As many of you already know, the Yellowstone River and all tributaries (from the YNP boundary at Gardiner to Laurel) were closed to all water recreation last week upon in response to discovery of a parasite that causes Proliferative Kidney Disease (PKD). To date, some 4000 whitefish have been counted dead and very small number of trout, suckers, dace and sculpins. Observations from fisheries biologists and anglers seem to agree that the greatest impact of this infection has been in the stretch of river through paradise Valley though dead fish have been found from Gardiner to just past Springdale.
Is the closure necessary? I think so. PKD has the ability to devastate trout and whitefish populations and while this has not yet happened in the Yellowstone, resting the river is a logical step in keeping this from becoming the case. Aside from that, likely the best method of containing this problem and preventing it’s spread not just to other parts of the river but to entirely separate river systems as well, is to keep boats, anglers and other recreationalists out of the river so as not to allow any hitchhiking from the PKD bug. Sure, this may have already happened…but what’s the sense in taking the chance or further increasing the odds.
Without any question, I support this decision and while it pains me to miss out on the fishing opportunities offered by this amazing piece of water, I can’t help but to think of the long term and believe that this action is the only logical means of protecting the future given what little data biologists have gathered thus far. As of now, we have little idea as to when the river will reopen – tests are being done on fish and water quality as we speak and the results of such will likely determine how MT Fish, Wildlife and Parks will proceed.
Low flows and warmer water temperatures are considered to be contributing factors to the issue at hand. Low flows, record low flows, the warm water that results, hoot owl fishing restrictions – Anglers and other river users and being over backwards this year in a effort to work around low flows. A major river has now been closed and the impacts on the local economy are significant. When, just when, will the issue of agricultural water use or abuse be brought to the table? Sure, rivers are low from a lack of moisture, from hot weather,etc.. We as anglers and outfitters must adjust accordingly. It seems we shouldn’t be the only ones. As I don’t really know all of my facts when it comes to water rights and water use, I’ll stop my rant so as not to dig myself into a hole. Either way, it pains me to see our rivers pumped dry.
SO…if the Yellowstone is closed, then where do we go? That’s the burning question. Well, we are fortunate here to have many other options. As of now the upper Madison and Missouri are our closest rivers without hoot owl fishing restrictions (meaning all fishing just cease at 2pm). When adding in water with restrictions, there are a few more choices added to the list – the Gallatin, the lower Madison to name a couple. There are lakes, lesser known creeks…we have choices. And as days grow shorter and daily temps seem to be dropping, the likelihood of restrictions being dropped are possibly looming. So we’re lucky, we have places to fish, great places and overall, fishing has been good and crowds have been surprisingly reasonable under the circumstances. As we look forward to the arrival of fall and all that it brings, we will keep our fingers crossed and hope the Yellowstone will be ok. I’m optimistic that it will.