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Warm temperatures trigger fishing restrictions on parts of the Sun River

"Hoot-owl" closure runs from the Highway 287 Bridge to the mouth of Muddy Creek west of Great Falls.
Posted at 1:45 PM, Jul 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-01 12:58:05-04

Warm water temperatures on the Sun River have prompted Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to close fishing from 2 p.m. to midnight daily, starting immediately until conditions improve.

A news release from the agency explains that what is known as a "hoot-owl" closure on the Sun River runs from the Highway 287 Bridge to the mouth of Muddy Creek west of Great Falls.

FWP's drought policy provides for angling closures 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 have exceeded 73 degrees the last six days, and flow levels are currently below the recommended minimum flow of 220 cubic feet per second (cfs) and the absolute recommended minimum flow of 130 cfs, necessitating the closure.

The preferred water temperature for rainbow and brown trout is about 55-57 degrees. Temperatures of 77 degrees or more can be lethal to trout.

FWP officials said one of the best short-term strategies to address heat-induced stress in Montana's wild and native trout is to reduce catch-and-release mortality by alerting anglers to fish only in the morning. "Fishing only in the cool morning hours can help," said Jason Mullen, FWP Region 4 fisheries biologist. "We're trying to minimize additional stress on wild trout during this summer of high water temperatures and low flows. This is really important among catch-and-release anglers who should reel in their catch and release it as fast as possible. Reducing the time on the line can really help the survival of trout this time of year."

If you have questions, call FWP Region 4 at 406-454-5840.

What does the phrase "hoot owl" closure/restriction mean when used by FWP? From 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.