Drought limits fishing on stretch of Montana's Big Hole

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August 21, 2002

Fishing limited on Big Hole

Associated Press

HELENA (AP) - Fishing is being banned on a 19-mile stretch of the upper Big Hole River because of extremely low water levels, the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks announced Tuesday.

The water is so low that it threatens the survival of the river's native Arctic grayling population, the agency said.

The average daily flow has dropped below 20 cubic feet per second at the U.S. Geological Survey gauge at Wisdom. That level is the "critically low" flow specified in the Big Hole Drought Management Plan.

The closure includes the uppermost reach of the river near Wisdom, a 19-mile stretch from Rock Creek Road to the mouth of the North Fork of the Big Hole, about 14 miles downstream from Wisdom.

This stretch includes most of the river's critical grayling spawning and rearing habitats.

The closure will remain in effect until the flows improve to 40 cfs for seven days.

"While the flows and water temperatures in the upper Big Hole River near Wisdom are at levels that are detrimental to the river's native grayling, there are many miles of river that remain open to anglers," said Fisheries Division chief Chris Hunter.

Open reaches include the stretch from the headwaters downstream to Rock Creek Road and the 102 miles of popular sport fishery from the North Fork down to the mouth of the Big Hole at Twin Bridges.

The plan divides the river into three "drought emergency" reaches. The Big Hole Drought Management Plan was developed by the Big Hole watershed committee, a group of volunteers from agriculture, municipal, business, conservation, angling and government interests.

"Last year it was June when we hit critical low flows in the upper reach of the Big Hole and closed this stretch to angling, so we are in significantly better shape this year," Hunter said.

Hunter said irrigators in the basin participated in the drought planning again this year and played an important role in helping to keep water in the Big Hole. Most irrigation is over for the summer.

The Big Hole River holds the last remaining native population of river-dwelling Arctic grayling in the lower 48 states. Grayling have been introduced into some Missouri River tributaries recently to expand the species' range.

Flows in the remaining two reaches of the Big Hole River have held up fairly well this summer, Hunter said. The closure level for the middle reach, measured at the USGS Mudd Creek gauge, is 60 cfs, and for the lower reach, gauged at Melrose, the trigger is 150 cfs. Instream flows Tuesday were 130 cfs at the Mudd Creek gauge and 225 cfs at Melrose.
 

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