Fall Newsletter 2015
Message from the President

Fall is a spectacular time of year on the Bighorn. The brown trout take a hint from nature and are showing spectacular colors in preparation for their spawn. Fishing has been consistently good with rainbows increasingly evident, especially in the top ten miles of the river (see fishing report below.)

Just as the season is changing here, so is the Bighorn River Alliance. As many of you are aware, the Alliance has experienced tremendous growth over the past few years. The membership has grown ten fold (at least!) and so have our projects and responsibilities. The board was unable to maintain the time and level of commitment needed to keep pace with our growing organization and an exciting decision was made to hire our first executive director.

 In August BHRA board members hired Anne Marie Emery as executive director. She has hit the ground running and I am sure many of you have already received communications from her. With Anne Marie's help and direction, we will be able to dedicate more time to our current projects, keep you better informed, and develop new programs and projects that will increase Bighorn conservation and education efforts.

It is an exciting time to be an Alliance member, and we are heading in the right direction. I personally want to reiterate the Alliance's commitment to working with BOR and partners in stabilizing river flows and will continue to keep you informed of latest developments.

All of this would not be possible without the continued support of you, the members. Thank you for your dedication to the work we do to protect the Bighorn River. We will strive to do our best to enhance and protect this great fishery and we are excited waters we are wading into.
Zoe Opie

Moving Forward

My first Bighorn River fly-fishing experience occurred last spring, with my young son Jack. I remember the rushed anticipation we felt wadering up on the banks as the emerald clear waters of the Bighorn River literally boiled before us with hungry, waking trout.  I remember watching the joy on my eight-year olds face as he transformed into an independent wading angler, able to catch and release his own trout without holding onto his mother's hand.  I recall the more selective trout- the ones that challenged me as an angler by refusing to grace me with a hook set and the simple surrounding beauty of the Crow tribal lands- lands that remain development free, wild and natural.  Today, I feel honored and humbled to work on behalf of the long-term conservation of the Bighorn River wild trout fishery. 

Non-profits supply a veil of protection and awareness to our nation's most reverend trout waters- waters that need special attention because of the unique watershed challenges they face. On systems such as the Bighorn River, where development is low and tribal lands reign, non-profits such as the Bighorn River Alliance play not only a vital role, but an essential role in protecting wild trout waters that, because of  tribal jurisdiction boundaries are not monitored by state departments and agencies. 

The unique setting of the Bighorn River provides a rare angling opportunity not provided by other tail-water fisheries.  Fishing waters surrounded by lands that are protected by ranching and tribal heritages is something that is important to me as an angler, a conservationist and a mother. Yet, the isolated geographical location of the Bighorn also poses new professional challenges for me in regards to fundraising. The future conservation work of the Alliance is more dependent on its membership for funding than other non-profit river groups who can share monitoring expenses and efforts with state agencies. The ability of the Alliance to initiate, plan and fund projects- such as water quality monitoring described below- is made 100% possible by you.  Conducting solid, research based environmental monitoring is expensive, but essential to our mission to protect and preserve the Bighorn Fishery. That being said, I humbly ask for your continued, united support for the Bighorn River Alliance, and that you consider our organizations unique funding limitations in your year-end-giving plans.
The Bighorn River exists at the confluence of multiple traditions, uses, and beliefs, and I  believe that it poses amazing opportunities for building common ground for conservation.  I look forward to working with you, our members, to protect the abundant trout waters of the Bighorn for generations to come.  Wild trout conservation depends on angler participation, and without you and your support, our efforts could not continue.  There is only one Bighorn. 
Anne Marie Emery
To read more about Emery click here.

Our Work
Bighorn Water Quality

The Alliance understands that a healthy wild trout fishery begins with healthy water.  Yet, until recently, water quality health on the famed Bighorn tail-water fishery has remained relatively under monitored, leaving the current health condition of the river unknown.

Over the years anglers have noted concerning trends on the Bighorn ranging from increased algae/moss growth to observed gas bubble disease on resident trout. While some of these concerns are "by-products of river life below a dam," they may also be indicative of changing river processes that need to be recorded and monitored.

This past summer, with guidance from Montana's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the Alliance initiated a water quality monitoring program to determine the current baseline river health of the Bighorn during months of run off and high irrigation demand. With assistance from DEQ, BHRA board members Roger (Thor) Hile and Don Yarbrough established six sampling locations along the Bighorn river between Afterbay dam and the General Custer boat ramp. These sites will be visited monthly by Thor and Yarbrough who will collect water samples that the Alliance will have analyzed for pollutants, excess nutrient loads, temperature and dissolved oxygen.

