Laura Lundquist

(Missoula Current) A weekend of excessive heat has led to more rivers warming beyond what is healthy for trout, so afternoon and evening fishing is now restricted in more places.

Starting Wednesday, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks has put hoot-owl restrictions on the Clark Fork River upstream of the confluence with the Flathead River near Paradise. This means no fishing is allowed from 2 p.m. until midnight when both air and water temperatures are at their highest.

Fisheries biologists put hoot-owl restrictions in place once the Clark Fork River has warmed to 73 degrees or above for three days in a row. Stream gages at Superior and Deer Lodge started registering temperatures above 73 on Friday as water levels in the Clark Fork have continued to drop.

These conditions, along with nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, have caused algae to spread in the Clark Fork, worsening the situation for trout.

Hoot-owl restrictions have also been expanded on the Big Hole River, extending from the headwaters to Dickie Bridge, 7 miles upstream from Wise River, and then farther downstream from the Maiden Rock Fishing Access Site to the confluence with the Beaverhead River.

The Beaverhead River was placed under hoot-owl restrictions a week ago.

In addition, FWP has fully closed some sections of rivers, meaning fishing is prohibited regardless of the time of day.

On the Clark Fork River, no fishing is allowed within a 100-yard radius of the mouth of four feeder streams: Rattlesnake Creek in Missoula, Fish Creek near Tarkio, Cedar Creek near Superior and the St. Regis River near St. Regis. All four creeks are bull trout streams but stream temperatures at the mouth of each stream have exceeded 60 degrees, which threatens bull trout.

Finally, as of Wednesday, the upper section of the Madison River from the Madison Dam below Ennis Lake to the Warm Springs Fishing Access Site is completely closed to fishing. The rest of the river, from the Warm Springs Fishing Access Site to the mouth, was placed under hoot owl restrictions last week.

Both closures and hoot-owl restrictions will remain in place until the peak water temperature in most rivers stays below 70 degrees for three consecutive days, adequate flows are present and FWP announces the restrictions are lifted.

Now that the summer heat is pervasive, even fishing in the morning isn’t good for trout that struggle to recover from each day’s high temperatures in hoot-owl restricted rivers.

Fishing organizations and guides recommend that, even on rivers without restrictions, anglers limit their fishing to early morning to keep Montana’s trout populations strong and healthy. Also, don’t “play” the fish for an extended time - that adds stress. Land it quickly, keep it wet and return it to the water as soon as possible.

Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at lundquist@missoulacurrent.com.

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