By PADDY McILVOY
I know Kilpatrick Pond well. As a full-time professional fishing guide, and unrepentant fishing bum, I’ve spent an untold number of days fishing the pond. I’ve lived beside it in The Nature Conservancy’s Kilpatrick Cabin. I lived in Picabo for three years just to get to fish Silver Creek as much as I possibly could. I’m also one of only a few people I know to have fished literally every pool, cutbank and run on the creek from the Grove Creek/Stalker Creek confluence to the confluence with the Little Wood River. In that time I’ve come to know one thing: Silver Creek is a lot more than Kilpatrick Pond. In fact, the warm, silty, shallow pond we see today is a blight on one of the world’s very best spring creek fisheries.
Kilpatrick Pond today is an enormous heat sink. Numerous studies have demonstrated that by making Silver Creek broad, slow and shallow, water downstream rises as much as 15 degrees on a hot summer day. Rainbow trout begin to die when water temperatures reach 70 degrees. For trout, a 15-degree jump from 50 to 65 degrees is the difference between a comfortable existence and severe lethargy or even death. In essence, the pond is a hand strangling the rest of the Silver Creek system.
Silver Creek as a whole is 24.5 river miles. Kilpatrick Pond is .67 miles. Subtract the water above the pond (1.91 miles) and the pond itself, and you find that .67 miles of heavily human-created and impacted water is negatively affecting 21.9 miles of some of the best trout fishing in America. We are sacrificing some 96 percent of the Silver Creek fishery for the pond. During the heat of the summer, the “lower” creek (loosely, the river below the first U.S. Highway 20 bridge) has water temperatures that begin to edge into the high 60s. What happens each summer is as follows: The early-season fishing in The Willows, Point of Rocks, Picabo Bridge and below is awesome. Ever fish in that same area in August of a low-water year and wonder where all the hundreds of brown Drake-munching fish you caught in early June went? They moved to chase colder water as it became uncomfortably warm. The pond as it exists today is the prime suspect in this problem.
In no way would this project reduce public access to fishing on Silver Creek. I see this as the view of people who fish exclusively, or almost exclusively, Kilpatrick Pond. In the height of the summer fishing season, there are few people fishing The Willows, Point of Rocks, Picabo Bridge and Priest Rapid. This is not because the public can’t access that water; in fact, all these areas are open to the public (much of it due to the generosity of the Purdy family). They see little pressure because the water becomes too warm for trout to live normally. A resurgent downstream fishery would be an enormous expansion of quality public fishing water.
Water temperature rises in proportion to the surface area of water exposed to the sun. What the scientific models of the pond show is that in the summer, the sun warms the top foot of the water column significantly. When you narrow and deepen a river channel (and take the outflow primarily from the bottom, an important part of this project), you hugely reduce solar warming effects (half as much surface area for a given volume of water will warm half as fast). This is what this project proposes to do.
This well-researched, scientifically sound project is of enormous potential benefit to the entire river—the fish, the waterfowl and fishermen. It’s not about saving or removing one person’s favorite fishing spot, it’s about improving and insuring the future of this amazing river for everyone. I urge anybody who’s passionate about the incredible gift we’ve been given in Silver Creek to get behind this project, and to urge our county commissioners to approve it.