Precipitation comes just in time! River releases to increase.


It looks like all our rain dances have paid off. The spring rains have been plentiful, the upstream reservoirs have increased releases, and Bighorn Lake is rapidly filling. In order to control the rate of fill, Reclamation will have to increase releases.

Starting today at 4pm, releases will increase 800cfs from 2,200cfs to 3,000cfs.
On Wednesday, at 6am, releases will increase 500cfs from 3,000cfs to 3,500cfs.
On Wednesday, at 4pm, releases will increase 500cfs from 3,500cfs to 4,000cfs.

Once at 4,000cfs, Reclamation will watch inflows and stay in close contact with the upstream reservoir to evaluate whether additional releases ay be required.

A big thanks to Reclamation for working hard to help us achieve good rainbow recruitment this year, and for working closely with FWP biologists in protecting our fishery.


Another hats off to Reclamation

Let’s give a tip of the hat to Reclamation this month for releasing an operating plan that further reduces the target peak lake elevation by another five feet to 3,630ft in order to protect the rainbow spawn that was mostly lost last year. You may recall Reclamation sat down in person with FWP and essentially negotiated a release that could be maintained through June, and so far, its look like they’re working hard to protect the fishery.

River users are prepared to see slightly lower flows this summer and fall in order to maintain a healthy rainbow population. Let’s keep up the rain dances for a few more weeks anyway.

Thanks, and good job, Reclamation!

Anglers still finding gas bubbles on upper three.

Guides and anglers are still finding fish that are showing signs of gas bubble trauma in the upper 3 miles of the river. Reclamation has been notified and is looking into ways to use the gates at Afterbay to minimize the problem.

Hard-working guide Seth Byler sent in this photo yesterday of a brown caught near Red Cliffs.

Hard-working guide Seth Byler sent in this photo yesterday of a brown caught near Red Cliffs.

Nitrogen gas super saturation is a problem common to most tailwaters, and low flows prevent fish from easily escaping it by moving to deeper water. Bighorn fish can typically tolerate fairly high levels of nitrogen. Anglers are encouraged to report dates and locations of fish found with symptoms of gas trauma.

Bighorn Issues Group to meet April 23 in Lovell

The Bighorn River System Issues Group will meet on April 23 in the Lovell Community Center, located at 1925 Highway 310, Lovell, Wyo., from 10 a.m. to about 3 p.m.

The Bureau of Reclamation will present information about water supply conditions and comments received regarding the operating criteria for Yellowtail Dam/Bighorn Lake. Other issues particular to Yellowtail Dam and Bighorn Lake will also be discussed.

Previous meeting discussions and topics of the group are available online at

For additional information about the meeting, contact Jack Conner of the Bureau of Reclamation at 406-247-7300.

Read more:

Reclamation surprises; More cuts to releases coming

As anticipated, with snowpack (snow water equivalents) dropping a scary 30%
in a single month’s time span, additional cuts to river release are coming
along with increases in diversion to the canal.

Starting Wednesday, April 8 at 4pm, river release will decrease from 2,900cfs to 2,750cfs.
Starting Thursday, April 9 at 4pm, river release will decrease from 2,750cfs to 2,500cfs.

I commend Reclamation for sitting down with FWP and working out a river
release that will be maintained through the rainbow spawn. It was projected
by Reclamation that they could maintain at least 2,200cfs through the
spawn, and if needed, until fall. As many of you know, during the last
couple of years the rainbows have had to endure constant adjustments to
flows, causing the rainbows to abandon redds and seek higher ones as the
flows increased only to have the releases dropped and stranding the eggs.
This constant flow should go a long ways to helping provide good rainbow
recruitment and the efforts by FWP to protect the fishery are much
appreciated. Look for continued cuts in releases next week to get down to

I also tip my hat to Reclamation for understanding that all stakeholders
can still be served without filling the lake to the top of the conservation
pool (or higher).

These two actions by Reclamation show true collaboration and balance. Let’s
hope the trend will continue through this dry patch AND when the rains
finally return.

With luck, April and May will turn around and produce some normal or above
average precipitation to get us back on track. In the meantime, the river
is clear and fishing great, so get out and enjoy the spring-like weather!

