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FWP: Northwest Montana rivers, streams running historically low

Anglers asked to help reduce stress on cold-water fish
Low NW MT Water
Posted at 10:02 AM, Jul 21, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-24 12:23:03-04

KALISPELL — Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) reports that rivers and streams in northwest Montana are running at or near historic lows for late July.

FWP is asking local anglers to try and reduce added impacts to cold-water fish like trout for the remainder of summer.

The Flathead River basin is experiencing severe drought conditions due to below-average winter snowpack, early runoff, and above-average hot, dry summer conditions.

Flows in the North, South, and Middle forks of the Flathead River are roughly one-third of average for this time of year.

Additionally, water temperatures are already hitting stressful levels for trout, particularly westslope cutthroat and bull trout.

FWP biologists are monitoring rivers and streams and may propose measures to minimize impacts from fishing.

FWP has already implemented “hoot owl” fishing restrictions in parts of the Beaverhead, Bitterroot, Jefferson, Lower Madison, and Sun rivers.

Hoot owl restrictions prohibit fishing between 2 p.m. and midnight on drought-impacted streams until conditions improve.

If conditions on some waters continue to deteriorate, full fishing closures could be implemented, a new release states.

Fisheries biologists are most concerned about heat-induced stress in Montana's wild trout populations in the following rivers and adjacent tributaries:

  • North Fork Flathead River
  • Middle Fork Flathead River
  • South Fork Flathead River
  • Mainstem Flathead River upstream of Old Steel Bridge in Evergreen
  • Swan River
  • Thompson River

FWP is encouraging anglers to voluntarily limit their fishing to the morning hours when water is coolest and fish are less stressed.
Anglers can minimize stress to fish by:

  • Landing the fish quickly.
  • Keeping the fish in water as much as possible, limit or even avoid taking photos.
  • Removing the hook gently. Using artificial lures with single barbless hooks can make hook removal faster and easier.
  • Remembering single-pointed hooks are required in the Flathead drainage upstream of Teakettle Fishing Access Site on the mainstem Flathead River.
  • Letting the fish recover so it can swim away.

For further information and updates, visit or contact the FWP Region 1 office at 406-752-5501.