Stillwater Angler Fishing Report
This spring, Yellowstone National Park, in coordination with partner agencies Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Wyoming Game & Fish Department and the U.S. Forest Service, sought public input on a proposed project to remove nonnative brook trout from Soda Butte Creek and reintroduce genetically pure Yellowstone cutthroat trout into the stream.
In fact, the period for public comment just ended on June 19. Personally, I’ll be interested to see how this one turns out as I have mixed emotions on the proposed project.
In order to remove the current stock of nonnative brook trout, it’s proposed to apply an EPA-approved piscicide (rotenone), which is a naturally occurring plant compound that degrades quickly and does not persist in the water supply, to approximately 38 miles of Soda Butte Creek upstream of Ice Box Canyon. The goal of the project would be to restore an important fishery in upper Soda Butte Creek and serve to protect cutthroat trout populations of the entire Lamar River watershed from future invasion by nonnative brook trout.
As many, if not most people are aware, genetically pure Yellowstone cutthroat trout populations have declined throughout their natural range in the Intermountain West, succumbing to competition with and predation by nonnative fish species, a loss of genetic integrity through hybridization, habitat degradation and predation. Soda Butte Creek is one of the most scenic fisheries in the Park.
In addition to Yellowstone cutthroat trout, the stream also holds cutthroat-rainbow hybrids, and in its upper reaches, brook trout. The concern is that the brook trout, which are invasive, will find their way down into the Lamar, where cutthroat are currently thriving. Of course, once into the Lamar, they could find their way into the Yellowstone itself.
The position of the project’s proponents is that removal of all fish in the upper Soda Creek is the most practical course of action since two decades of mechanical eradication efforts (manual removal of brook trout and other target species via electrofishing) has failed to wipe out brook trout populations.
Opponents of the project claim the multi-agency partnership’s proposal is significantly overreacting. They cite that the project will have an adverse impact on angling in Soda Butte for some time to come, since angling opportunities on upper Soda Butte will be degraded or even cease to exist for many years. The opponents are also critical of the project for economic reasons, saying that Soda Butte’s brook trout are not a threat to Yellowstone cutthroat populations elsewhere in the Park -- noting the long-time presence of brook trout in the creek’s upper reaches, and the continued decline of their population thanks to electrofishing efforts.
So in a nutshell, that’s the gist of the proposal and the main points pro and con. Keep an eye out this summer for a decision on the project based upon public comment that has been received. It appears that one way or another, whichever way this goes; there will be both short and long term impacts on the fishery. If you’re so inclined, a copy of the full draft Environmental Assessment (EA) can be found on the Montana FWP web site.
Briefly, fishing conditions on both the Stillwater and Yellowstone are rounding into shape nicely. Flows are dropping and clearing daily. When the color on the Stone changes to a blue-green tint, jump on it! It’s time to break out the dry-dropper rigs!
Chris Fleck owns and operates Stillwater Anglers Fly Shop and Outfitters in Columbus.