With warm water and low flows, summer has officially arrived in Southwest Montana. Higher temperatures have brought restrictions across the state resulting in the infamous “hoot owl” closures. According to Montana FWP, closures and hoot owl restrictions now include:
- Beaverhead River hoot owl restrictions from the mouth to Laknar Lane Bridge;
- Smith River hoot owl restrictions from the confluence of the North and South Fork of the Smith River to Eden Bridge south of Great Falls;
- Shields River full fishing closure from the mouth to Rock Creek;
- Lower Big Hole River hoot owl restrictions from the confluence with the Beaverhead River to Notch Bottom FAS;
- Upper Big Hole River full fishing closure from Saginaw Bridge on Skinner Meadow Road to the North Fork Big Hole River;
- Jefferson River entire river hoot owl restrictions;
- Sun River hoot owl restrictions from the mouth of Muddy Creek to the Highway 287 Bridge.
Montana FWP’s criteria for implementing hoot owl restrictions are flows below critical levels, diminished water quality, or when daily water temperatures surpass 73 degrees for three consecutive days. Without raising any alarms, it should be noted that these restrictions are arriving early. It’s not uncommon for this part of the state to see fishing restrictions occur during the late weeks of July, but for them to arrive in June, well that’s a different story.
Historically, the Upper Madison has not been placed on hoot owl restrictions. As a pseudo freestone, the Upper Madison has the benefit of Hebgen Dam to regulate the flow of the river. Even with Hebgen, this summer’s projected high temperatures could result in the first ever hoot owl enforced on the upper section of the river. What does this mean for now? With no amount of capped guide days on the Madison, boat traffic this summer could be unprecedented due to the early restrictions on our neighboring rivers. High angling pressure paired with unseasonably warm water temperatures could be a recipe for disaster.
With these hard truths confronting us this season, it seems pertinent to put a reminder out that we as anglers do have the ability to minimize the amount of stress in each fish we catch. Keep any fish you catch in the water as much as possible and fish barbless hooks to make their release that much easier. We have a wild season ahead of us and every measure we take can ultimately help in the long run.
By Danny Eiden
Danny grew up fishing the driftless region of Wisconsin focusing on warmwater species, tricking bass, northern pike and muskies with big streamers and poppers. A recent college graduate, Danny finds himself tying a lot of flies and working on navigating his new territory around the Madison Valley while contributing to the MRFC blog.