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High Snowpacks Having Major Impacts Across the West

Snake River flows, a damning report, and news from Colorado, California, New York, Idaho, and Yellowstone, in Fly Fisherman's News Briefs for May 19.

High Snowpacks Having Major Impacts Across the West

Wyoming will exercise its water rights to supplement flows and maintain releases at a minimum of 280 cubic feet per second (cfs), with a commitment to using its full water-storage allocation if necessary, in order to protect the Snake River and its cutthroat trout. (Photo courtesy of Grand Teton National Park)

The State of Wyoming and the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) have reached an agreement on flow operations for the Upper Snake River to protect the fishery below Jackson Lake Dam.

The state will exercise its water rights to supplement flows and maintain releases at a minimum of 280 cubic feet per second (cfs), with a commitment to using its full water-storage allocation if necessary. BOR will cover any shortfalls by purchasing water from Idaho's apportionment of reservoir space. The two parties have committed to work together on long-term solutions to address Wyoming's concerns about maintaining adequate flows.

BOR had threatened to drop flows in the Upper Snake to 50 cfs in order to avoid overfilling downstream reservoirs (due to this year’s strong snowpack), which would result in loss of water that is technically owed to irrigators via water rights.

A tourist stands next to a Jackson Lake Dam and Reservoir sign in Wyoming.
The state of Wyoming and the Bureau of Reclamation have committed to work together on long-term solutions to address Wyoming's concerns about maintaining adequate flows. (Photo courtesy of Grand Teton National Park)

“This stretch of river is iconic and a national treasure,” Wyoming Game and Fish (WGF) Director Brian Nesvik said in a news release. “I appreciate the Bureau of Reclamation’s efforts to work with us to find solutions to address our concerns.”

The minimum flow of 280 cfs is crucial for the fishery below the dam and for preserving the Oxbow Bend area, which is home to important wildlife species including Snake River fine-spotted cutthroat trout.

Colorado’s significant snowpack is allowing the Gunnison River’s Crystal Dam to dump about 900 cfs down the Black Canyon of the Gunnison for the first time since 2019. The water ultimately ends up in the Colorado River, which has been egregiously low for many years. Blue Mesa Reservoir, which drains a large area upstream on the Gunnison and has also been extremely low over the past few years, is largely what is feeding Crystal Reservoir. Blue Mesa is also apparently feeding its resident fish equally well, as a former member of the US Fly Fishing Team caught and released a 70-plus pound lake trout last week (on spinning tackle). There are also flood warnings to the southwest in Colorado's Dolores River drainage. 

California exceptionally strong snowpack has brought Lake Tahoe’s elevation over its natural rim and is within three feet of surpassing the maximum legal limit. And according to a recent report, its water is as clear as it’s been over four decades due to healthy populations of zooplankton. In 2022, water clarity jumped to almost 72 feet, and officials hope that it can return to a historic level of 97-plus feet.

Utah's Great Salt Lake has risen several feet and is expected to rise several more amidst record snowpacks and there are flood warnings for the mountains of New Mexico. 

A small corner of Lake Tahoe in which you can see deep into the lake.
Lake Tahoe is as clear as it’s been over four decades due to healthy populations of zooplankton. (Photo courtesy of Gary Lerude; used with Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license)

In Yellowstone National Park, fisheries managers are expecting the rivers to be “well-charged” throughout the season, while hoping to avoid a flood event like the one that caused major damage in Yellowstone and Montana’s Paradise Valley.




Spring runoff throughout the West is bringing lots of much need water, and with a little luck, will put a dent in the years-long water crisis.

New Study Echoes that Hatchery Fish are Harmful to Wild Fish

A new study discusses the ecological consequences of the intentional release of hatchery species to enhance wild populations of fish. The authors argue that while this practice is common, it can disrupt species interactions and compromise long-term community stability.

The study, released by researchers from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro along with National Institute of Polar Research, Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Research Institute, and Hokkaido University, specifically examines stream fish communities and finds that rivers with intensive release of hatchery salmon show greater populations fluctuations and lower taxonomic richness. The article highlights the potential negative impacts of overreliance on stocking, warning of accelerated loss of biodiversity and adverse consequences for ecosystems.

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Read more here.

Fish Connectivity Projects Slated in 22 States

In April, the Department of the Interior announced a $35-million investment in 39 fish passage projects across 22 states. These projects aim to address the issue of outdated or obsolete dams, culverts, levees, and other barriers that fragment rivers and streams, hindering the movement of fish and aquatic species. The funding for these projects is part of a larger $3-billion commitment to improving aquatic habitat connectivity, made possible by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act.

