Here in the shop, we have been receiving several questions about the recent “Hoot-Owl” restrictions on the upper Bitterroot. These restrictions require anglers to be off the water from the hours between 2 P.M. and midnight. Most of us have become accustomed to the restrictions that Montana FWP imposes to protect our fisheries during periods of low flow and high-water temperatures.
These new restrictions only affect a few stretches around Missoula as most hoot owl temperature requirements stay the same as they have been in the past. FWP is working towards a goal of protecting native Cutthroat in certain high priority sections of streams.
In most situations, FWP will apply Hoot Owl restrictions when temps are over 73 degrees Fahrenheit for 3 consecutive days. Measured flows may also be a factor in determining when to restrict afternoon and evening fishing. Unfortunately, these restrictions have become all too common in the past 10 to 15 years. Anglers have come to utilize the USGS current conditions webpage to track flows and temps. Anglers have become accustomed to looking for the 73-degree mark.
That’s why the recent restrictions on the Bitterroot have raised a lot of questions. The temps have not reached 73. In August of 2022 FWP decided to set different Hoot Owl triggering temps for streams with high populations of native cutthroat. In short, there are a few streams that restrictions will be triggered by three days over 66 degrees. As far as we know, the Bitterroot and North Fork of the Blackfoot are the streams in the western district that Hoot Owl will be triggered by the 66-degree threshold. You can read about the reasoning for treating cutthroat streams differently here.
In addition, FWP has changed the way that they lift Hoot Owl restrictions. In the past, Hoot Owl was lifted September 15th. There is no longer an arbitrary date. FWP will now use temperature and flow to determine when restrictions are lifted. A few days of cooler temps will not trigger lifting Hoot Owl restrictions avoiding situations where restrictions are implemented and lifted and then implemented again.
As always, if you are not sure if the water you are headed to is under Hoot Owl restrictions or not, stop by the shop. We will have the latest closures and restrictions posted.