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Blackfoot Challenge works to get word out as river runs lower than normal

The Upper Clark Fork River Basin is at only 66% of normal snowpack which is already impacting the Blackfoot River
Blackfoot River Aerial
Posted at 1:29 PM, Jun 27, 2024

GREENOUGH — The beginning of summer is a good time to look to the mountains as the snow is quickly melting.

The most recent numbers from the USDA show the Upper Clark Fork River Basin has only 66% of normal snowpack, which affects the Blackfoot River, which is already extremely low.

As summer is now here and the temperatures are rising, people are going to be hitting the river. But after a near-record low snowpack this past winter, the Blackfoot River is looking really low.

The Blackfoot Challenge is hard at work educating people about how people can preserve the extremely valuable natural resource.

Blackfoot River
The Upper Clark Fork River Basin is at only 66% of normal snowpack which is already impacting water levels on the Blackfoot River..

“The Blackfoot River is famed for its recreation, fishery — its scenery. “People come here to enjoy that very thing,” noted Blackfoot Challenge water steward Clancy Jandreau. “A river like this is very snowpack dependent.”

The Blackfoot Challenge is a group of people who keep an eye on the river, and let people know how to conserve irrigation water and protect the environment when it’s running low.

While Jandreau says the river is not critically low, it’s headed in that direction, “We are running about 1040 cfs and typically this time of year. we should be around three times that.”

When the river is this low, The Blackfoot Challenge asks nearly 90 irrigators to shut down their water pumps, ask anglers to not fish when it’s hot and to use artificial lures and simple hooks that are kinder to the fish.

This is important because the Blackfoot River flows for 132 miles and through seven communities which are fed by 1.5 million acres of watershed.

Blackfoot River Fishing

Since the Blackfoot Challenge started 24 years ago they’ve had to activate their drought plan 16 times. Jandreau says with climate change impacting our snowpack for the foreseeable future, people need to work together.

“Drought is just going to be a present thing we are going to deal with more often than not. The good thing is that we’re building, through this response plan, through all this community outreach and awareness around it. We’re building our resilience to that.”

It’s important to note that this resilience only comes from collective action, so the Blackfoot Challenge asks everyone who visits to do their part.

Visit for additional information about the Blackfoot Challenge and the Blackfoot Drought Response Committee.

Below is additional information from the Blackfoot Challenge.

Some of the actions taken by irrigators during drought include:

  • Shutting down irrigation pumps or diversions completely once drought conditions are triggered. • Irrigating crops and pastures in a rotation so that demand is reduced at any given time.
  • Irrigating less often and only at night when less water is lost to evaporation.
  • Trading water rights by shutting down certain rights in exchange for continuing to use other more efficient rights.
  • Participating in habitat and/or riparian restoration projects and soil health practices that lead to
  • long-term water conservation and drought resiliency.

Anglers should consider the following to give fish the best possible chance to survive:

  • Artificial lures are preferred over bait to reduce deep hooking and catch and release mortality. • Single hooks are preferred over treble or multiple hooks because they are easier and quicker to remove.
  • Barbless hooks are recommended over barbed hooks because they are easier to remove and reduce release time.
  • Heavier gear is preferred over lighter gear because it makes it easier to land fish.
  • Rubber or neoprene nets are preferable because they are less likely than nylon nets to catch hooks, which increases release time.

To ensure a released fish has the best chance for survival:

  • Land the fish quickly and do not play it to total exhaustion.
  • Keep the fish in water as much as possible when handling and removing the hook.
  • Remove the hook gently. Do not squeeze the fish or put your fingers in its gills. There are release devices available from most sporting goods/fishing stores to assist you.
  • Set the hook quickly to avoid deep hooking the fish. If the fish is deeply hooked and must be released by regulation, cut the line inside the mouth opening. Do not yank the hook out, as some fish will survive with hooks in them. Anglers should strongly consider keeping fish deeply hooked if allowed by regulations on that water body.
  • Release the fish only after it has gained its equilibrium. If necessary, gently hold the fish upright in the current facing upstream and move it slowly back and forth.
  • Release the fish in quiet water close to the area where it was hooked.