BOZEMAN — Boat launches across Montana are busy this summer.
Fishing restrictions enacted in late June and early July by Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks (FWP) are aimed at reducing stress on fish in warmer waters.
Those restrictions are taking anglers off rivers that are seeing those warmer water temperatures, but that is not stopping fly-fishing enthusiasts from enjoying Montana’s great waterways.
In fact, most guides have seen business pick up dramatically since COVID lockdown orders were lifted in 2020.
Daniel Uter, owner of The River’s Edge West fly shop in Four Corners explained that since that happened, his shop saw a spike in business and has not let up since.
Restrictions are not canceling guide trips, but simply pushing those trips to earlier times or shifting to other rivers in the region that are not under fishing restrictions.
"Here on the Lower Madison River, for example,” Morgan Jacobsen explained. “We saw water temperatures exceed 75° for several consecutive days which is a trigger for these hoot owl restrictions.”
He went on to explain that trout may struggle to recover even in textbook catch and release situations.
Besides following Hoot-Owl restrictions, which means fishing is prohibited between 2 p.m. and Midnight, there are ways to keep stress on fish to a minimum.
“One thing you can do is to land that fish as quickly as you can. You know it's really enjoyable to play that fish a little bit but if you can land it and catch it as quickly as you can, that reduces the energy they have to expend to fight.”
You can also switch your equipment. Uter explained how their guides combat that issue.
“We use a little bit thicker tippet or line which helps get the fish in.” He went on to explain that this year, in particular, they are encouraging anglers to skip the picture in the boat where the fish may be out of water.
One big social media push this year worldwide is to ‘Keep Them Wet’ meaning keeping the fish in the water as much as possible. That may mean using the net to keep the fish contained while you carefully remove the hook.
Once you have the fish landed, it is important to give the fish a chance to recover.
“You know, when you go to release the fish, just hold it in the water and let it go off on its own” Jacobsen explained. "Face the fish up current to let water flow through its mouth and through the gills until the fish begins to move on its own. That will give the fish the best chance to live after being caught.
With extremely hot temperatures in the forecast for the near future, Jacobson told MTN that FWP is keeping a close eye on stream conditions across Montana and will be making adjustments to restrictions as necessary.
Those restrictions can be confusing. Uter said that if you are not sure about the area you are fishing, you simply need to ask. "Contact your local fly shop” he said. "We always want to be your best resource about getting out on the water this year.”
And with the extreme heat, this is a wonderful time to go check out some new fishing spots not only to avoid crowds but to keep that fish population healthy.