Give ‘em a break

Fishing closure remains in effect for 14 miles of the Ruby River

Full fishing closures lifted on May 25 were reinstated on June 16 for the Ruby River from its confluence with the Beaverhead River near Twin Bridges to Duncan District Road crossing outside of Sheridan. This area includes the state access at Silver Springs Bridge as well as county bridge access at Duncan District Road, Lewis Lane and Seyler Lane.

The emergency closure cited flows in the Ruby River at a U.S. Geological Survey gauge near Twin Bridges dipping below 20 cubic feet per second on June 16, well below the fifth percentile of historic daily flows for that date, which is 45 cubic feet per second. Water temperatures also exceeded 73 degrees for three consecutive days from June 13 to 15.

According to a Fish, Wildlife & Parks press release, closures of this nature are designed to protect fish that become more susceptible to disease and mortality when conditions, such as low flows and high water temperatures, combine with additional stressors.

This is especially expedient this year as recent fish surveys found low numbers of trout in the lower Ruby River. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks biologists estimate there are about 191 fish per mile at the upper end of the closure area, which has a long-term average of about 700 fish per mile. At the lower end, there are an estimated 31 fish per mile, compared to a long-term average of about 800 fish per mile.

“From a fisheries perspective, we’re at historically low trout abundances in the lower Ruby,” said Matt Jaeger, FWP’s Hydropower, Native Species and Beaverhead-Ruby Program Manager. “So that, in combination with poor snowpack and low precipitation leading to low flows and high temperatures, is why we feel an angling closure is warranted.”

Ruby River water users are also taking steps to keep flows above 20 cubic feet per second, in accordance with the Ruby Valley Users Drought Management Plan. Stored water users have taken a 15% reduction in allocated water, and decreed water users have taken a voluntary 10% reduction in allocated water, according to Bill Wood, the dam tender for the Ruby River Water Users Association.

“We’re trying to balance the needs of users who rely on water from the Ruby while maintaining flow levels that fish need,” Wood said. “Water levels at Ruby River Reservoir peaked at 93% of capacity this year, which is the first time since 2003 that the dam didn’t spill.”

The river will remain closed to fishing until lifted by FWP administrative action when daily mean flows exceed 40 cfs for seven consecutive days or until Oct. 15, 2021, at which time the restrictions will no longer remain in effect.

Unless the area receives a deluge of rain, the likelihood of the stretch opening is seemingly low. On June 28 just before 11 a.m. the gauge was reading 20.8 cfs. The lowest the gauge ever recorded on June 28 was 16 cfs in 1954. The highest? On June 28 in 1964 the river was flowing at 1300 cfs.

For the areas that remain open for fishing, waters are warm, so handle fish quickly with pre-wet hands and, ideally, don’t take them out of the water.

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The Madisonian

65 N. MT Hwy 287
Ennis, MT 59729

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