Stillwater Angler Fishing Report
Within the past week, due to high water temperatures, Montana Fish, Wildlie & Parks has imposed restrictions on several rivers and streams in our area, including the Yellowstone, Stillwater and Boulder.
Commonly called “hoot owl” hours, fishing is prohibited from 2 p.m. to midnight.
These restrictions apply to the Stillwater from Cliff Swallow to the confluence, the Boulder from Natural Bridge to the confluence, and the Yellowstone from Carter’s Bridge south of Livingston, to the Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone at Laurel.
The restrictions were triggered when water temperatures in the rivers reached at least 73 degrees for three consecutive days. The “hoot owl” restrictions begin at 2 p.m. each day because water temperatures tend to spike during the heat of the day and surpass the 73 degree threshold by mid-afternoon.
The higher water temperatures are highly stressful to fish and can be fatal if the fish are put under an additional burden of being caught by an angler.
Flows on these rivers are running at approximately half of the normal flow average at this time of year. Low flows combined with hot temperatures causes the water to heat up quickly and get warmer during the afternoon.
In general, trout have a low tolerance for higher water temperatures as it has an adverse impact on metabolism and other physiological functions. Trout become more lethargic, lose weight, don’t feed as much, and it can adversely impact the reproduction process.
Fish also become more likely to succumb to predation as their survival skills are adversely impacted by a general decline in energy. Warmer water is also less oxygenated, so as water temperatures rise and the amount of dissolved oxygen decreases, fish become weaker and more stressed.
At a water temperature in the low 70s, trout are already in an energy conservation mode, and positioning themselves to minimize their expenditure of energy just to survive. Therefore, a fish that is already oxygen stressed will become that much more stressed if subjected to being hooked and trying to fight its way free.
Even if promptly caught, handled and released, the mere action of being caught and overexerting in the process may result in fatality. There is even a certain mortality rate due to the high water temperature alone.
To make it clear, the rivers are not closed to fishing. Restrictions have been imposed in order to minimize the impact of warm water temperatures on the fish and preserve the long term health of the fishery.
Fishermen will actually have a better fishing experience by getting out earlier and observing the restricted hours. Not only is it much healthier for the fishery, but it’s more comfortable for the angler too as the heat of the day is being avoided.
It’s also likely to be less windy early, and the late afternoon thunderstorm cells can be avoided too.
So, “hoot owl” hours are implemented in order to minimize the adverse impact of warm water temperatures on the fish. It is based on sound, quantifiable fisheries biology data. FWP fisheries biologists will continue to monitor the rivers to determine if additional restrictions may be necessary as well as when the restrictions can be lifted.
In the meantime, anglers should restrict their fishing to the morning and early afternoon hours. Even bringing in the rod before 2 p.m. isn’t a bad idea as it’s likely to be a while before we see a substantial break in water temperatures.
Keep ‘em wet and tight lines!
Chris Fleck owns and operates Stillwater Anglers Fly Shop and Outfitters in Columbus. He can be contacted at 322-4977 or via www.stillwateranglers.com