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At this writing in late April, all the prerequisites for an outstanding angling season are in place in the Western US. Snowpack that melts and feeds rivers and reservoirs is, for the most part, a bit less than it was last year, but most certainly above what it was during the 2001 – 2007 drought years when low stream flows resulted in special mid-season fishing regulations. Some rivers had to be closed. Last year’s above-average snowpack helped replenish low reservoir water levels and stream flows. A good water year this year will bring water levels and fishing conditions, back to near normal.

Generally speaking, the snowpack measurements in the Rockies this year hover around the 30-year average. This is a very good indication that rivers will maintain adequate water volume through the summer months, providing a thriving environment for trout and good conditions for anglers.

Spring runoff – when melted snow often fills rivers to their limits – varies from place to place, but normally centers around the second week of June. If snowpack and weather conditions are normal, as they appear to be this year, water levels should begin falling about three weeks later, leaving rivers in good fishing condition in early July. Of course, Mother Nature is at the controls. An exceptionally cold and wet May and June can prolong the runoff process, or a sudden hot spell could speed it up to the point where flooding can occur. On some rivers, we humans do have some say in the matter. Reservoirs behind dams can hold back excessive runoff. Another possibility – fortunately a slim one – is that an exceptionally hot summer could turn all predictions upside down.

All that said, conditions at this time look good to go. Those of us who have watched fishing conditions unfold for many years are very optimistic and enthusiastic about the upcoming summer and fall seasons. Here’s a look at current conditions in the major fishing drainages in the Rocky Mountain region:

Idaho: Water content in the mountains of Idaho in April is slightly below the 30-year average, but there should be enough for the summer river flows. Keep in mind that most mountain ranges are still receiving snow as this report is filed. In north Idaho, water content feeding the basins in the Idaho panhandle is at 92 percent of average. In the Clearwater Region (Clearwater, Selway and Lochsa rivers, and Kelly Creek, among others) mountain snow water content was best in the state at 102 percent. Further south, the Boise River basin sat at 88 percent, Big Wood 89 percent, Henry’s Fork 93 percent, and the Snake at 99 percent. In a nutshell, conditions in the northern part of the state should be good to very good; in the southern part, fair.

Montana: Snow water equivalent measurements for Montana river drainages are very good. This, on top of last year’s excellent numbers, should bring the state’s river flows and reservoirs back to normal levels. In the western part of the state, measurements are above the 30-year averages. Measurements in April for the Upper Clark Fork River were at 110 percent. The Bitterroot was at 106 percent, the Lower Clark Fork at 101 percent. Only the Flathead and Kootenai river basin were below 100 percent, specifically at 96 percent. In central and eastern Montana, the stream flow predictions for major fishing rivers this coming summer are also rosy. The Gallatin basin led the group at 109 percent, followed by the Jefferson at 108, the Missouri at 105, the Yellowstone and Bighorn basins at 102 and the Madison at 101 percent. Even the usually thirsty Smith, Judith and Musselshell river drainages are above the 30-year average at 107 percent. In a nutshell, conditions across Montana should be good to very good.

Wyoming: Spring storms that dumped heavy snowfall across Wyoming pushed the state’s snowpack above average. All of the state’s 13 basins are in decent to good shape for this time of year. The US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) reported that as of mid-April, Wyoming’s snowpack was at 104 percent of the 30-year average. The state overall was at 102 percent of average at this time last year.

Wyoming’s reservoirs are at a point where all recreational and irrigation needs will be satisfied this year. As of mid-April, the reservoir system on the North Platte was at 52 percent of capacity. That represented 87 percent of the system’s 30-year average. Boysen Reservoir on the Wind River was 80 percent full and at 111 percent of its 30-year average for this time of year. In northwest Wyoming, Buffalo Bill Reservoir (which feeds the Shoshone River system) was 67 percent full in April and at 106 percent of its 30-year average. Water content in the Snake River drainage was at 103 percent, the Upper North Platte 108 percent, the Upper Green River basin 95 percent and the Bighorn at 104 percent. Reports out of Yellowstone and Teton national parks are also favorable, with adequate mountain snowpack to keep stream flows healthy throughout the summer. If the weather warms suddenly in May in Wyoming, the National Weather Service outlook forecasts moderate snowmelt flood potential for the Laramie River headwater basin and the Upper North Platte Basin, including the Encampment River from headwaters up to Saratoga. In a nutshell, conditions in Wyoming should be decent to good.

