Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks should help the trout in the Flathead survive this drought, but hoot-owl restrictions are only a temporary fix. They don’t address the long-term health and quality of the fishery, which, compared to its pre-settlement condition, is deplorable. FWP should begin restoring the fishery by closing trout fishing upstream of the Old Steel Bridge, and keep it closed until the 10-pound bulls and 5-pound cutthroat of the past are common again.
Subsistence fishermen shouldn’t mind a closure, since they’d rather catch something larger than 6-inch trout. Catch-and-release fishermen may think they should be exempted, but they do stress fish, and inadvertently kill some. They discount this loss as negligible, but how much loss can the fishery withstand, especially as fishing pressure continually increases?
Short of enacting a permanent closure, FWP should require trout fishermen in the upper Flathead to use hookless flies. A hungry fish will bite a fly whether it’s tied on a hook or not, but he’ll drop it when he tires of fighting the line. So instead of being hooked and handled (or mis-handled), the fish swims back to his hole and waits for another bug, while the fisherman still gets to pursue his hobby of playing with his gear and pestering fish, without hurting them.
There’s no need to hook and traumatize sensitive fish like cutthroats when we have hardier, invasive species like bass, pike, sunfish and perch that should be caught, killed (or released, if you really want to punish them for being here), and eaten.
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