MISSOULA -- Rivers in western Montana go to hoot owl fishing restrictions on Friday after three straight days of fish-killing water temperatures earlier this week.

“It’s never been this early,” Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region 2 fisheries biologist Ladd Knotek said on Wednesday. “We’re several weeks ahead of where we’d normally be in a low-water year. We’re already seeing mortalities in the upper Bitterroot.”

The restrictions apply to several rivers and streams in FWP Region 2: The entire reaches of the Blackfoot and Bitterroot rivers, the Clark Fork River from its headwaters to its confluence with the Flathead River, Flint Creek below the Highway 1 bridge near milepost 53, and Silver Bow Creek from its confluence with Warm Springs Creek to its meeting with Blacktail Creek in Butte.

Hoot owl restrictions limit river fishing to the hours between midnight and 2 p.m. June’s unseasonable heat wave pushed area river temperatures above 72 degrees on three consecutive days – the trigger for hoot owl rules.

Knotek said that was unusual because air temperatures were more a factor than low water. Hoot owl rules in past years haven’t gone into effect before mid-July, when low water starts concentrating fish in deep pools.

Rainbow and brown trout prefer water at 55 to 65 degrees and become stressed above 73 degrees. Bull trout and cutthroat trout get stressed when water temperatures rise above the mid-60s.

Members of the Blackfoot Challenge have implemented their voluntary drought impact plan, which includes weekly irrigation scheduling planning so farmers more efficiently use and conserve water for instream flows, and where possible, voluntarily reduce water consumption. Area anglers also participate by following the hoot owl restrictions and reduce floating activity that stresses fish.

For details on all emergency angling restrictions and other drought updates, go to the FWP home page at fwp.mt.gov. Click "Drought & Fire Updates".

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