Colorado: It’s notable that Colorado’s snowpack matters to other states, too, because eight major Colorado river systems provide water to 10 western states. Colorado’s mountains experienced good snowfall early in the winter, but snowpack has declined following a warm and windy March. Although mid-April mountain water content measurements were at about 100 percent of the 30-year average, a wet May and June is needed to adequately supply reservoirs and rivers for this summer’s use, according to the NRCS. Still, early summer fishing conditions on most of Colorado’s many streams should be good. Snow water content measurements in April were sitting between 100 and 111 percent of normal for mountain ranges feeding the Gunnison, Upper Colorado, North Platte, Arkansas, Yampa and White river drainages. The South Platte was at 91 percent. In a nutshell, fishing conditions in Colorado should be good during the early summer; fair late summer.

Utah: Utah’s lack of winter snowpack was a concern until the above-normal snowfall in the latter part of March and early April. In just two weeks in late March, some of Utah’s mountains received up to 14 feet of snow. This ended a dry spell that could have left Utah with only 60 to 80 percent of its normal water supply. River basins showing above-average snowpack water content in April included the Beaver River (118 percent), the Provo (104 percent) and the Weber and Ogden rivers (103 percent). If the projected cold-weather patterns hold into May, water levels should be average or above this summer.

In a nutshell, conditions in Utah should be fair to good.

(Postscript: For updated precipitation and snowpack reports, go to: www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/snow/update.html.

Other News From The West

Hebgen Dam Repair scheduled: In October of 2008, we wrote about a problem at the Hebgen Dam on the Madison River in Montana. Two headgates which control releases from the dam stuck open, sending too much water from the reservoir into the river below, causing concern for the river’s blue ribbon fishery. A temporary stop-loss was put in place at the intake tower of the dam. This retained enough water in the reservoir, and actually allowed some refilling prior to freeze-up last fall. The reservoir ended up with an average water elevation over the winter. This June, a permanent fix will be put in place. During this process, the flow will be diverted to the overflow spillway on the opposite side of the dam. There should be no detrimental effects to the flows or the fishing during the process.

Montana Stream Access Controversy Resolved: Montana’s unique stream access law has been challenged of late by some landowners seeking to deny access. Generally speaking, the law permits the public (including fishermen) the right to access streams at state-created access points and at public roadway bridge sites. Most significantly to anglers, the law also allows fishermen the right to walk up or down stream as long as they remain inside the stream’s high water marks. Challenges to this law by landowners have, on a number of occasions, been denied by the courts. The latest controversy came when landowners began denying access to the public by building fences that abut public bridges. In April, state legislators reaffirmed that streams may be accessed by the public at public bridges. As a compromise to landowners, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks committed to constructing walk-through gates where fences now abut bridges.

Yellowstone Club Update: The Yellowstone Club, a private golf and ski residence development/club with 340 current members in Big Sky, Montana, has been dealing with financial problems and reportedly has filed for bankruptcy. The club, located a short distance from the Gallatin River, owes creditors $300 million. CrossHarbor, a private-equity firm, has bid $100 million for the club. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal stated that Donald Trump is considering entering a bid. According to the Journal, Trump wants to expand his holdings to include the entire 13,500-acre private community. “I’m looking at it,” Trump said in an interview recently with the Wall Street Journal. “But it’s a very troubled club.” When asked if he can turn the Yellowstone Club around, Trump told the newspaper, “That’s what we’re looking at, but it won’t be easy.”

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