Statewide drought takes toll on rivers, causes fishing closures

BUTTE, Mont. -- Montana is in the middle of its worst statewide drought in nearly three yearswith every single county in the state registering as “severely dry” or worse, according to data from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. Because of it, popular fishing spots like the Big Hole River are experiencing closures in some areas.

Monday, Aug. 16, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks announced new fishing closures along the Big Hole River in the areas between Dickie Bridge and North Fork. These closures, related to the low volume of waterflow, will remain in effect until Oct. 31, or until FWP says otherwise

Mike Marcum, co-owner of the StoneFly Fly Shop in Butte, is constantly taking phone calls for guided tours during summer, the most popular fishing season. But Big Hole River in particular has proven a challenge.

“We kind of stopped doing guided trips overall on the Big Hole River and surrounding areas just because of low water and hot water,” Marcum said. “And it affected the localscoming in, a little less traffic, things like that.” 

Big Hole River is not the only location to experience closures. Both Red Rock Creek in southwest Montana and Shields River near Bozeman have had sections closed off since mid-July.

FWP did announce the opening up of some prior closures on Wednesday, due to rainfall and cooler conditions. Restrictions were lifted on multiple western Montana rivers, including Clark Fork River, Beaverhead River, Silver Bow Creek and others. However, the closures for Big Hole River, Red Rock Creek and Shields River remain in effect.

Additionally, sections of the Big Hole River and Beaverhead River will be closed from Nov. 1 until the third week of May 2022 in order to protect brown trout spawning habitats. Marcum says that in 16 years, he’s never seen that kind of closing this early, but he ultimately feels the decision is a step in the right direction for improving Montana’s wildlife.

“It’s a start,” Marcum said. “New rules and regulations aren’t going to make everybody happy, but I believe in the biology and the studies that need to happen to protect the resources.” 

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