HELENA — Fishing restrictions due to drought will remain in place on three Montana trout streams for the foreseeable future, but state fisheries officials are cautiously optimistic that they won’t need to make any other closures.
Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials last month imposed “hoot-owl” restrictions on the Smith, Dearborn and Sun rivers, meaning that fishing isn’t allowed on those central Montana streams in the afternoons and evenings, when the water temperatures are too high.
Trout prefer temperatures in the mid-50s, and when it rises, oxygen becomes depleted and the fish become stressed. FWP closes streams to fishing when water temperatures reach at least 73 degrees for three consecutive days. Temperatures above the mid-70s can kill trout.
A few days after Montana restricted fishing on those three rivers, Yellowstone National Park did the same for parts of three rivers within its boundaries: the Gibbon, Firehole and Madison rivers. The temperatures in parts of those rivers were ranging into the high 70s, park officials said.
Anglers have compared this year’s drought to conditions in 2007, when parts of the Yellowstone River were closed to fishing for a month or longer. But now, the Yellowstone River and many other rivers in Montana have temperatures in the high 60s and have not gotten higher, said FWP fisheries chief Bruce Rich.
“That’s good,” he told FWP commissioners in a drought update Thursday.
No other rivers are on tap this week to be closed to fishing, and with the days now shortening, they could escape further restrictions for the rest of the season, barring unexpectedly harsh weather conditions, he said.
Fishing guide Jim Stein of CrossCurrents of Helena said the Smith and Dearborn rivers are usually shallow this time of year and fishing is generally slow anyway. But he is glad to see the restrictions as a way to protect the fish in those rivers.
Stein said he would direct anglers to the Missouri or Blackfoot rivers rather than to a stream feeling the effects of drought.
He said there’s no reason to hurt a phenomenal river. “Maybe you should have been here a month ago or maybe you should come back in the fall,” Stein said.
Craig Matthews, owner of Blue Ribbon Flies in West Yellowstone, said he also would normally be directing anglers to other rivers than the Firehole and Madison rivers in Yellowstone National Park at this time of year.
“Generally, after July 4th, they warm up to where they’re not good fishing anyway. We point people elsewhere,” he said.
Other park rivers are just reaching the right temperature for fishing, such as the Slough, Lamar and Soda Butte rivers.
“We’re really straightforward about that, we say there are better options,” Matthews said.