Record low water flows prompt fishing restrictions

Anglers asked to voluntarily limit fishing on northwest Montana rivers

 fishing restrictions northwest montana rivers, montana living

If you are floating one of the forks of the Flathead River, you may want to leave your fishing rod at home.

The Flathead River basin, including the North Fork, Middle Fork, South Fork and main Flathead River, 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. Water temperatures are already hitting stressful levels for trout, particularly westslope cutthroat and bull trout.
With the warmest days of summer ahead, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks biologists are closely monitoring rivers and streams and could propose measures to minimize impacts from fishing.

This summer, FWP has implemented fishing restrictions in other sections of rivers across the state, including parts of the Beaverhead, Bitterroot, Jefferson, Lower Madison, and Sun rivers. These 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.

In northwest Montana, 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

These restrictions are designed to protect cold-water species like trout that are more susceptible to disease, predation, and other mortalities, including catch-and-release angling during times of drought. ARM 12.5.507 identifies different temperature criteria for different species of native trout.

The temperature criterion for westslope cutthroat trout is met when water temperatures reach or exceed 66 degrees Fahrenheit for three consecutive days. The criterion for bull trout is 60 degrees, also for three consecutive days.
Based upon current conditions FWP is not yet requesting any fishing restrictions or closures anywhere in northwest Montana.

FWP is encouraging anglers to voluntarily limit their fishing to the morning hours when water is coolest and fish are less stressed. In addition, 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.

If high temperatures and extremely low flows persist, anglers may want to consider fishing areas with less stressful temperatures and conditions, such as larger lakes or reservoirs, or higher elevation waterbodies.
For further information and updates, visit or contact the FWP Region 1 office at 406-752-5501.

This summer, FWP launched a new web portal to collect information from members of the public who see sick or dead fish. The new portal,, enables Montanans and visitors to our state to report a description of sick or dead fish, including details on the location.

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