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Several Montana rivers are under 'hoot-owl' fishing restrictions

What are 'Hoot Owl' fishing restrictions and why they matter for Montana rivers
Posted at 10:18 AM, Jul 10, 2024

GREAT FALLS — Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks said in a news release on Tuesday, July 9, 20224, that portions of the Big Hole, Beaverhead, Clark Fork, Madison, Ruby, and Sun rivers, as well as the Jefferson River and Silver Bow Creek in their entirety, will be closed to all fishing daily from 2 p.m. to midnight, effective at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, July 10. The restrictions will stay in effect until conditions improve.

Hoot-owl restrictions are issued for:

  • Big Hole River
    • from the Saginaw Bridge on Skinner Meadows Road to the confluence with the North Fork of the Big Hole River
    • from the Tony Schoonen Fishing Access Site to the confluence with the Beaverhead River
  • Beaverhead River – from Highway 41 near East Bench Road to the confluence with the Big Hole River
  • Jefferson River – from the confluence of the Big Hole and Beaverhead rivers to the Missouri River
  • Madison River –
    • Lower section, from the Warm Springs Fishing Access Site to the confluence with the Jefferson River
    • Above Hebgen Lake, from Hebgen lake to the Yellowstone National Park boundary
  • Ruby River – from the confluence with the Beaverhead River to Duncan District Road
  • Sun River – from the mouth of Muddy Creek to the Highway 287 bridge
  • Clark Fork River – from its headwaters to the confluence with Rock Creek
  • Silver Bow Creek – its entirety

FWP's drought policy provides for fishing restrictions when flows drop below critical levels for fish, when water quality is diminished or when maximum daily water temperatures reach at least 73 degrees for three consecutive days. Water temperatures of 77 degrees or more can be lethal to trout.
These restrictions are designed to protect fish that become more susceptible to disease and mortality when conditions like this exist. One short-term strategy to address heat-induced stress in Montana's wild trout is to reduce catch-and-release mortality by alerting anglers to fish only in the morning.

Anglers can reduce stress on fish at all times of the year by getting fish to the net or in hand quickly, keeping them in the water and reviving them prior to releasing them back into the river.

If high temperatures and extremely low flows persist, anglers may want to consider fishing areas with less stressful temperatures and conditions, such as larger lakes or reservoirs, or higher elevation waterbodies.

What does the phrase "hoot owl" mean in this context? From a now-archived article on the FWP website:

The term “Hoot Owl” comes from logging operations in the early 1900s. During the summer months, western forests typically are extremely dry and hot and fire potential is correspondingly also very high. Loggers working in the forests to cut and move trees used a variety of equipment that generated sparks (chain saws, vehicles, metal on metal contact between chains, chokers, and similar).
To help prevent fire when conditions were extreme, loggers would stop operations in the afternoon to avoid working in the driest and hottest parts of the day. Morning hours were somewhat safer because of dew and cooler temperatures. Working in these early hours, people would encounter owls that were also active in the morning.
Their calls (hooting) lead to reference to the morning work window as the “Hoot Owl.” The term stuck and later came to be associated with human activity conducted only during early hours of the day.
At FWP, we use the term “Hoot Owl” to reference drought-related restrictions that allow anglers to fish in the morning (for reasons similar to why loggers would work in the morning incidentally), but not in the afternoon.

FWP urges all anglers to minimize stress on fish by playing and landing them quickly, and not removing them from the water while unhooking.

Click here for a list of all current restrictions listed on the FWP site