Yellowstone closure exposes constant threats

By Patrick Straub EBS Fishing Columnist

Turn the clock back to mid-June of this year. Anglers eager to cast large dry flies to rising trout flocked to the Yellowstone River. Rafts exited the interstate at Big Timber headed for the Boulder River. The Lamar River and Soda Butte Creeks saw angling traffic as well. Pale morning duns hatched on the Paradise Valley spring creeks earlier than ever.

The majority of our southwest Montana rivers were fishable several weeks earlier this year than years past. To longtime local anglers, early summer conditions were not normal. Many of us casting salmon flies on the Yellowstone River on June 20 said, “This is not good.”

On August 19, when Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks closed the Yellowstone River to all water-based recreation, our words proved prophetic.

The closure was due to an invasive parasite that affects coldwater fish. Compounded by low water levels and high river temperatures, a perfect storm developed, resulting in massive fish mortality. For more news about the Yellowstone, reference this paper’s coverage of the closure.

To help protect the spread of this invasive parasite and ensure all folks have opportunities to fish during this trying time in Montana’s angling management, it is important we do our part to reduce the spread of aquatic invasive species.

Clean, inspect, and dry. Clean, inspect, and dry. I said it twice for emphasis. With our current low stream flows, fish are forced to inhabit more closely together, creating more of a biological stew than what is preferred. A good analogy is the city pool—the same amount of people want to swim in the pool, but there’s half or even 80 percent less water than normal. Is that a pool you’d want to swim in? You have a choice. A trout or whitefish does not. Anytime you fish a river and then transition to another river always, always, always, clean, inspect and dry your gear.

Completely remove all mud, water, and vegetation before leaving the river. Inspect your boat, trailer and all gear that entered the water—including your waders. Pay attention to crevices and hidden areas.

Use your hand or a sprayer to remove all vegetation and all mud. A high-pressure car wash is ideal. The hot water kills organisms and the pressure removes mud and vegetation. No need to use chemicals or soap. Drain all water from watercraft and equipment. Drain or remove water from boat, bilge, live well, engine, internal compartments and bait buckets by removing drain plugs before leaving the access area.

And lastly, dry everything well. Aquatic invaders can survive only in water and wet areas. Dry your watercraft and fishing equipment thoroughly; this will kill most invasive species. The longer you keep your watercraft, trailer, waders and other equipment outside in the hot sun between fishing trips, the better.

For more information please visit Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks aquatic invasives website: fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/species/ais/.

If you are part of the many anglers displaced by the closure of the Yellowstone River, there are options for fishing. Your local fly shop can help you find places to continue to enjoy the rivers and their fish. But in doing so, please be courteous and conscious of other anglers. Of course you will be fishing with clean gear, but once astream or rigging up at the access site be patient and polite—whether we like it or not the future of Montana’s great fishing rests in all of our capable hearts and minds.

While the closure of the Yellowstone is unprecedented, our desire to fish will remain. As we wait to return to the Yellowstone, it is important to remember we fished the Yellowstone several weeks earlier this year than we historically do. Let’s all work hard and share sacrifices across interests to ensure the Yellowstone’s great fishing lives on in real time—not as something we are forced to remember.

Pat Straub is the author of six books, including “The Frugal Fly Fisher,” “Montana on the Fly,” and “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing.” He and his wife own Gallatin River Guides in Big Sky, he is co-director of the Montana Fishing Guide School, and co-owns a guide service on the Missouri River.