July 30, 2022
By Lynn Burkhead, OSG Senior Digital Editor
As summer winds down, the big news in the fly fishing world this week is almost certainly the sale of industry giant Simms Fishing Products to Vista Outdoors for a reported $192.5 million.
But there’s plenty more news in the fly fishing world, including some not too far away from the Simms headquarters facility in Bozeman, Mont. Here’s this week’s collection of Fly Fisherman news briefs for July 30, 2022:
Yellowstone Now Mostly Open after Disastrous June Floods
As flood recovery and rebuilding continues following the catastrophic floods of June 2022, at this point, it’s probably easier to discuss what’s currently not reopened in Yellowstone National Park (YNP). Not much remains closed as YNP officials recently noted that approximately 93 percent of the park’s paved roads and 94 percent of the park’s backcountry are now re-opened.
As of July 21, 2022, visitors were able to park at Tower Junction and then bicycle, hike, and fish between Tower Junction and Slough Creek according to a YNP news release. The road between those two locations was also open for commercial tour operators and permit holders, as well as stock outfitters. The park was also said to be finalizing a day-use reservation system allowing visitor access to the same area, something supposed to be online and operational by Monday, Aug. 1.
And starting Wednesday, Aug. 3, the road corridor between Tower and Slough Creek will open to patrons with tickets for half-days (either 8 a.m. to noon, or noon to 4:30 p.m.).
There are still closures, however, as summer winds down and fall fishing opportunities approach in the fabled waters of YNP. That includes the North Entrance Road from Gardiner to Mammoth, and Old Gardiner Road, which is closed to general visitor vehicular traffic, pedestrians, and horses, as road improvements are completed in the active construction zone. Old Gardiner Road was only opened to these options after the North Entrance Road was washed out in several places from the floods. Similarly, the Northeast Entrance Road (Cooke City/Silver Gate, Mont. to Tower Junction) remains closed.
YNP says that the Northeast Entrance Road between the Slough Creek Campground Road, Lamar Valley, and the barrier near Barronette Meadows, is also closed to vehicle and foot traffic while major construction repairs are being made. It will be some time before this work is done, along with sections of the Lamar River Corridor and Miller Creek area being included because of construction work. Both are unlikely to reopen this year.
Hebgen Dam Slated for September Repair Work
At a July 14 meeting in West Yellowstone, NorthWestern Energy briefed the public on the findings about what went wrong in the catastrophic Hebgen Dam malfunction late last year when a failed coupling on the dam's gate stem broke and left the legendary Madison River trout stream dewatered for many hours.
According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the Big Sky State’s largest energy utility company also recently outlined its plans to fix the problem—attributed to something called “stress corrosion cracking,” a problem caused when the chemical alloy used to fabricate key components in the gate stem reacted to the chemical composition of the local environment—by performing repair work during September. It was originally planned for August, but pushback from anglers and outfitters convinced NWE to delay it for a month.
Montana Free Press writer Amanda Eggert reports that divers, fabricators, and engineers will be on hand for the repair work sessions. While normal dam operations will be affected to some degree, the energy company reportedly anticipates it will be able to continue to release water from Hebgen Reservoir into the world-renowned trout stream that is beloved by so many.
Also discussed at the meeting earlier in July were the long-term effects of the dewatering event on the trout fishery, as well as the installation of a new alarm system that will alert dam operators of similar drops in water flow in the future.
Montana Considers Delaying Madison River Commercial Use Cap
As the debate continues about a 2020 decision by the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission to put in place a commercial-use cap on the Madison River, the Commission will meet by Zoom Tuesday, Aug. 2 at 6 p.m. to consider a proposal to postpone implementation of that rule.
The commercial-use cap, which would limit fishing outfitting and guiding activities for outfitters and guides to the number of trips they reported in 2019 or 2020 (whichever year was higher), had been scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2023. But after a work session earlier this summer, commissioners have proposed moving back that implementation date until after the commission adopts a method for allocating commercial-use trips to outfitters or has a comprehensive river plan and rule package in place.
A Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks news release indicates that this will be accomplished by future rule-making efforts and commission action–efforts that will necessitate more public comment.
The news release notes that public comments on the proposal to delay the implementation of the commercial use cap are due in by Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. Comments can be submitted at www.fwp.mt.gov/aboutfwp/commission/august-2022-meeting; by e-mailing email@example.com; or presented at the early August Zoom meeting. Comment can also be submitted in writing to: Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Attn: Charlie Sperry, P.O. Box 200701, Helena, MT 59620-0701.
If you’d like to sit in on the Zoom meeting, instructions will be posted at www.fwp.mt.gov/aboutfwp/commission prior to the meeting.
Public Comment Sought on SoCal Steelhead
With the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) initiating a status review for the state's Southern California steelhead and its potential classification as an endangered species under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA), CDFW is now seeking data and/or public comment through Sept. 30 according to an agency news release.
