Southwest Montana is in the middle of the first big heat wave of the summer. Currently it’s 98 degrees here in Downtown Bozeman and it feels much hotter. Water flows are low and river temps are on the rise.
A rise in water temperature is bad for fishing in a couple of ways. Trout don’t like warm water and they won’t eat as readily as the temp climbs. If they aren’t comfortable they just don’t want to be messed with. They may sink down to the lowest holes or cluster around springs in an attempt to stay cool.
Water temps over 72 or so degrees can be dangerous to the fish. They can barely survive at that temp, and when they get caught, played, handled out of water and then released the odds are very good they won’t make it. Trout mortality rates go through the roof once the water hits a certain point.
It also reaches a point where FWP starts mandating closures. If water temps hit a certain point and stay there or higher for a set period, they will either close a river altogether or institute a “Hoot Owl Closure”. Generally, a Hoot Owl Closure shuts a river down to fishing from 2pm to midnight. These aren’t too bad since they still allow you fish in the cool of the morning.
So how do you fight the heat this summer?
Get Out Early
Get out there as early as you can. The river will be at it’s coolest after it has had all night to cool down. In the summer there is enough light to see by 5am. Get out of bed and hit the water early. You can get in a full day of fishing before things heat up too badly by noon or 1. The fish will be happier, you’ll be happier. It’s a win/win.
Fish the Shade
Fish don’t like direct, bright sun. It exposes them to predators and it’s hot. They like shady, dark places. Seek out the spots on the river that have shade. The water will be a little bit cooler, and the fish can hide more easily. They will feel safer and will eat more readily.
Fish get spooky when they’re not happy. Be stealthy. Don’t wear super bright clothes and approach the river slowly and with caution. Most people will spook far more fish in the summer than they might see. Take your time.
Use Enough Rod
The fish are already stressed out. Using a light rod that will take five minutes to play and land a big fish will build up a large amount of lactic acid in the fish and really, really tire it out. In the warm, oxygen starved water they will not be able to recover. Use a big enough rod to play and land the fish in a timely manner. Get them in and get them back.
Put Them Back
If you have to take the fish out of the water, have everything ready for a picture before you get them out. If you can leave them in the water, all the better. Pull them out, get one quick picture, then get them right back in. Like I said, they are stressed, so messing around with them in the net, out of the water, or trying to get a hook out can all be harmful. Pinch the barbs on your flies to make them easier to remove. Make sure to properly revive a fish too. Let them recover before leaving them to the mercy of the current.
In certain conditions, fishing in the summer can be quite a challenge. But if you take into account how to work with the heat, you can have some awesome fishing. See you on the water.