Fishing closed on parts of Clark Fork, Madison rivers; more afternoon restrictions added elsewhere

Warming water temperatures and low flows cause restrictions across western Montana

By: - July 26, 2023 1:00 pm

The Clark Fork River at Superior, Montana (Photo by Darrell Ehrlick of the Daily Montanan).

The first full fishing closures of the year in Montana went into effect Wednesday on stretches of the Madison River and the Clark Fork River because of warming waters, while additional afternoon and evening restrictions were added on portions of other popular rivers for anglers.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks issued the full fishing closures on the Clark Fork where several tributaries meet the river in Missoula and to its northwest: Within 100-yard radiuses from where Rattlesnake Creek, the St. Regis River, Cedar Creek, and Fish Creek meet the river.

FWP said daily water temperatures at the mouth of each inlet to the Clark Fork had reached 60 degrees for three consecutive days, the temperature limit for bull trout at which FWP decides to close the area of a waterway to all fishing.

The department also closed fishing entirely on the Madison River from the Warm Springs Day Use Area to the Madison Dam at Ennis Reservoir, as water temperatures below the lake topped 73 degrees three days in a row.

Additionally, warm water temperatures pushed FWP to add more fishing restrictions Wednesday from 2 p.m. to midnight on other stretches of the Clark Fork, the Big Hole River and the Gallatin River.

The “hoot-owl” restrictions are in effect on the Clark Fork from its confluence with the Flathead River to the confluence of Warm Springs Creek and Silver Bow Creek. The restrictions on the Gallatin are from its confluence with the Missouri River to Nixon Bridge, near where it meets the East Gallatin River.

And the new restrictions on the Big Hole River are from its confluence with the North Fork to the Saginaw Bridge; from Dickie Bridge to the North Fork; and from Tony Schoonen Fishing Access Site to the Maiden Rock Fishing Access Site. There are already other hoot-owl restrictions in effect on another stretch of the river.

The full closures on some of the rivers – especially the areas of the Clark Fork in western and northwestern Montana – come a week after FWP said it is considering putting restrictions in place on parts of the Flathead River, home to protected bull trout, for the first time amid historically low water flows and high water temperatures.

There are now fishing restrictions in place on stretches of many popular trout fisheries in western Montana: the Beaverhead, Big Hole, Bitterroot, Clark Fork, Gallatin, Jefferson, Madison, Ruby and Sun rivers. The full list of restrictions and closures can be found here.

It is FWP policy to put the restrictions in place when streamflows drop below certain levels, or when water temperatures reach various temperature thresholds that can endanger different species of fish – in this case of these rivers, bull, cutthroat, rainbow and brown trout, including 60 degrees for bull trout, 66 degrees for cutthroat trout, and 73 degrees for other trout.

Rivers, particularly in the Upper Columbia River Basin, are showing flows much lower than normal for this time of year and above-average water temperatures. It is the same area that is seeing the worst of Montana’s drought currently, as most of northwest Montana is experiencing severe drought and below-average precipitation for the water year the started at the end of last September.

FWP hopes the restrictions will help keep trout as healthy as they can be by reducing fishing pressure at the warmest times of the day, as trout are more prone to disease and death during periods of warm waters and low streamflows.

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Blair Miller
Blair Miller

Blair Miller is a reporter based in Helena who primarily covers government, climate and courts. He's been a journalist for more than 12 years, previously based in Denver, Albuquerque and mid-Missouri.