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High water good news for trout habitat

High water rushes through Clarks Fork Canyon on the Clarks Fork tributary of the Yellowstone River Saturday. Trout will avoid high velocity water, so fish near the shore and in slower water until the water clears in late July or early August. High water rushes through Clarks Fork Canyon on the Clarks Fork tributary of the Yellowstone River Saturday. Trout will avoid high velocity water, so fish near the shore and in slower water until the water clears in late July or early August. Tribune photo by Mark Davis

The bad news: If you’re waiting for the rivers to clear to begin fishing, you’ll probably be waiting until late July or early August, depending on the amount of rainfall between now and then.

The good news is the rest of the fishing forecast.

High water levels in the Shoshone and Yellowstone rivers and low levels in the Buffalo Bill and Boysen reservoirs are mostly good news, according to Sam Hochhalter, Cody Region fisheries supervisor for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Other than the longer than average wait for the rivers to clear, the high, fast water will benefit trout fishing.

Fast-flowing water in the rivers is cleansing gravel and substrate, removing silt and providing better conditions for incubating trout eggs.

“Sediment plugs the space between the gravel,” Hochhalter said. “We’ve had a good sequence of high-water years providing an extended, prolonged flush.”

Hochhalter pointed to 2011, 2014 and this year as good years for cleansing the substrate, providing a better habitat for incubation. This is especially welcome news for the lower Shoshone after silt was released near the Willwood Dam last year, according to Hochhalter.

The lower Shoshone has been stocked to supplement wild trout populations and to provide better sport fishing.

After the high water clears, river fishing will be improved for not only 2017, but for years to come, until another big snow year provides a life-giving cleanse.

While the water is flowing fast, the fish will be easier to find, according to Hochhalter.

“Trout will seek out lower velocity water, mostly along the bank and riparian areas,” Hochhalter said; a riparian zone is the interface between land and water.

In preparations for the snowmelt, the Buffalo Bill and Boysen Reservoirs have been drained to low levels. 

For the Buffalo Bill Reservoir, it’s great news for fisheries biologists who have been trying to rid the reservoir of walleye. The walleye were illegally stocked in 2003 and/or 2004, according to Hochhalter. 

While walleye are one of the most desirable game fish, they also feed on juvenile trout. 

“If you cut open the stomach of a 4-pound walleye you will find five or six juvenile trout,” Hochhalter said, adding, “Unchecked, the wild trout population would probably collapse.”

If you catch a walleye at the reservoir, it is illegal to return it to the water. That means that there is no limit on size or number you can catch, so fill a bucket if you can.

“[Even] with today’s tools and technology, it’s highly unlikely we’ll be able to eradicate walleye in the reservoir,” Hochhalter said.

Drawing down the water dries out many of the walleye beds, helping the Game and Fish control populations. While the process is great for Buffalo Bill Reservoir, it’s not great news for Boysen Reservoir, where walleye are welcome.

Fortunately, the Boysen Reservoir had good classes of walleye the past two years and the population in the reservoir is strong. While the water is down, they’ll be easier to find.

Angling in stocked lakes like Beck and East Newton lakes continues to produce solid fishing. Beck Lake was recently stocked with 1,800 catfish and shore fishing has resulted in nice rainbows, bass and perch. 

Renner Reservoir, south of Hyattville, has been drained and won’t be refilled until after structure can be built this fall and refilled the following spring. In three to five years, the reservoir will be teaming with largemouths.

The sun sets over the Shoshone River and the Willwood Dam last month. High water levels in the Shoshone will spell good news for anglers in the long run, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department says.
Tribune photo by Greg Wise

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