Expect Lower, Clearer Water

Runoff is over.

After this weekend’s warm weather finishes with the snowpack left above 9,000 feet, anglers should find most of the free-flowing rivers and streams throughout the Big Horn Basin and Yellowstone Park in fine shape the rest of the summer.

Back in the day, when native Yellowstone cutthroat were abundant in the Thorofare River and its many tributaries, it was a real treat to mount up on horseback and trail into the Thorofare Wilderness region for a week or so and target these cutthroat with dry flies.

The ride is long over Deer Creek Pass before one hits Butte Creek and follows it to its confluence with the Thorofare River. The trail is long and arduous and the occasional rodeo when a pack string would blow up made the trip that much more special because one could expect to see thousands upon thousands of trout in the river and its many tributaries.

The opportunity to enjoy that special resource passed in 1998 and was literally down to a few spawning natives in a 30 mile stretch by 2000. Since then, a dry fly expedition was pointless in the Thorofare until it joined the Yellowstone River. There, many cutthroat (compared to the mid-lower Thorofare) can be found swimming around giving the appearance the native fish isn’t in peril from lake trout and whirling disease depredation.

My hope is to see them back in the upper Thorofare region while I can still sit a saddle.

Speaking of native Yellowstone cutthroat, Yellowstone Lake is now open to anglers. All lake trout caught must be consumed, or be killed and then returned to the lake to replace the biomass lost when the cutthroat population nose-dived. To facilitate a quick descent for these despised non-native implants, puncture the air bladder with a knife or disembowel the lake trout before tossing overboard.

The Yellowstone River below Fishing Bridge to the Mud Volcano access areas remains closed until July 15. Anglers can expect to find the fishing slow because the numbers of native cutthroat have been reduced to 95 percent of their former numbers in Yellowstone Lake and its tributaries and outlet. Those cutts that are caught will be of good-size with a few smaller to show trout recruitment is occurring.

The closure on the North Fork of the Shoshone east of Newton Creek to Buffalo Bill State Park remains in effect until July 1. This closure is an annual one and is done to protect spawning Yellowstone cutthroat and rainbows, so we can all enjoy what has been a superb wild trout fishery. I know the river looks good and the fishing would be good, but you will just have to wait, or pay the fine.

The Yellowstone cutthroat is a beautiful fish and we are lucky to have them in many of our waters around the area. It is too bad there isn’t more protection by regulation on a fish that deserves to be released alive, rather than consumed, until it has been determined the native trout can be sustained naturally and in numbers better than today, 2012.

Water conditions have been good on the entire North Fork with some blowing out in late afternoons from snowmelt, but clearing for some good to excellent morning through noon fishing west of the Newton Creek closure.

Once the river opens in entirety July 1, the river should be lower and clearer. Wading and boating will still require much caution over the Fourth of July holiday.

Fishing has been really good in Bighorns and at some of our local irrigation impoundments such as Boysen and Buffalo Bill.

Up high in the Bighorns, the North and South Tongue are fishing well. Those numerous beaver dammed, brookie filled streams draining the crest of the Bighorns are a hoot right now. Beat the heat and give it a go with dry flies or ultra-light spinning gear.

Boysen has a bite going on for numerous species of fish. Trout, walleye and crappie are whacking lures and bait. The lake’s in great shape for the upcoming holiday.

Buffalo Bill has been fishing well, too. There are walleye (no live release allowed), but the action on lake trout and rainbows, browns and cutthroat has been good because the reservoir never did blow out from this spring’s snowmelt. The west arm of Buffalo Bill is closed to angling up to Gibb’s Bridge until July 15.