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Explainer: "hoot owl" fishing restrictions

Fish in Montana
Fishing (MTN News stock photo)
Posted at 6:34 AM, Jul 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-24 08:45:36-04

HELENA — One of the most cherished resources our state has to offer is a healthy fish population. At this time of the year with rising temperatures, the best way to keep that population healthy is to change the times that we go fishing.

To help keep the fish healthy, Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks has temporarily enacted in some areas what are known as "hoot owl" fishing restrictions.

“We're not saying you can’t fish, we’re just asking that you fish in the morning up until about two o'clock in the afternoon,” explained Adam Strainer, an FWP fisheries biologist.

One factor in deciding to implement restrictions is a maximum daily water temp of at least 73 degrees for three consecutive days.

“Monitoring water temps, fisheries, population trends as well as angling trends," said Strainer. "The amount of pressure on the systems are having on them this time of year, and using all those variables to figure out what is best for each water body, each drainage through the state of Montana.”

When conditions are stressful for fish, disease and deaths can run rampant among the populations - and that could have long-running implications.

Strainer said it’s good to see that these restrictions are being respected by the angling population.

“The public’s been very helpful, this year in particular in informing us, they are seeing things occurring out there," said Strainer. "They’re calling area biologists. They are staying in touch with FWP and helping us come to some of these conclusions. They are being very helpful this summer and we’ve had a lot of really great support from the public.”

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.