The Department of the Interior highlighted the collaborative nature of the project development, with local communities taking the lead in each of the nearly 40 projects. Additionally, nine of these projects will be implemented by indigenous tribes.

“President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in our nation’s rivers, streams and communities and help restore habitat connectivity for aquatic species around the country,” U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said. “As the effects of climate change continue to intensify, Tribal Nations in particular are facing unique climate-related challenges that threaten resources vital to Indigenous communities. These fish passage investments will support community-led transitions and facilitate long-term conservation and economic growth in these areas.”

The restoration efforts are expected to benefit various fish species, including Atlantic salmon, American shad, Pacific salmon, steelhead, and others.

Read more here: https://www.doi.gov/pressreleases/biden-harris-administration-announces-35-million-national-fish-passage-projects.

Click here for a map of all the planned projects.

South Fork Snake River Cutthroat Update

A presentation and status report on the South Fork Snake River fishery, hosted by Fisheries Manager Brett High from Idaho Fish and Game's (IDFG) Upper Snake Regional office, provided updates on the fishery and planned management activities for 2023. Anglers and community members interested in the South Fork Snake River fishery are encouraged to view the recording here.

A landscape photo of the South Fork of the Snake River in Idaho.
In April, Idaho Fish & Game fisheries biologists began the rainbow-trout manual removal project on the South Fork of the Snake River. The removed rainbows are being relocated to local ponds and rivers where they are not considered problematic. (Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management)

In April, IDFG fisheries biologists began their annual rainbow-trout manual removal project on the South Fork using electro-shocking equipment. The removed rainbows are being relocated to local ponds and rivers where they are not considered problematic.

Anglers can participate in the South Fork rainbow-trout removal project by participating in the South Fork Snake River Rainbow Trout Harvest Incentive Program. Anglers who harvest rainbows or cuttbows can submit the heads of the harvested fish to IDFG. Tagged heads are worth $50-$1,000.

Elsewhere in Idaho, a late and low run of Chinook salmon is raising questions about whether there could be a season for them at all this year.

“I’ve gone through a swing of emotions that are leaving me a wreck,” Idaho Fish and Game Biologist Joe Dupont said. “On my last update (May 2), counts were picking up which gave us hope. However, from May 2 to May 7, counts dropped and then leveled out. At this point we weren’t even sure if enough fish would make it to Idaho to provide fisheries. Since then, counts have spiked and now we are confident we can provide fisheries; we just aren’t sure what type of fisheries we can provide.”

Dupont is hopeful that the peak is yet to come, but if it has passed, Idaho’s Chinook seasons might be quite short and end abruptly.

Hendrickson Festival in Early June on NY’s Salmon River

The logo for the Hendrickson Hatch Festival in Malone, New York.
The 17th annual Hendrickson Hatch Fly Fishing Tournament aims to highlight one of New York’s finest fishing streams, the Salmon River.

The Malone Revitalization Foundation will host the 17th annual Hendrickson Hatch Fly Fishing Tournament on June 3 and 4 in Malone, New York. The event aims to highlight the Salmon River, known as one of New York’s finest fishing streams.

Registration will take place on Saturday, June 3, from 8 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. at the American Legion on Elm and Morton streets. Fishing will start at 10 a.m. on Saturday and end at 12 p.m. on Sunday.

The registration fee for adults is $85, while children 16 and under can register for $25. All proceeds from the tournament will be used by the Malone Revitalization Foundation to enhance the Salmon River.

Click here for more information.

Yellowstone Not Collecting Angler Reports this Year

Yellowstone National Park (YNP) fisheries managers will be without the important self-reported angler fishing report data this year. Policymakers in Washington D.C. have decided to discontinue the system for the time being. This is considered a major loss of data for Yellowstone fisheries managers.

“We began the angler report cards in I believe 1979,” Todd Koel, YNP Native Fish Conservation Program lead, said in the annual Yellowstone Native Fish Conservation update webinar on Thursday. “It’s just kind of hard to stomach after having 40 years of angler information that we can rely on. We use that extensively as managers to understand what’s going on across the Park.”

With the transition to majority online fishing permit sales, the Park largely lost the ability to distribute the physical angler report cards. A webpage was then created where anglers could report the same information, but with this transition, YNP fisheries staff apparently “could not get approved to do that,” according to Koel.

It is unclear what spurred the decision, but YNP staff hopes to get the online reporting webpage back as soon as possible.

The full webinar can be viewed here.

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