Montana Hoot-Owl Restrictions

Here we go. July 1 and we’re already seeing some “Hoot-Owl” closures around the state. That means that June was a little warmer than we like it. Or than the trout do. It seems early, and it also seems like just a couple of weeks ago some of these rivers were high and un-fishable. Here is the current list (as of 7/2/16):

BEAVERHEAD RIVER

Hoot Owl Fishing Restriction starting 07/01/2016
Mandatory Drought Closure – 2 PM to Midnight
Beaverhead River from Anderson Lane to the Confluence with the Big Hole River. (6/30/2016)

This is the “lower” Beaverhead, downstream of Dillon to Twin Bridges. Not likely on your list of spots to hit unless you’re fishing with a guide from the Twin Bridges area.

BIG HOLE RIVER

Hoot Owl Fishing Restriction starting 06/30/2016
Mandatory Drought Closure – 2 PM to Midnight
Saginaw Bridge on Skinner Meadows Road to the Mouth of the North Fork Big Hole River. (6/29/2016)

This is the way upper Big Hole drainage and a wade fishing area. Home to threatened Grayling. Probably not a place you had planned to fish.

Hoot Owl Fishing Restriction starting 07/01/2016
Mandatory Drought Closure – 2 PM to Midnight
Big Hole River from North Fork Big Hole River to Dickey Bridge (6/30/2016)

This one will affect some anglers who like to fish the upper Big Hole just upstream from Wise River.

Hoot Owl Fishing Restriction starting 07/01/2016
Mandatory Drought Closure – 2 PM to Midnight
Big Hole River from Notch Bottom Fishing Access Site to the Confluence with the Beaverhead River. (6/30/2016)

This section is well below Melrose and Glenn, and represents the lowest 2 floats on the Big Hole.

GALLATIN RIVER

Hoot Owl Fishing Restriction starting 07/01/2016
Mandatory Drought Closure – 2 PM to Midnight
From the confluence with the Madison River at Three Forks to Sheds Bridge (Hwy 84) near Four Corners, MT (6/30/2016)

The very lowest sections of the Gallatin and not likely a place you planned to fish in July.

JEFFERSON RIVER

Hoot Owl Fishing Restriction starting 07/01/2016
Mandatory Drought Closure – 2 PM to Midnight
Entire river. (6/30/2016)

If they need to impose Hoot-Owl restrictions on the entire Jefferson on July 1, they should just close it. Stay off this one.

MADISON RIVER

Hoot Owl Fishing Restriction starting 06/30/2016
Mandatory Drought Closure – 2 PM to Midnight
Madison River from Ennis Dam to the mouth (6/29/2016)

The entire lower Madison. Best left to the splash & giggle crowd this time of year anyhow. Again, probably should just be closed.

RUBY RIVER

Hoot Owl Fishing Restriction starting 07/01/2016
Mandatory Drought Closure – 2 PM to Midnight
Ruby River from Duncan District Road to Confluence with Beaverhead (6/30/2016)

The very lower sections of the Ruby, and not likely a spot you were planning to hit unless you have access to private property.

Broad, slow and shallow sections like the Missouri River near Cascade should probably see the same drought closures as many Montana freestones.

SHOULD I EVEN GO THERE?

These restriction get very confusing to folks unfamiliar with Montana, and sometimes get over-publicized nationally, causing anglers cancel their trips to Montana all-together. For example, it’s likely that a national news organization will write the typical “Montana Streams Closed to Trout Fishing”, or “Montana’s Famed Big Hole Closed Due to Drought” story in the next week or two. In reality, the section of the Big Hole that receives 90% of the fishing pressure is still open and under no restrictions. And 99.9% of Montana’s rivers and streams are open to fishing!

On the other hand, broad, shallow lower reaches like the Jefferson and Madison below Ennis should probably just be closed. They get incredibly warm at times, and don’t have either the elevation or shady canyons to help cool them at night or when the sun is low. Political and economic forces have made the “Hoot-Owl” restriction the norm. 15 years ago many of these restrictions would have been imposed for 24 hours, not 10.

If you’re concerned about where you will be fishing, watch the weather, use your head and carry a thermometer. Just because a river is open doesn’t mean the trout are not in danger of over-stressing in warm water temperatures. The “Big 3” that never get restricted (Missouri, upper-Madison, Big Horn) all suffer from water temperatures that should trigger a closure. Again, those in power seem to have decided long ago to leave these rivers open no matter what stream conditions are.

So use your brain and think about all of the factors that affect the river you plan on fishing. Weather, elevation, shade, gradient and depth all play a factor into how a stream reacts to extended warm air temperatures. And be ready to pull the plug if you see the fish you catch having a tough time reviving after a fight. Ultimately it’s not the states decision where you fish, it’s yours.

Maybe it’s time you finally try the Kootenai River?

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2 Comments.

  • Dallas Hoffman
    July 4, 2016 9:44 am

    John, just a note for any anglers planning to come fish the Bow here in/near Calgary…. The temps yesterday were in the seventies, water is low and weedy; the government of Alberta will likely step in and shut ‘er down within the next two weeks.
    Call a shop/guide/ before you make the trip!

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