July 23rd, 2007

Hoot Owl Fishing
By Neil M. Travis, Montana

As I write this piece today at my home near the banks of the Yellowstone River in Montana the outside air temperature is approaching 100 degrees, the sun is beating down, and there is no immediate relief in sight. The State of Montana has invoked restrictions on most all major trout streams in western and central Montana, and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming has put similar rules into effect on most streams in the park. In Montana the 'voluntary' stream closures start at 2 p.m. and extend until midnight until further notice. In Yellowstone National Park the closures are mandatory and take effect at 2 p.m. until 5 a.m. until further notice. I would anticipate that other surrounding states in the west would implement similar measures soon, if they have not already done so. Unless we experience a major cooling event I would anticipate that these regulations would remain in effect until early September in Montana and Yellowstone National Park.

These regulations severely impact angling opportunities but they do not entirely eliminate them. The first order of business for the angler is to check ahead. If your fishing trip involves travel to another area a few phone calls to local fly shops in the area where you are planning to fish might be time and money well spent. A check of the Internet web sites maintained by various states will usually provide up-to-date information on current closures and other valuable information.

If you are planning on fishing in areas with restrictions imposed due to low water and high temperatures there are a few things to remember. High water temperatures have a very adverse affect on most fish especially cold-water species like trout and salmon. Warm water holds less oxygen making it more difficult for the fish to extract the necessary oxygen from the water to sustain their lives. If the water temperature climbs high enough or remains at an elevated level for an extended period of time trout and salmon will begin to die. Due to their size and greater demand for oxygen larger fish are very susceptible to low oxygen levels and are among the first to die. Anglers should carefully monitor the water temperature and stop fishing when temperatures approach 70 degrees.

Water temperatures are normally the lowest from 5 to 8 a.m. so anglers should plan to be on the stream during this period of time. Even at this time anglers should endeavor to play their catch quickly and release them without removing them from the water. Barbless hooks and fine mesh or rubber mesh landing nets will reduce injury to the fish, and enable you to quickly and safely release your catch. Fish that appear to be having difficulty breathing should be released in a calm spot near the shore and monitored by the angler until they swim away under their own strength. If the fish that you are catching appear to be particularly stressed you should voluntarily quit fishing to preserve the resource.

If you are familiar with the water that you are fishing you should seek out areas where you know that springs or other cold-water sources enter the main flow. Trout will concentrate in areas where cold flows lower the water temperatures and increase the oxygen saturation of the water.

Spring creeks and tail-water fisheries below bottom spill dams are normally not subject to high water temperatures, and these offer a viable alternative to the angler. Even these waters are not completely immune from the affects of hot weather. Hatches tend to dwindle or become very sporadic, and spinner falls tend to occur at or near dark or during the very early morning hours before the sun begins to raise the air temperatures. Bright sunny days will cause most trout to restrict their feeding to early morning or late evening after the sun has left the water.

Still waters offer another possibility for anglers. Large bodies of water offer the angler the opportunity to find areas of cooler water around spring holes, but anglers will likely have to settle for fishing with sinking lines since the upper layers of the water may be too warm to be particularly attractive to trout.

Anglers should remember that the fish are not the only creatures that are susceptible to the dangers of hot weather. If you are planning to be on the water during the heat of the day plan on drinking lots of water to avoid dehydration, and remember the summer sun can inflict a serious and even life-threatening burn in a short period of time. Sunscreen should be applied liberally to exposed skin, long-sleeved shirts, Polaroidized glasses, and wide-brimmed hats are the order of the day. Sunstroke is a serious condition, and anglers should be aware that they are very vulnerable.

If you decide to hit your favorite stream consider the fish first. Trust me, life will go on if you don't go fishing today, but if your activity destroys the resources it will not matter tomorrow if the water temperatures drop into the 50's, and the hatches carpet the surface. ~ Neil M. Travis, Montana/Arizona

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