Fishing opportunities shrank this past week when ambient temperatures spiked into the 90s. The excessive heat created massive snowmelt in the Absaroka, Beartooth and Bighorn mountains. The melt is coming down so fast, I am praying there is some snow left in July to keep our fabulous blue-ribbon fisheries located on the east side of Yellowstone in good shape through the summer and into the fall months.
A cool-down would go a long ways in conserving some water. Should the snowpack continue to diminish at this rate, there will be no room to store excess water behind Buffalo Bill Dam. The result will be to open the gates at the dam and let the excess water flow on toward Bighorn Lake.
This is why I have preached for years to lower the level in Buffalo Bill Reservoir through the winter months to provide better minimum flows into the lower Shoshone River that by itself is a blue-ribbon fishery to keep good water and spawning levels for the trout fishery that exists. The lake-level reduction would also make room for spring thaw and any snowmelt that occurs due these sudden quirks of nature that have occurred far too frequently in the 21st century.
All the rivers draining the east side of Yellowstone are the color of the Mississippi River right now. One can wish to fish, but there is a better chance of snagging a pine tree or its limbs right now than hooking a trout in the Shoshone, Greybull, Wood and Clarks Fork rivers. Although the muddy river and stream condition happens every year when the weather warms up, the serious snowmelt and subsequent heavy runoff seem to delay until the latter part of June and extend into the second week of July.
The high flows right now could be washing away the spawning redds of our wild trout in these rivers, which means the eggs might not have had the chance to incubate and hatch as they do most years. If this has happened in the rivers and their tributaries, where most wild trout go to spawn because flows typically favor better young trout recruitment in the smaller riverine environments, we will have lost an age class of rainbow and native Yellowstone cutthroat. Should some successful spawn occur, it is a good bet that the young of the year are already flushed into Buffalo Bill Reservoir where they are fresh fodder for walleye, lake trout, brown trout and pelicans. Again, the unusually high flows are not a good scenario to keep a healthy wild trout population for future angler satisfaction.
There are some bright spots to highlight this week for those who want to escape to a river or lake to enjoy piscatorial pursuits. The lower Shoshone River water quality has not changed yet. As of Sunday, the river was fishable all the way to Corbett Bridge. However, inflows from Sulphur, Cottonwood, Idaho and Sage creeks are reducing water clarity as the river flows toward Ralston. Based on the way Buffalo Bill Reservoir is changing colors due to the high flows entering from the South and North forks of the Shoshone, the lower river could turn to a nice brown color by the end of this week. Enjoy this fishery while you can. It will be weeks before Buffalo Bill settles down and the river runs clear enough to fish again.
Local lakes will provide great action for fly, spin and bait anglers in the meantime. Water temperatures are in the 60s now at Beck, New Cody, both Newton lakes, Hogan and Luce. The trout in these lakes are responding well to small- to medium-sized spinners, spoons and plastic lures, as well as to flies that match the aquatic insect and invertebrate populations in these lakes. In case one is wondering about the upper and lower Sunshine reservoirs, the upper is getting tons of dirty of water impacting water quality there and the fishing has been good trolling, but only fair for anglers casting fly lines. Lower Sunshine Reservoir also has a good bite going on with splake catches remaining good and that is because water quality has not yet diminished as it has at upper Sunshine.
Now that the Beartooth Pass is open, anglers can also access some of the lakes up there by hiking in or via some campgrounds that are now open. Not all lakes are completely free of ice, but there are enough for anglers to have fishing conditions better than those at the lower elevations in the Big Horn Basin. Due to extreme bear activity up high, it is advised anglers fish in pairs or larger groups on the lakes and connecting feeder streams. Make sure to carry bear spray at all times.