Wednesday, July 14th, 2021

Fly Fishing “Hoot Owl” Restrictions

And How You Can Help

Angler practicing Montana hoot owl best practices

Photo by Josh Smith – Fly Fishing Guide for Glacier Anglers

This summer has been unusually hot, and river water temperatures are running warmer than usual. The warm water temperatures combined with extra stress put on the fish by anglers can cause mortality rates in the fish to rise. When water temperatures rise above 73 degrees for three consecutive days, fish wildlife biologists introduce “hoot owl” restrictions implemented and designed to protect fish, especially trout, which become more susceptible to disease and mortality when exposed to these environments. On many rivers in Montana, such as Big Hole, East Gallatin, Upper Clark Fork, Madison, and many others, restrictions have already been placed to limit fishing between the hours of 2:00 pm to midnight. These restrictions ensure anglers are catching fish only when the water temperatures are at their coolest during the day.

Anglers in the Flathead Valley are fortunate because the Flathead River system is fed from ice-cold glaciers and snowpack runoff high in the mountains. The crystal-clear water has always stayed below temperatures that would be required to institute hoot owl restrictions. With that being said, the water in the Flathead River system is still warmer than average, and everyone can do their part to help the survival rates of the fish while still being able to enjoy and recreate in the sport of fly fishing. 

Keeping fishing in the water during hoot owl restrictions for Montana rivers.

Photo by Josh Smith – Fly Fishing Guide for Glacier Anglers

At Glacier Anglers, in West Glacier, Montana, our guides take all the necessary precautions and use best practices to catch and release fish responsibly. 


Best practices to improve survival rates:

1. Use appropriate gear for the type of trout you are fishing for and use barbless hooks to reduce physical damage to the fish.

2. Do not overplay the fish or draw out the fight unnecessarily. Longer fights increase the stress, recovery time, and mortality rates of trout.

3. Land fish in a net made of soft, rubberized material that reduces slime loss and fin damage.

4. Keep your hands wet, away from the gills, and minimize handling time. It is best not to take the fish out of the water if possible. Do not use sunscreen on your hands as it can be toxic to the fish.

5. When releasing the fish, hold it upright and upstream in faster-moving water until it is ready to move independently.

6. Finally, limit yourself. There is no need to catch an unlimited number of fish in the day. Slow down, take a break and relax, and enjoy the scenery.  

Video from Glacier Anglers Guide, Talbird. He is using proper release techniques.  

The above catch and release practices are essential during warm water periods and generally when we go out on the river. If we take care of the fish today, they will always be there for us tomorrow. If we abuse what we are fortunate to have, our beautiful resources will fade away.

Glacier Anglers is operating fishing trips on the Middle and North Forks of the Flathead as usual. Still, we are being mindful of current conditions and making sure all of our guides continue the best practices for catch and release fish. We can teach these practices to many anglers who might otherwise lack the knowledge or know-how. We offer several fly fishing trips for all skill levels and fish predominately for wild and native Westslope Cutthroat trout. You can bring your gear along, or we can provide it for you. A Montana fishing license is required for all fishing trips, except for our beginner fly fishing school hosted on our private ponds at Glacier Outdoor Center. Please visit our website for more information on our guided fly fishing trips.

Angler respecting the hoot owl restrictions on Montana rivers

Photo by Josh Smith – Fly Fishing Guide for Glacier Anglers


We hope you’ll consider joining Glacier Raft Company for a trip down the river. Our attention to detail, along with a strong emphasis on safety, experience, and customer service, make us the perfect match for your family or group whitewater rafting experience. 


2 responses to “Fly Fishing “Hoot Owl” Restrictions”

  1. Doc Murphy 911 says:

    “Avoid barbless hooks” should be re-written.

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