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Beaverhead River & Clark Canyon Reservoir

57 miles of the Red Rock River between Lima Dam and Clark Canyon Reservoir were closed to fishing on October 1, 2001 to protect spawning brown trout after two previous, disastrous summers of low water and high temperature. The closure will help protect trout eggs in the redds in the gravel areas. This is the only way to help the trout populations rebuild after the severe die-off of larger fish due to low water in the winter of 1988-89. Twelve miles of the Red Rock River between Lima and Dell were totally dewatered. Brown trout recovery in 1990 was only 200 per mile.

The December 1, 2001 winter angling closure will be in effect on the Beaverhead River from Clark Canyon Dam to Pipe Organ and on the full reach of the Red Rock River.

Both rivers will be closed over the winter until May 18, 2002. From Pipe Organ to Selway Bridge the emergency closure will be lifted to permit normal winter and spring angling.

Flows in the upper Beaverhead River range from 17% to 43% of the minimum recommended flow and the trout are concentrated in the remaining pools. The Beaverhead and Big Hole Rivers are very attractive to Montana and out-of-state anglers. To prevent crowding, the Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission proposed setting times for residents and other times for non-residents and outfitters. This will deepen the rifts between Montanans, out-of-state fishermen and the outfitting industry.

November, December and January 2004 inflows into Clark Canyon Reservoir have set all-time record lows. Drought continues to stress the fishery below Clark Canyon Dam and mitigation may be futile unless more precipitation develops. A reduced bag limit has somewhat helped the trout populations. Three years ago MTFWP lowered the bag limit in the reservoir from 5 to 2 trout. The drought is shrinking not only the rainbow trout populations but also the number of brown trout. The reservoir has typically produced 35,000 to 50,000 fertilized eggs for the state’s wild trout program. In 2003 there was no spawning run out of the reservoir, thus no eggs.

Under ideal conditions the reservoir begins the irrigation season with 160,000 acre/feet of water and covers about 5,000 acres. The reservoir now is a little over 40,000 acre/feet, covering 2,000 acres. At the end of the irrigation season in 2003, levels dropped to 10,000 acre/feet covering a mere 1,000 acres. About half of the fishermen in the reservoir have been non-residents and now their number has dropped to one-third.

The Beaverhead River is classed as a blue ribbon trout stream in Southwest Montana. The Beaverhead Watershed Committee, using Clean Water Act 319 funding in 2001, is addressing impaired streams, threatened fisheries and point and non-point sources of pollution in a Watershed Water Quality Restoration Plan. Monitoring is being carried out to determine what is polluting the water and to develop plans for remediation. Low flows have combined with extremely high water temperatures which exceed 70 degrees for most of each day up to a maximum of 80 degrees on July 12, 2004. ~

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