This stems from a June 14, 2021 petition from California Trout to list the SoCal steelhead as an endangered species under the Golden State’s CESA. Found in streams from the Santa Maria River at the southern San Luis Obispo County line and on down to the U.S./Mexico border, the CalTrout petition seeks protection for SoCal steelhead, both the anadromous (ocean going) version and resident stream dwellers, who live below migration barriers in these streams.
Habitat destruction, modification, and fragmentation due to dams, water diversions, and other human use water projects, not to mention climate change, have been cited as major threats to the state’s steelhead populations.
The news release notes that CDFW is now inviting the submission of data or public comment on the petitioned action through the end of September, with sought-out information including the SoCal steelhead’s ecology, genetics, life history, distribution, abundance, habitat, and the degree and immediacy of threats to its reproduction or survival. Also being sought is data and/or comments on the adequacy of existing management practices or recommendations for future management of the species.
Data or comments may be submitted via e-mail to SCSH@wildlife.ca.gov (please include “Southern California Steelhead” in the subject line) or by mail to: CDFW Fisheries Branch, Attn: Southern California Steelhead, P.O. Box 944209, Sacramento, California 94244-2090.
To find out more about the petition and the CDFW evaluation and response to it, please visit: https://fgc.ca.gov/CESA#SCS .
NY Seeks Comment on Atlantic Salmon Management Plan
Following the release of a draft document for the Lake Ontario Atlantic Salmon Fisheries Management Plan earlier this summer, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation is seeking public comment on the study through Aug. 14 according to an agency news release.
Specifically, the detailed proposal gives outlines goals, objectives, and strategies for Atlantic salmon management in the Empire State over the next decade, including an emphasis on ratcheting up the survival of stocked fish and raising the number of adult Atlantic salmon that return to New York tributaries to spawn.
Atlantic salmon are native to Lake Ontario, but were extirpated in the mid-1800s due to various reasons that include the degradation of habitat and overfishing. The DEC currently stocks a small number of Atlantic salmon into the famed Great Lake on its northwestern border, providing a limited fishery. With the state’s anglers expressing a growing interest in developing that fishery, the state is looking at options on how to do so in Lake Ontario’s tributaries.
"Atlantic salmon are a native species and premier sportfish that were sparse in New York waters for far too long," noted New York State Department of Environmental Commissioner Basil Seggos, in the news release. "This plan proposes a new approach to bolstering the fishery for this sought-after fish in Lake Ontario."
Comments on the Atlantic salmon management plan proposal in New York can be made by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org prior to the Aug. 14, 2022 comment deadline. For more information, please contact Chris Legard, DEC Lake Ontario Unit Leader at the Cape Vincent Fisheries Station, during business hours at (315) 654-2147.
Chinook Salmon Swim in McCloud River Again
Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times and its affiliates published a piece by Ian James that noted that California's endangered Chinook salmon have returned to the McCloud River for the first time since 1942.
The Chinook salmon's absence came about when the construction of the Shasta Dam occurred and blocked the fish from swimming upstream, sealing off their spawning area in the cold waters that lie near Mount Shasta.
James notes that finally changed after eight decades when state and federal wildlife officials collected nearly 20,000 winter-run salmon eggs from the Livingston Stone National Fish Hatchery and drove them from near Redding to a campground on the banks of the McCloud River. A similar number of eggs will also reportedly be delivered to the river in August according to the news piece.
When the batch of eggs arrived at the river, members of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, long time river advocates seeking a return of the salmon to the famous California tributary where their ancestors have lived, held a ceremony marking the moment and its significance.
"This is history for California that we've done this," said Caleen Sisk, the tribe's chief and spiritual leader, according to the LA Times. "It's a real blessing."
With climate change, drought, water issues, and non-native species like brown trout and bass all serving as potential threats to the Chinook salmon eggs and any future growth, much work remains to ensure the fish species' survival.
A California Department of Fish and Wildlife news release highlighted that, noting that the return of these winter-run Chinook salmon eggs to the mountains upstream of Shasta Reservoir is an urgent response to reduce extinction risk for the fish species in the face of a third year of severe drought.
The introductions this summer of the Chinook eggs will help biologists learn how the species uses its historical habitat, and hopefully, that information will aid in the Chinook salmon’s reintroduction and recovery.
“While we have carried out a number of different actions to see this iconic species through another year of drought, there’s no denying that Monday’s work just feels huge,” stated CDFW director Charlton H. Bonham, in the news release. “It’s historic and healing and incredibly hopeful for the future. We are so grateful for the wisdom and guidance the Winnemem Wintu Tribe provided about their ancestral lands and waters, which helped shape this effort. We’re proud to help deliver these eggs and this species home to the McCloud River.”
Lynn Burkhead is a senior digital editor.