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Bitterroot River under hoot owl restrictions
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Bitterroot River under hoot owl restrictions

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Hoot Owl restrictions lifted on Bitterroot River

A couple of fishermen take advantage of the cooler morning temperatures last week to fish just below Bell Crossing on the Bitterroot River earlier this summer. 

The Bitterroot River was added Monday to the long list of Montana fisheries under angling restrictions following the summer’s long heatwave.

The entire main stem of the Bitterroot River is closed to fishing daily from 2 p.m. to midnight due to warming water temperatures and low flows.

The east and west forks of the river are not included under the “hoot owl” restrictions.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials placed the same restrictions on the Clark Fork River and portions of Fish Creek and the St. Regis River this week.

Rivers and streams are put under hoot owl fishing restrictions when water temperatures rise above 73 degrees for three days in a row.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Bitterroot-based fisheries biologist Jason Lindstrom said that occurred on the Bitterroot River Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The decision was made to put the entire main stem under the restrictions to ensure that fishing pressure wouldn’t shift to the upper river, where there has already been some reported mortality in the cutthroat fishery. Cutthroat trout struggle when water temperatures rise over 68 degrees.

Despite this week’s rain and expected cooler temperatures, Lindstrom said the hoot owl restrictions will likely remain in place into September.

“We’re not going to bounce in and out of it until conditions get noticeably better,” Lindstrom said.

People who decide to fish in the morning hours need to remember that trout are under stress and need to be handled as gently as possible, he said.

Anglers should play fish as quickly as possible and keep them wet. Hooks should be removed gently and fish given a chance to recover before being released. Anglers should also consider fishing areas where water temperatures are cooler, like larger lakes and reservoirs or high mountain lakes.

A full list of current fishing restrictions and closures can be found at fwp.mt.gov/news/current-closures-restrictions.

Most anglers are already aware of the stress warm waters place on trout fisheries, Lindstrom said.

“I think 85 percent of people were already fishing earlier in the day,” he said. “People still need to be diligent even during the times when they are legally able to fish. When you consider the fact this heat started in June, I think we’re all shocked that we made it to August.”

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