South Fork

Bulletin photo by Jen Sieve-Hicks

As water temperatures rise and streamflows fall at lower elevations, biologists recommend that catch-and-release anglers fish higher mountain streams where the water is cooler and fish are less stressed.

We have not yet reached the hottest, driest part of the summer, but already fisheries experts are warning that fish in local streams are stressed.

“We’re just getting there with the highest temperatures and lowest streamflows,” Wyoming Game and Fish Sheridan Region fishery supervisor Paul Mavrakis said. “We’re getting to the part of the year when we’ll get calls about dead fish.”

Clear Creek usually runs about 140 cubic feet per second during the second week of July. Over the past seven days, discharge was between 60 and 100 cfs. 

It’s not unusual for the streamflows in Clear Creek to drop during the summer as irrigators use the water they are entitled to. This year, however, there weren’t a lot of spring rains that would have replenished the creek.

“It’s just the reality we live in right now that there isn’t much water,” Mavrakis said.

The problem for the brown and rainbow trout that call Clear Creek home isn’t the water volume, per se, Mavrakis said. It’s that when the water volume gets so low, the water heats up faster — that has been exacerbated by the recent hot weather. Brown trout can tolerate water temperatures in the mid to upper 70s, but rainbow trout can only tolerate water temperatures in the low 70s. 

“When there’s not as much volume, the water is moving slower and has more time to heat up,” he said. “If there was more water volume, the water temperature would stay colder.”

Mavrakis said that anglers who are catch-and-release fishing should be aware that the fish in lower-elevation creeks are already stressed and they should avoid catch-and-release fishing in the heat of the day. On very hot days, Mavrakis said, anglers would do well to fish higher elevation streams where the water is colder and fish aren’t stressed. 

“If you’re going to catch and release and it’s hot, play the fish as quickly as possible,” he said. “Keep them down in the water and get them off the hook as fast as you can. It’s stressful for those fish to be caught, and they’re already stressed.”

Anglers who are catching fish to keep can do so any time of day, he said.  

“We’re definitely hitting that time frame where it’s going to be critical for those fish to survive to not catch and release during the day,” he said. 

Executive editor

Jen Sieve-Hicks is the Bulletin's executive editor. She has covered schools, agriculture and government for the Bulletin.

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