Lower Madison River

A drift boat heads downstream on the lower Madison River.

The panel that oversees the management of Montana’s fish and wildlife will examine a suite of updates to the state’s fishing regulations on Thursday.

The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission will take an initial vote on a few dozen regulation changes at its meeting in Missoula. The potential changes, vetted by the public in a survey this summer, would then go out for public comment before the commission takes a final vote on them.

Among the proposals from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is a nighttime fishing closure from July 15 to Aug. 15 on the lower Madison River, downstream of Ennis Dam. The change would make permanent what’s known as a “hoot owl” closure, which bars angling from 2 p.m. to midnight.

FWP staff order such closures on rivers late in the summer when water temperatures get deadly for trout and whitefish, and such closures are common on the lower Madison. FWP documents say water temperatures on the lower Madison typically warm between 75 and 78 degrees, temperatures that are stressful for salmonids and make it more likely that fish will die after being caught and released.

Survey respondents mostly favored this change, according to a commission document summarizing the results. The document said about 73% of survey respondents supported the idea while about 26% opposed it.

Some opponents of the change pointed out that the river was not restricted in 2018 because temperatures stayed below the threshold for hoot owl closures. Such restrictions haven’t been ordered yet this year, though the water temperature has been nearing 70 degrees most days.

A few of the other proposed changes in the area include changing the bag limit for burbot on Clark Canyon Dam and allowing the spearing of northern pike through ice on the Missouri River upstream of Toston Dam.

FWP has planned two open houses on the regulation changes for southwestern Montana. One will be Aug. 26 at FWP’s Bozeman office, and the other will be Aug. 29 at the Comfort Inn on Harrison Avenue in Butte. Both meetings will start at 6 p.m.

Michael Wright can be reached at mwright@dailychronicle.com or at 406-582-2638. Follow him on Twitter @mj_wright1.

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