Bighorn anglers asked to watch for gas saturation symptoms

Regional fisheries biologist Ken Frazer is asking Bighorn River anglers to watch for symptoms of gas super saturation in trout that could start appearing with the higher flows. This issue, which is caused when atmospheric gases, and specifically nitrogen, are entrained in plunging water and absorbed by fish before the gases have a chance to dissipate. Symptoms in trout appear as small blisters initially appearing on gill plates and fins, but can appear just about anywhere on a fish’s body. When the nitrogen levels (PSAT) exceed normal levels and affect a trout’s gills and other vital organs, death can occur.

Bighorn trout have adapted somewhat to higher nitrogen levels (PSAT), but the higher flows tend to trap more nitrogen as water is released from the main dam, and again from the Afterbay spillway. Biologist monitoring PSAT levels have noted that bigger flows are producing higher PSAT levels in recent days.

The good news is the entrained nitrogen tends to be worse near the water’s surface, and the larger releases means deeper water which in turns means many of the fish can escape by moving to slightly deeper water. Also, in some cases, the Bureau of Reclamation can change release outlets to help lower PSAT levels.

Ken, who is has managed the Bighorn River fishery for over 30 years, is asking anglers to report gas bubbles seen on trout, or dead or dying trout to FWP HQ’s. That phone number is (406) 247-2940.


Releases to increase 90cfs to 2,570cfs

Stating that streamflow data indicates releases are higher than anticipated (meaning algae has left the system and is not displacing as much water), Reclamation has decided not to adjust flows downward because of the above normal rate of snow accumulation in the Bighorn River basin. As a result, flows have been slowly increasing over that last few weeks to 2,570cfs, and Reclamation has decided to leave those flows at that level. The Bureau did not consult nor notify stakeholders or FWP of this change.

It is worth noting that the lake elevation is 3,627.8 feet and rising. This elevation is slightly above last year’s elevation (a much drier year) and 15 feet above average for this day but only 3 feet above the elevation called for by the operating criteria and rule curves.

[Update: Reclamation did attempt to make contact with FWP regarding this water order change but that attempt failed. Manager Steve Davies has indicated the Bureau will look at better ways to handle situations when attempts to contact FWP fail. A big thanks to Steve for his call and most helpful explanation. -DH]

Flows to drop to 1,900cfs late this week

During today’s stakeholder’s conference call, Reclamation announced that dry conditions have necessitated a slight reduction in releases from Bighorn Lake. Later this week, flows will be reduced from 2,000cfs to 1,900cfs. Reclamation officials indicated they have every hope that this flow can be maintained through the winter. This reduction is necessary to meet target lake elevations by spring.

During the call, FOBR requested that a discussion begin on modifications to the operating criteria to include, during drought years, the banking of enough water during the winter months to provide a spring flush. Reclamation and FWP have indicated they are willing to discuss such changes.

[ Updated 4:30pm:  The flow reduction has been scheduled for 4pm on Thursday ]

Ramp project continues

he upper ramp at Bighorn FAS looks a little different than it did last week. FWP has broken up and removed the old ramp (now sitting in the background), and the contractor is waiting out this winter weather before beginning the final stages. In the meantime, the ramp is usable, but quite muddy.

Work set to begin on upper Bighorn FAS ramp

Thanks to the Bighorn River Alliance and its nearly 1,000 members, work to replace the upper ramp at Bighorn Fishing Access Site is set to begin tomorrow, Tuesday, April 9, 2013. The Alliance, whose mission is to preserve, protect and enhance the Bighorn River and its fishery, has donated $17,500 or half of the cost of the ramp replacement. High water and heavy use has taken its toll on the popular takeout spot, and the new ramp will be angled downstream to prevent future wear an tear during high water, and make things quite a bit safer for anglers who stage their boats there during put-in and take-out.

The work will be done in two stages: Starting tomorrow, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks crews will make much-needed repairs to the lower ramp, including filling in a deep hole at the end of the ramp. Next, the upper ramp will be broken up and removed. These preliminary steps will be done this week (barring any unforeseen show stopping weather). Next week, the contractor will be on site to begin landscaping and preparing the grade for several sections of ramp that will be installed. This work is expected to take two weeks, but may extend longer if more wintery or wet weather arrives.

Anglers and boaters are asked to avoid the upper ramp during this time, and exercise caution at the lower ramp. If possible, plan a few extra minutes to take out at the lower ramp.

The Bighorn River Alliance deserves special thanks for their contribution. To recognize their efforts, join us in calling the new, upper ramp the Alliance Ramp, and be sure you thank any Alliance member or director the next time you see one. Thank you, Alliance!!