Keep ‘Em Wet

Hoot Owl restrictions go into place Friday, restricting the Blackfoot, Bitterroot and Clark Fork rivers to only allow for fishing between the hours of midnight and 2 p.m. While this puts a damper on the evening floats, it will help reduce fish mortality and keep our rivers as healthy as possible during this record-breaking heatwave we’ve been experiencing. As anglers, there are a few things we can do to help keep fish happy during these restrictions, and practicing careful catch and release is especially important. Here are a few tips that can help ensure that fish are swimming away strong and healthy from our encounters.

During Hoot Owl restrictions grip and grins should be kept to a minimum. We’ll keep them wet instead.

Hit Cool Stretches of Water
Finding cold water during these restrictions will not only help you find fish, but will help reduce the impact you have on fish when catching and handling them. Find stretches with shade, streams dumping into them, and deep trenches that keep fish healthy and cool. Avoiding rising water temperatures is key.

Get Out Early
Dawn patrol will not only get you into more fish, but it will keep fish safer. Find them early, get them off quick, and get home before lunch. Early hours on a river can be some of the most beautiful times to be out in the natural world, and healthy fish with the sounds of the river waking up will make everyone happy.

Limit Your Catch
This isn’t the time for getting after the high numbers. Find a few fish, hook ’em, and get off the river. The fish will be there when the water cools down in the fall if we all let them rest when they need it.

Land Them Fast
Size up the tippet, horse them in a bit and get them to the net so that fish can be released quickly. Exhausting the fish with a long fight increases the chances of their mortality, and we all want to see the fish go zipping back to the deep with the strength that makes them worthy opponents rather than flipping belly up and floating to their death. Mash those barbs on your hooks. Don’t worry about losing fish- if you hook them right they’ll stay on. A barbless hook is quicker to remove from a fish’s jaw.

Keep ‘Em Wet
Save the grip and grins for next season, and keep the netted fish in the water while you remove your hook and admire their beauty. Let them go in the cold stuff, and help keep our resources healthy. If you need a photo, get the camera low to the water, and pop off a few shots as you raise the fish’s back out of the water while keeping the gills and mouth in the drink. It makes for a great shot and a healthy fish.

We all need to work together to keep our rivers healthy, and while Hoot Owl restrictions may feel like a hindrance, they’re necessary to keep the fish we love healthy and our rivers places of wonder. Pray for rain, fish with a conscience, and keep a cool head when the weather gets hot.

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