The Yellowstone River is the longest undammed river in the United States.
It originates at 12,800 feet above sea level in the Absaroka Mountains of Wyoming. Then it flows north into Montana, turns east at Livingston, and by the time it reaches the Missouri River on the western plains of North Dakota, the river has descended from 11,000 feet to just 1,800 feet above sea level.
The biodiversity of the Upper Yellowstone River is dramatically different from that of the lower regions. But as our climate changes, species find new homes.
The Upper Yellowstone River is where romantic visions of trout fishing begin. Standing knee-deep among rocks as old as time with crystal clear, crystal clear water rushing around your legs, while caddis and other flying insects fill the sky just above your head. You match the hatch by presenting dry flies to feed the fish. The looming jagged mountain peaks cast shadows across the valley floor. At any moment a moose may pass by, a wolf may howl, an elk may trumpet or the unexpected presence of a grizzly bear may put an end to your peaceful tranquility.
Travel a few hundred miles downstream to the Billings, Montana area and the river is very different. It’s still incredibly beautiful. However, it is much larger and the water temperature has warmed up to the point of being habitable for trout. Smallmouth bass, sauger and catfish are the main sport fish species.
Instead of standing under mountain peaks, you power jet boats past oil refineries. Instead of moose bawling or wolves howling, you hear train whistles and big trucks on the highway. It’s a world quite different from the Utopian Park that bears its name.
As good as the trout fishing is in Upper Yellowstone, Billings smallmouth fishing at the confluence is also excellent. You can cast a smallmouth lure from a boat in front of Pompey’s Pillar, where Captain William Clark carved his name in stone on July 25, 1806, during the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The area is steeped in history and offers sporting opportunities very different from those just an hour’s drive west. Unfortunately, that could change, however.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) recently announced that an angler caught a smallmouth bass on Feb. 19 while fishing on the Gardner River at its confluence with the Yellowstone River, just outside the park. Yellowstone National.
In a news release, FWP reported that anglers have caught smallmouth bass at two locations on the upper Yellowstone River in the past seven years: two smallmouth bass were caught at Hwy 89 bridge below Livingston and one near Emigrant. A smallmouth bass was also found in the Shields River, a tributary of the Yellowstone east of Livingston.
The smallmouth bass is a predator. Many call them pound for pound the toughest fish to fight in freshwater. I’ve always dreamed of having an aquarium like the ones you see at Bass Pro stores. So when I was in college I kept a small smallmouth bass in a creek in Lafayette, Indiana in an aquarium. I named it Walter, after the fish from the movie “On Golden Pond”. I tried time and time again to add fish to the tank, but Walter had none. He killed every friend I tried to give him. When I graduated, I released it into the stream at the exact spot where I caught it. Can you imagine the stories he had to tell?
Due to the nature of the smallmouth and the fact that they are not native to Upper Yellowstone, the species found there are of serious concern. Protecting Yellowstone’s native cutthroat trout is a key conservation concern of the FWP and many other agencies and organizations. An influx of Walters could cause serious damage to the ruthless populace.
FWP reported that it found no smallmouth bass during annual sampling efforts in the upper Yellowstone River. But they ask, and it will hurt the souls of serious smallmouth anglers, “until all proposed rules can be implemented, anglers are urged to voluntarily kill, remove and document any smallmouth bass caught. in the Yellowstone River and its tributaries between the Springdale Fishing Access the site east of Livingston upstream from the Yellowstone National Park boundary and provide them to FWP for testing.
As the climate changes all around us, species of plants and animals will react in ways we cannot control. The existing smallmouth bass in the upper Yellowstone River is just one example of the changes to come. The future will be very different from today.
See you on the trail. …
Brandon Butler is an outdoor columnist for the News Tribune. Contact him at [email protected]