Fungus outbreak worse than usual on Bighorn

BILLINGS More brown trout than usual, less water than in some past years and other factors apparently are leading to a fatal outbreak of fungus on some fish in the Bighorn River below Yellowtail Dam.Fishermen on the blue-ribbon trout stream in recent weeks have reported seeing hundreds of dead or infected brown trout.Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologists said this week that the fungus is part of a natural cycle. But this year reports seem to indicate that it is worse than usual. The fungus appears as a white or cloudy growth on the skin and scales of infected fish. It generally takes a few days to a week to spread over the fish and kill it.FWP regional fisheries biologist Mike Ruggles said the fungus spores are ubiquitous in most water in Montana. Healthy fish are able to block the fungus spores from attacking their skin with the slime that covers their exterior. Fish that are stressed or at less-than-peak condition often cannot ward off the spores, which burrow through their slime and into their skin.This year, a number of conditions combined to stress brown trout in the Bighorn River, leaving them susceptible to the fungus, Ruggles said. First, high water during the past few years created excellent reproduction conditions for the fall-spawning brown trout. FWP surveys last September showed more than 6,500 brown trout per mile in the 13 miles of the Bighorn River immediately below the Yellowtail Afterbay Dam, Ruggles said. That is the largest number of brown trout measured since 1999 and in the top half dozen years since FWP has kept records. That means that fish have to work harder to compete for a limited amount of food in the water.Second, relatively low flows in the river this fall and winter concentrated the fish in spawning areas, FWP regional fisheries manager Ken Frazer said. Fish do not eat during spawning, which taxes their health anyway. Fish particularly the big males that spend more energy competing for spawning places and fighting with other fish are stressed and can lose part of their body weight. That decreases their ability to ward off fungus spores in the water, he said.Third, the fungus spreads more quickly when fish are packed in close proximity to each other, Frazer said.Finally, fish were subjected to nitrogen supersaturation in the water this past summer, Ruggles said. Gates in the Afterbay Dam designed to prevent the phenomenon were under construction. The resulting gas-bubble disease causes blisters and lesions on the fish, which stresses them and exposes them to fungus.The fungus apparently is attacking larger, older brown trout. Ruggles said. Rainbow trout, which do not spawn until spring, are not affected by the current outbreak.The fungus should run its course in the next few weeks, leaving slightly fewer but much healthier fish in the river, he said.The fungus poses no danger to people. Fishermen also can help by limiting the amount of time they handle fish before releasing them, Ruggles said.While the fungus is present in most Montana waters, anglers and boaters still need to be careful not to inadvertently carry microscopic spores between streams and lakes. FWP recommends that all anglers inspect, clean and dry their boats and equipment every time they leave a lake or stream to prevent the spread of invasive species and diseases

Fungus concerns Bighorn anglers

Anglers fishing the Bighorn the last couple of weeks are reporting a higher than normal incidence of dead and dying brown trout, especially in the stretches below Bighorn FAS. A quick check with our esteemed biologists confirmed that this is a fairly normal spawning occurrence made worse by the spawn and low flows concentrating a heavy population of fish. A similar occurrence happend on the Missouri not long ago, and the following article pretty well sums up the key points: A Pox on That Aquatic Fungusby Bruce AuchlyFWP Region 4 Information Officer The esteem to which some folks hold Montana wildlife never ceases to amaze.A recent outbreak of a fungus that killed dozens of large brown trout in the Missouri River downstream of Holter Dam in north central Montana led to numerous calls and e-mails from concerned anglers.Thats because these were not just any trout. They were mature brown trout, many 18 to 20 inches and larger; 3 and 4 years old and older.And the Missouri from Holter Dam to the town of Cascade is not just any river. It is a world-class, blue-ribbon, trout-fishing destination.How world class? From 1995 to 2001, angling pressure increased from 88,000 angler days to about 136,000 angler days. Thats the same as adding the fishing pressure on Flathead Lake to the Missouri in just seven years.In the years since the pressure has dropped back to about 100,000 angler days, down from the peak but still considerable.So when big brown trout fungus up and die, people are concerned. And rightly so. One pool in a tributary, Sheep Creek, held 15 dead brown trout in various stages of decomposition and covered with the white cottonlike fungus.Brown trout are fall spawners and thats the key to solving this aquatic mystery.Spawning is a stressful activity. Fish stop feeding, living on internal fat while they spawn.Plus older larger males tend to dominate spawning areas, which means pushing out younger sub-dominant males. And mature males produce less slime, which helps protect them. Thats right, fish slime. And its a good thing.Slime on fish comes from mucous secreting cells in their skin. The slime protects them from fungus and various parasites. But during spawning males produce less mucous especially along the back half of their body, which is exactly where the fungus appeared on some live fish.Add it up: Physical scrapes and wounds from spawning and fighting off younger males and less slime to ward off opportunistic parasites. That leaves the larger older males stressed out and ripe for secondary infections, like this years fungus.Still the dangers of spawning happen every year. Biologists see trout with fungus every year. Why did so many brown trout succumb this year?For one, the Missouris brown trout population has a higher proportion of larger older fish, which are always more susceptible to stress and disease.Also, warmer than average water temperatures during spawning may have increased the incidence of the disease. The peak of Missouri River brown trout spawning takes place in October. Examination of the last 10 years of data showed that October 2010 had the highest mean temperature for the entire period. Thats part of the reason this fungus is not seen as often in spring spawning rainbows. Spring water temperatures are warming up, not cooling down.The answer is probably all of the above helped to create the perfect storm. Whatever the reason, people who saw the fish cared enough to call and e-mail. Thats what makes the states outdoor resource so loved, and why people get so emotional about it.

