Tips for Fishing Through the Hoot Owl Restrictions


If you haven’t heard by now, there are Hoot Owl Fishing Restrictions on many of the rivers in western Montana.  That means that fishing is closed from 2 pm until midnight each day, and the notable rivers affected are the Bitterroot, Blackfoot, and Clark Fork.  The restrictions are put in place to protect the trout during the time of day when water temperatures are highest.  Hooking and fighting a trout in those conditions is an almost certain death sentence for the fish, and Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks does a great job protecting our fisheries.

Many people assume that because there are fishing restrictions then the fishing must not be very good, but that’s not necessarily the case.  Simply changing your strategy a little can pay off well in these conditions.  The trout still need to eat, and they will do just that when the water temperatures are at their lowest each day.  The water temps in our rivers can fluctuate 8 to 10 degrees each day during the summer and while the afternoon fishing can be slow because the trout are holding in the deepest, coolest water, the early morning fishing is generally very solid.   Get up early and hit the river at first light to find aggressive and actively feeding trout this time of year.


Hike into a high country creek. Photo by ©Tony Reinhardt.

There is a lot of water close to Missoula, but it is also some of the areas warmest right now.  The bite can be great for the first hour or two in the morning, but then the action can drop off to nothing.  Look to the upper ends of our watersheds to find the coldest water.  The colder the water, the more consistent the fishing is right now.   A little further drive up the Bitterroot or Blackfoot will result in better fishing all the way up to the 2 pm cut-off.


Fish the small streams. Photo by ©Tony Reinhardt.

Rivers with no fishing restrictions currently include Rock Creek, the West Fork of the Bitterroot, and most of the areas small streams.  These fisheries offer colder water and the opportunity to fish all day if you choose.  Morning and early afternoon is still your best bet for active trout, and it’s always a good idea to carry a thermometer along.  If you see temps around 70 then it’s time to head home and give the fish a break.


Keep those trout wet in hot conditions. Photo by ©Tony Reinhardt.

One of your best options this time of year is to explore some high mountain creeks and lakes.   There are more little gems within a couple hours of Missoula than you could fish in a lifetime.  Most don’t hold trophy sized trout, but there is usually lots of action from healthy, wild trout and not another angler within miles.


Launching on the Flackfoot at dawn. Photo by ©Tony Reinhardt.

Hoot Owl Fishing Restrictions are not an ideal situation, but it’s not reason to pack your fly rod away in the closet either.  Get out a little earlier, venture further upriver, or head to the high country to get your summer fly fishing fix.  Read more of current fishing restrictions.

Tight Lines,

Tony Reinhardt, Montana Trout Outfitters

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Tony Reinhardt BioTony Reinhardt is the owner, outfitter for Montana Trout Outfitters in Missoula.  He has been a guide on the rivers of western Montana for 16 years and absolutely loves his job.  When he’s not working you’ll find him fishing with his two children or in the woods hunting.