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August Bitterroot TU meeting to focus on low water and fisheries

Brown Trout
Brown Trout
Bill Burk

Extremely hot dry weather combined with a low snowpack have led to record breaking low water flows and high water temperatures. The severe impacts to streamflows, agriculture and fisheries continue to mount, and restrictions on angling have already been imposed on the Bitterroot and other rivers in Montana.

In order to inform anglers, recreationists and others about the situation and the measures being taken to mitigate the impacts, Bitterroot Trout Unlimited is holding a special meeting. The meeting will be from 7 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, August 1 at the Hamilton Elks Club, 203 State St in Hamilton. The meeting is open to the public and there is no charge for admission.

The meeting will feature presentations by Bitterroot River Commissioner Al Pernichele and MFWP Fisheries Biologist Chris Clancy, followed by an open question and answer forum.

According to Bitterroot TU President Doug Nation, “The situation so far this year is particularly dire. We are fortunate to have the water from Painted Rocks, but in order to minimize impacts, anglers and irrigators will all have to cooperate. Combatting misinformation is the first step, and our TU chapter decided to provide a forum so people can learn the facts.”

Commentary by Chris Clancy

You are probably aware that FWP has imposed “hoot owl” fishing for the entire Bitterroot River mainstem. These regulations are most often related to elevated water temperatures. The criteria for the restriction are met when the water temperature reaches 73 degrees F for 3 consecutive days. Those criteria have been met in the Bitterroot River at Missoula and Hamilton, hence the restriction to that point. In the guidelines, restrictions can be applied more broadly for species of special concern or concerns about shifting angling pressure onto sensitive waters. So, even though the temperature target is not met in the upper river, we extended the restriction to the confluence of the East and West Forks. The East and West Forks themselves are not affected by the restriction.

We have floated the lower West Fork and Bitterroot River 3 times in the past 2 weeks, looking for dead fish. We have found more in the mainstem than in the West Fork. We found 36 dead fish total. Of the trout, about ¾ are westslope cutthroat. They make up about ¼ of the population of trout in the river up there, so they appear to be more sensitive to angler induced mortality (we assume these are release mortality). One question that I cannot answer is how many dead fish does the 36 we saw represent? Dead fish generally are not very conspicuous and don’t stay around in the stream very long if they are.

If you have any comments, I am happy to respond.

Chris Clancy
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks
1801 North 1st Street
Hamilton, MT 59840
(406) 363-7169 (work)

Come to the August 1 meeting to learn more.

For more information about Bitterroot TU and this meeting, contact Doug Nation, BRTU President; email:

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