3 to B re-opens after pipeline removed

[via FWP] BILLINGS Phillips 66 Pipeline has reopened a stretch of the Bighorn River after successfully removing a section of abandoned pipe from beneath the riverbed.The company had planned to closed the river to boats this week from Three Mile to the Bighorn fishing access site because it planned to have heavy excavation equipment in the water. The closure was for the safety of floaters and contractors.The contractors were able to remove the pipe with minimal digging Tuesday and have removed floating restrictions.

Part of Bighorn River will close to floaters

[via Montana Fish, Wildlife and Park]BILLINGS A 10-mile stretch of the Bighorn River northeast of Fort Smith will close to floaters from Tuesday Jan 15 through Friday Jan. 18 for replacement of an abandoned Phillips 66 pipeline.Phillips 66 Pipeline is removing a 275-foot-long stretch of the eight-inch Seminoe pipeline where it crosses the river between the Three Mile and Bighorn fishing access sites. The crossing is about a quarter mile downstream from the exit of the Picture Channel.The project requires contractors to put heavy construction equipment in the river channel and possible construction of rock ramps and an 80-foot pad in the river channel to accommodate excavation equipment. The rock pad could temporarily change the river current and velocity in the immediate area of the construction. The closure is for the safety of both construction workers and float fishermen.The closure will not affect walk-in anglers fishing from shore, except in the immediate vicinity of the construction.Phillips 66 Pipeline will post signs at the Afterbay and Three Mile fishing access site and immediately upstream from the construction site to announce the closure. They believe their work, and the river closure, will last no more than four days.Any additional or updated information about the closure and reopening of the river will be posted on the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks web site at

Brent Esplin named Area Manager to replace Dan Jewell

via Bureau of ReclamationBILLINGS, Mont. — The Bureau of Reclamation’s Great Plains Region has selected Brent Esplin as the Montana Area Manager in Billings, Mont. Esplin replaces Dan Jewell who is retiring after more than 36 years of federal service. Esplin is the right candidate for the job, said Great Plains Regional Director Mike Ryan. His prior experience working at MTAO, along with his extensive background in management, water rights issues and working with Native American communities qualifies him to help solve water challenges of the future.Prior to accepting the Area Manager position, Esplin served as the Deputy Area Manager for the Lower Colorado Region in Phoenix, Ariz. Esplin’s career with Reclamation has included working with Native American communities to negotiate and implement water rights settlements, working with states to resolve interstate compact compliance issues, and negotiating water service and repayment contracts.Esplin first came to Reclamation in 1997 serving as a Civil Engineer in the Montana Area Office. In addition to serving as the Deputy Area Manager for the Lower Colorado Region’s Phoenix Area Office, Esplin also served as the Deputy Area Manager for the Nebraska-Kansas Area Office.I’m honored to be selected as the Montana Area Manager, said Esplin. I look forward to the opportunities and challenges Montana faces in managing and developing the water resources of tomorrow.Some of Reclamation’s earliest projects were built in Montana. Work began on the Lower Yellowstone Project in 1905 just three years after the agency was created. Today there are 13 projects east of the Continental Divide – the portion of the state managed by the GP Region. There are 13 dams and reservoirs, nine diversion dams, 10 pumping plants and two power plants which provide a variety of benefits and meet multiple needs, including recreation.

Pipeline work set for Friday – No closures yet

The pipeline work scheduled for January 7 through the 12th will finally commence (weather permitting) on Friday the 11th. The gas company is hoping to be able to extract the old pipeline from the river channel without excavation. It is not known whether excavation will be required until the extraction is attempted. Closures will be necessary should the excavation be required.No closures are scheduled AT THIS TIME. However, please check this site daily for updates.