Al Campbell, Field Editor

September 1st, 2003

Unseen Treasures on a Hot Summer Day
By Al Campbell

It has been a hot summer. For two months the daytime temperatures reached the 90s to the low 100s every day except for a couple of days. That is the official weather service statement, but in the area where I live east of Rapid City, it has been hotter. My neighbor has a computerized weather station on the shady north side of his house. His little station tells a different story than the weather guys do from their station.

According to my neighbor's station, the temperatures exceeded 110 degrees locally 8 days in July and 7 days in August. Four of those July days exceeded 115 degrees and three in August did the same. One July day exceeded 120 by one degree. We only had six days in those two months that didn't reach 95, and three that didn't exceed 90.

Also according to his station, we have had less than half an inch of rain since the last week of June, and that came in three localized thunderstorms. Other areas of town and especially some areas south of town have had more rain by far, but the hill I live on has been hot and dry. Although I use the water sprinkler on my lawn on days that it's allowed, I have big cracks in the lawn that garter snakes can crawl in and out of. My bird feeders and birdbaths are getting a work out this year too.

The weather has had an impact on some local streams too. On July 19, I measured the temperature in Spring Creek about two miles below Sheridan Lake at 80 degrees in the morning. I walked the stream (down the middle so I could see any moving fish) and observed only one trout in several hundred yards of stream. It was a rainbow with big white spots and it was swimming on its side. I doubt it survived the day.

Many of the smaller streams have dried up completely in their lower reaches again this year. When the drought does break, it'll take a decade for the fish and insect populations to recover. Fortunately there is cooler water in the uppermost reaches of those streams to hold a seed population for future recovery.

On the other hand, some of our streams are doing very well. Spearfish Creek has been running near bank full all summer. They have had a lot more rain over on that side of the Black Hills than we have had in my location. Upper Rapid Creek and Castle Creek have also been getting more rain than most of the Black Hills, and they have been flowing pretty good. We still have some great fishing, but we have to choose our destinations carefully.

Does any of this have anything to do with you? Maybe, and maybe not. Some of our readers live close to me and others travel to the Black Hills to enjoy the fishing offered here. They would be very disappointed to travel to this area just to find the streams un-fishable. I would too, if I traveled somewhere to find my trip was in vain.

In my 16 years of living in the Black Hills, roughly a third of those years were drought years. In all that time, I can't recall one year that Spearfish Creek didn't have good or at least fair water flows. I saw the lake above Pactola Dam drop 60 feet below its normal water line in the late 1980s, but I can't remember one time when Rapid Creek below that dam got too hot or too low to support a healthy population of fish. We have always had some places to fish, even when many of the other local places were un-fishable.

The same is true in other western states as well. When I lived in Montana, if the water in the Missouri or Smith rivers got too low or too warm for reasonable fishing, there was always cool water and fine fishing in the mountain streams. While the big rivers of the west are very popular, some of the best late summer fishing can be found in the smaller rivers and streams in the mountains, and those streams usually don't get much pressure. You might have to adjust your course a little, but your summer fishing vacation doesn't have to be canceled because your chosen river isn't fishing well.

You might be fishing a 3wt instead of a 5wt, but streams like the North Fork of the Teton River or the upper reaches of the Dearborn River southwest of Augusta, Montana will reward you with dozens of brookies and cutthroats when the Missouri River is too warm to be fishing well. There are dozens if not hundreds of small streams near the river you planned to fish that will be fishing great if you'll take the time to search them out on a map. What they often lack in fish sizes, they more than make up for in numbers and breathtaking scenery.

The next time you hear that the Big Hole isn't fishable, make the trip anyway, and fish some of the small streams nearby. If Spring Creek in the Black Hills is too hot to fish, maybe it's time to try another stream like Spearfish Creek. If the Madison is too warm, maybe you should discover one of the hundreds of smaller streams that feed the Gallatin or Madison. You might just find yourself planning next years trip to include a few of the other "treasures" you discovered when your original plans didn't work out exactly the way you intended. Some of the best treasures are hidden just beyond the well-traveled highways. ~ AC

Previous Al Campell Columns

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