Stressed trout

The Missoulian Angler Fly Shop's blog recently posted a top 10 list of things to do during restricted fishing hours. Suggestions ranged from "restock the empty slots in your fly boxes" to "Charlie B's." The post concluded with a plea: "Just give our fish a break."

Low flow rates and high temperatures have made August a particularly stressful time for trout. State officials react by shutting down rivers to fishing from 2 p.m. to midnight, and this year have imposed restrictions on the entire Bitterroot and sections of the Clark Fork. That means earlier starts, or moving to already crowded waterways like the Blackfoot.

Grizzly Hackle outfitting manager Rick Marcum says the shop's been encouraging folks to reschedule for September, "but we haven't had to turn anybody away just yet."

Water temperatures on local rivers began spiking in mid July, when temperatures reached the high 60s and low 70s. Flows are also well below historic averages, with the Bitterroot reaching a 30-year low this week. Marcum says the signs were there as early as Junethe best June for fishing "in forever," he adds.

"Everyone was talking about it," Marcum says. "We were like, 'Man, this is scary.' The river was dropping so quick ... we were freaking out."

August hasn't always been so abysmal for fishing guides. Matt Potter, co-owner of Kingfisher Flyshop, started guiding in Missoula just over 20 years ago. He remembers August as "our busiest month" back then. But in 2001, Kingfisher canceled every trip it had scheduled for that month. With the onset of hotter summers, late June and early July have become some of the busier times.

"Twenty years ago, if you guided a dozen times in the month of October, you were doing good," Potter says. "Now our guides are busy for the entire month."

That's largely why Kingfisher began scaling back its guided trips in the mid-2000s. Now the biggest hit to the shop in August is a dip in in-store fly sales as locals heed the warning to stay off the rivers. Still, Potter says, retail sales beyond flies are up 20 percent this month over August 2012.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is reviewing its so-called "hoot owl" restrictions this week, and if cooler temperatures prevail the stress on Missoula's trout streams will even out once more. But Marcum concedes the pendulum could swing the other way.

"If they shut the rivers down, then they shut them down, and we pay the price," Marcum says. "It's part of the deal, part of any job out there that uses natural resources."

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