BOZEMAN – Boat launches across Montana are busy this summer.
Fishing restrictions adopted in late June and early July by Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks aim to reduce stress on fish in warmer waters. These restrictions keep anglers away from the rivers that see these warmer water temperatures, but that doesn’t stop fly-fishing enthusiasts from enjoying Montana’s great waterways.
In fact, most guides have seen their business pick up significantly since the lifting of the COVID lockdown orders in 2020.
Daniel Uter, owner of The River’s Edge West fly shop in Four Corners, explained that since this happened his store has seen a spike in activity and hasn’t stopped since. The restrictions do not cancel guide trips, but simply push those trips back to earlier periods or move to other rivers in the area that are not subject to fishing restrictions.
Morgan Jacobsen is responsible for wildlife and park education and information for Region 3. âHere on the Lower Madison River, for example,â Jacobsen explained, âwe saw the temperature of the water exceed 75 degrees for several consecutive days, which is a trigger for Owl restrictions.He went on to explain that trout can have difficulty recovering even in manual catch and release situations.
In addition to following the Hoot-Owl restrictions, which means fishing is prohibited between 2 p.m. and midnight, there are ways to minimize stress on the fish. âOne thing you can do is land this fish as quickly as possible. You know it’s really nice to play with this fish a bit, but if you can land it and catch it as quickly as possible, it cuts down on the energy they have to spend fighting.
You can also change equipment. Uter explained how their guides combat this problem. “We use a slightly thicker point or line that helps bring the fish in.” He went on to explain that this year, in particular, they are encouraging anglers to jump the image into the boat where the fish may be out of the water.
A big social media push this year around the world is “Keep them wet” which means keeping the fish in the water as much as possible. This may mean using the net to keep the fish contained while you carefully remove the hook.
Once you’ve landed the fish, it’s important to give it a chance to recover. âYou know, when you go to release the fish, just hold it in the water and let it go on its own,â Jacobsen explained. Face the fish against the current to let the water flow through its mouth and gills until the fish begins to move on its own. This will give the fish the best chance of surviving after being caught.
With extremely hot temperatures forecast for the near future, Jacobson told MTN that FWP is closely monitoring stream conditions across Montana and will make adjustments to restrictions if necessary. These restrictions can be confusing. Uter said if you’re not sure what area you’re fishing in, just ask. âContact your local fly store,â he said. “We still want to be your best resource for getting out on the water this year.”
And with the extreme heat, now is a great time to explore new fishing grounds not only to avoid the crowds, but also to keep this population of fish healthy.