Friday, August 11, 2006

Silver Creek rebounding from spring flood

Solid fishing expected to get better

Express Staff Writer

Brent Tuohy casts for finicky trout on the legendary Silver Creek near Picabo, which some anglers say is fishing as well as ever months after a major spring flood. When the waters opened to fishing in late May, many fly fishers complained that the physical structure of the creek had changed dramatically. Photo by Jennifer Tuohy.

Four months after an unusually large flood swept through Silver Creek, depositing silt in favorite fishing stretches and skewing insect hatches, most anglers say the prized trout stream near Picabo is fishing as well as ever.

"There's nothing wrong here. The fishing's been good," said John McGough, of Hailey, as he changed out of his waders after a morning of fly fishing last weekend. "I'm seeing a whole lot of active, young fish, which is good news."

During a warm, wet spell at the tail end of one of the snowiest winters in the last 25 years, flows on Silver Creek were measured at a swollen 460 cubic feet per second (cfs) on April 6 and 7, 2006. Average flows during spring runoff top out at about 200 cfs.

When the waters opened to fishing in late May, many anglers complained that the physical structure of the creek had changed dramatically. Hatches were inconsistent and less prolific, and birds and wildlife were curiously absent from the 850-acre preserve, which is managed by The Nature Conservancy.

Others, like McGough, said the fishing was "about as good as I've ever seen."

One angler landed a mammoth 33-inch brown trout in June.

"Silver Creek, like other rivers, is a constantly changing system," said Dayna Smith, Silver Creek preserve manager. "A dramatic event like a flood can have profound effects, but in the long term it should mean better wildlife habitat and better fishing."

Matt Miller, spokesman for The Nature Conservancy, said aquatic ecologists believe the flood will enhance fishing in the coming years. Miller said the silt is beginning to sprout vegetation, which spawns good fish and insect habitat.

"It takes a while to establish, but the fishing is only going to get better," Miller said after fishing the spring-fed creek last Saturday. "The hatches are different, but we're still getting a lot of activity. The water was boiling at one point where I was. There are some monstrosities in there."

Enormous rainbows and browns still cruise the waters of Silver Creek—referred to by some anglers as "graduate school"—in abundance. And that's not all that's remained unchanged.

"It's still really tough," said Lori Thomas, of Lewistown, Mont., who occasionally fishes the creek.

"I didn't notice anything that much different," said Will Parks, of Seattle.

And weekend crowds are still the norm. Last Saturday, dozens of cars lined the dirt road en route to Silver Creek Preserve's visitor center. Most were lured by the treasured Trico hatch and spinner fall, which are in full swing.

"I heard it was like bumper cars" in the float tube waters near Kilpatrick Bridge," McGough said.

This summer, The Nature Conservancy is celebrating the 30th anniversary of Silver Creek Preserve, which last year attracted visitors from all 50 states and from 14 countries.

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