variety of equipment that generated sparks (chain saws, vehicles, metal on metal contact between chains, chokers, and similar). To help prevent fire when conditions were extreme, loggers would stop operations in the afternoon to avoid working in the driest and hottest parts of the day. Morning hours were somewhat safer because of dew and cooler temperatures. Working in these early hours, people would encounter owls that were also active in the morning. Their calls (hooting) lead to reference to the morning work window as the “Hoot Owl.” The term stuck and later came to be associated with human activity conducted only during early hours of the day. At FWP, we use the term “Hoot Owl” to reference drought-related restrictions that allow anglers to fish in the morning (for reasons similar to why loggers would work in the morning incidentally), but not in the afternoon.


FWP Lands

Hunting and recreational activities may be limited during drought conditions due to fire danger. Check for any restrictions or closures on FWP lands before heading out:

The Effects of Drought on Wildlife

Wildland fires can destroy hundreds, sometimes thousands, of acres of habitat and displace wildlife. Late season fires may also affect hunting season dates, hunting opportunities and the condition of winter range for deer, elk and other species. When wildland fires break out, check here for information on how they may be affecting Montana's wildlife.

How Anglers Can help

When water levels drop and stream temperatures rise, FWP may restrict fishing to protect the State's sport fisheries. Low water and high temperatures cause fish to seek deep pools, making them more vulnerable to predators, disease, and to anglers. Check the conditions on your favorite fishing streams before you go.

Fish will feel the stress caused by low flows, higher water temperatures and competition for space and food.  Low water conditions in spring and fall can cause spawning failures and increased predation on young fish.   Also, fish will "group up" to take advantage of pools where the water is deeper and cooler -- making them more vulnerable to anglers and predators.  If conditions worsen, fish are lost to stress from the higher water temperature, lower oxygen levels, and reduced resistance to disease.  These threats can impact adult trout numbers in future years.


To help preserve a threatened fishery anglers can:

  • Fish in the cool morning hours — low water flow and rising temperatures combine to stress fish.

  • Try another location, if water is low at a favorite fishing spot.

  • Be alert for fishing closures on streams hardest hit by drought.

  • Work with water users to try to conserve flow.

  • Report fish kills to the local Fish, Wildlife & Parks office.


Anglers who practice catch-and-release fishing 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.

  • Take care not to touch a fish's gills.

On streams experiencing extreme drought conditions and high water temperatures, anglers may want to avoid catch and release fishing as it is difficult for trout to recover under these conditions.

How irrigators can help

Thousands of trout that have migrated from low-water streams into irrigation ditches can be saved if water diversions are gradually reduced at the end of each irrigation period, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks fisheries staff.

Irrigators can save trout with a three-day water-reduction plan. Three days before irrigators plan to close off their diversions, they should cut the water flow in half. Then, within the next 24 to 48 hours, cut the flow in half again. The following day the diversion can be completely shutdown.

The gradual water reduction triggers an upstream movement that causes trout to move out of the ditch and back to the main stream or river channel.  Concern for the state's fish populations is heightened by the continuing drought conditions.

FWP manages rivers for wild, naturally reproducing trout, so it is important to maintain enough fish in a stream that they are able to naturally reproduce and preserve the genetic integrity of that fish population when conditions improve. 

For more information—or to obtain the brochure "Methods to Reduce Trout Losses in Irrigation Diversions"—irrigators can contact their nearest FWP office or local conservation district office.

Drought Response and Management Plans

Annual Drought Reports

Governors Drought Advisory Committee

The Governor's Drought Advisory Committee was established by an act of the Montana State Legislature, MCA Sec. 2-15-3308 Drought advisory committee, in 1991 following the drought years of the late 1980s, including the highly publicized Yellowstone National Park wildfire year of 1988. State voting member agencies include the Governor's Office, DNRC, DEQ, FWP, Agriculture, Livestock, Commerce, and Disaster Services. Federal reporting partners include the Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Geological Survey, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Agricultural Statistics Service, and the National Weather Service. Other reporters include the multi-agency Northern Rockies Coordination Center for fire conditions, Montana Tech's Groundwater Information Center, Montana Climate Office, USDA Farm Service Agency, U.S. Congressional delegation representatives, U.S. Small Business Administration, Rural Development, and Montana State University Extension Service.