While our temperatures are falling and the water is getting cooler in Montana’s waterways, we still need to be mindful of protecting the fish that anglers are so eager to catch.
This year has had near-historic low flows. The Missouri River, for example, has only had 3 years in the last 20 where the river flows in August have been above average according to Montana FWP (Fish Wildlife and Parks) statistics. And fishing organizations like Fishing Outfitters Association of Montana (FOAM) and guide shops have been preaching the importance of conservation during these sizzling summer days and low flows.
"Our resources are under more stress this year than it has been in a number of years” Jason Fleury, owner of Trout Chasers in Gallatin Gateway, Montana, told MTN News. “That is due to the warm temperatures we've been facing, the lack of water we've been facing, as well as the increased amount of pressure a lot of these rivers are seeing.”
That stresses the importance of staying aware of conditions when you are out on the water.
“Stop fishing when that water temperature hits, we like to say around 68 degrees is when fish really start to feel that stress” Fleury said.
It also stresses the importance of landing that fish quickly and reducing the time that fish is handled once caught.
“Gear up a little bit,” Fleury explained. “What I mean by that, I mean run a little bit heavier leaders and tippet, and that way we can put a little more pressure on those fish and land them faster.”
According to Fleury, a little bit can go a long way when it comes to landing those fish quickly.
“There have been multiple studies done that show an extra 10 seconds of fighting a fish can stress that fish out far more than even holding it up for a grip and grin at the end.”
And getting that hook out of the fish’s mouth can be troublesome, especially with small flies. Fleury recommends using a de-hooking tool that you can get from most sporting goods stores or from a local fly shop.
“A tool like this just hooks right onto your leader, slides right down to that fly to the bend of that hook right out of the fish's mouth,” he said.
And if you lose a fish, we should not sweat it. If that fish goes under a log or hides in deep cover and it breaks off, it is better for the fish overall to break the line and move on.
It is great to catch a fish, but we also do not need to wear them out so much they do not make it to the next day. Reducing pressure is the other way to reduce the stress on those fish. It may mean that we go the extra mile to fish in places that have fewer anglers or hiking to waters that may be new to you.