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By Jack H. Smith
Three Forks Voice 

Commission approves "Hoot Owl" restrictions


October 30, 2019

FWP Photo

The Montana Fish, Parks, & Wildlife Commission approved earlier this month permanent "Hoot Owl" Restrictions on the lower Madison River. Proposal 31 was part of the 2020 Fishing Regulations.

The Montana Fish, Parks, & Wildlife Commission approved earlier this month permanent "Hoot Owl" Restrictions on the lower Madison River. Proposal 31 was part of the 2020 Fishing Regulations.

The restrictions from the Warm Springs Day Use Area to the confluence of the Jefferson River will be in effect July 15 through August 15 from 2 p.m. to midnight.

According to FWP, restrictions currently went into effect after three consecutive days of 73 degrees maximum daily water temperatures and are lifted when there are three consecutive days below 70 degrees.

The FWP reports thermal data from 1997 to present show median maximum daily water temperatures typing warm between 75 and 78 degrees between July 15 and August 15 from Warm Spring to the confluence of the Jefferson.

The 2020 fishing regulation proposal states, "the extreme temperatures in this reach exceeded the criteria for drought and temperature-related fishing restrictions on an annual basis. These temperature levels are highly stressful to trout and whitefish and high levels of hooking mortality occur during this time period."

In a survey conducted by FWP, 52 were in support of Proposal 31, 19 were against, and 24 had no opinion.

Montana Trout Unlimited supported the "Hoot Owl" restrictions. In a letter sent to the commission, Executive Director David Brooks and Conservation and Government Relations Director Clayton Elliott discussed their support.

"Montana Trout Unlimited strongly supports protecting trout during these acutely warm water conditions – the likes of which have become the norm for this stretch of the river in recent years. We are concerned about the lack of use of this important tool across the state as we are seeing increasing warmer waters that are negatively impacting native fish, often because of real or perceived challenges in the short notice of public education and enforcement challenges. We believe that moving to permanent Hoot Owl restrictions will actually make the regulations more predictable and user-friendly for anglers," the letter states.

In her letter to the commission, Nancy Delekta spoke against the regulations.

"Please consider the state quo on the lower Madison in the regulations for 202 instead of the permanent closure as this seems better based upon the temperatures and the science than imposing a permanent closure. The past couple of summers it was not necessary to close the lower and the temps were okay. If you impose a permanent closure it could cause other negative issues for lack of access when access may be needed due to issues at other locations. This year was a good example of not needing to close that stretch and it enabled some spreading of folks that would go to other places if it were closed. Please consider going back to the science you have used historically," Delekta said.

Other concerns about the permanent restrictions included having unnecessary regulations in place during years of high snowpack and cool summers, as well as letting science determine the regulations, not dates.

In response to submitted comments, the FWP states they were made aware that this stretch of river is more frequently fished then they were aware of which increases concerns overfishing during highly stressful conditions.

"This proposal will prevent fishing during the hottest part of the day and should, therefore, prevented associated mortality of fish."


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