Water quality monitoring is the first step scientific step the Alliance is taking to understand how fluctuating flow releases from Bighorn Reservoir, and surrounding irrigation practices alter the health of the Bighorn tail-water fishery.  Data received will be shared with the Crow Tribe, EPA and BOR to develop management practices that protect wild Bighorn trout. 
To read more about water quality testing, please click here.
Mulherin Fish Screen

Yellowstone cutthroat trout, a subspecies of cutthroat trout native to tributaries of the Yellowstone River, have experienced marked reductions in abundance and distribution. Causes for its decline include hybridization with rainbow trout, competition with brook trout and brown trout, habitat degradation, dewatering, passage barriers, and entrainment into irrigation systems. The upper Yellowstone River in Montana provides a rare opportunity to conserve a nonhybridized population of fluvial Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Fluvial fish reside mostly in rivers, but return to their natal streams to spawn, and this life history strategy has become exceedingly rare. Fluvial Yellowstone cutthroat trout are especially vulnerable because their incubation, emergence, and outmigration periods coincide with peak demands for irrigation water, so dewatering, and loss to irrigation diversions are key limiting factors. Mulherin Creek is among the biggest producers of fluvial Yellowstone cutthroat trout fry, and a water lease has maintained adequate in-stream flows since the late 1990s. Nonetheless, an irrigation diversion captures a considerable number of spawning adults and their outmigrating fry. Installation of a low maintenance Farmers Screen on this diversion will prevent loss of Yellowstone cutthroat trout to the irrigation canal. The Bighorn River Alliance is a collaborator on this important project, and has sponsored a successful grant application to the International Federation of Fly Fishers that will contribute to the purchase and installation of the fish screen. Construction is scheduled for fall of 2016.

Carol Endicott
Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout Restoration Biologist
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks

Bighorn River Issue's Group
The Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) held its Fall Planning meeting on November 5, 2015 and once again combined that meeting with the Bighorn Issues Group semi-annual meeting. It was well attended.

As is par for the course, the meeting began with BOR's recap of Water Year 2015 (which ran from Oct 1, 2014 through Sep 30, 2015) as explained by BOR Reservoir and River Operations staff member Clayton Jordan. BOR did a good job of capturing events of the past water year, but skipped a few important details which are worth recognizing. Most notable is the fact that on March 1st, inflow forecasts were still projected to be normal, despite the warm week in February that caused some unexpected inflows from the loss of low level snow melt. In addition, on March 1st, BOR was approximately ten feet above the operating plan's March 1st target elevation which exceeded even their own maximum probable operating plan. Whether this target was missed intentionally, or inadvertently or negligently, the loss of storage that would be sorely needed in the later weeks made the ensuing flood damage that much worse.

Alliance members reminded BOR that they failed to keep their promise to drop river releases slowly at the end of runoff. Embarrassingly, BOR explained to the attendees that during the regular stake-holders conference calls, BOR kept stake holders apprised of their plans for lowering river releases. They simply forgot that most of the stakeholders on those calls were present, and those folks reminded BOR that they promised drops of no more than 250 cfs twice a day (instead of 500cfs twice a day). Everyone, including BOR, recognizes that when high flows are sustained for long periods of time and banks become highly saturated, quick drops in releases cause massive sloughing of those banks. There were stakeholders in attendance who lost acres and acres of property in July during the quick drops in releases. 

The superintendent of Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area gave an interesting report that explained how the Park Service is not responsible for removing the sediment from the Horseshoe Bend Area. He further explained that should it somehow be undertaken, it would take approximately 2,700 dump trucks removing sediment and operating 24 hours per day, seven days a week without holidays to just match the amount of sediment entering the system each year.

A year ago, BOR solicited recommendation for changes to the operating criteria. Several dozen recommendations were received and all but five rejected with very little public discussion. One recommendation from the Alliance was to remodel the calculations for gains. This was accomplished and the new calculations will be used this winter. Another recommendation was to not necessarily lock in a fixed releases from November through March. BOR stated they were receptive to those changes. The Alliance will urge BOR to include November through March in the rule curves.

Stake holders were expecting action during this meeting on the remaining three recommendations, but BOR stated they are still studying/analyzing/modeling them, and will share their findings at a later date. For those keeping score, this means another water year under pretty much the same old criteria during the wettest months and runoff.

Lastly, plans for the hydropower generator at Afterbay is still being discussed, but it appears the original engineering that would've helped with the nitrogen super-saturation issues has been scrapped. The Alliance must now be very vigilant in monitoring developments with this project. For more information on the Bighorn River Issues Group click here.
Doug Haacke
BHRA Advisory Commitee

Fly-Fishing the Bighorn

Bighorn Secrets on Internet Radio!
Listen to Steve Galletta - Alliance board member and author of Fly-Fishing the Bighorn River- share his secrets to fishing success on the Bighorn, and why he supports the work of the Alliance on Ask About Fly-Fishing Internet Radio .
fallfishingreportFall Fishing Report
The aquatic grass has cleared up significantly during the past month. High water years often create adverse water conditions in late summer and fall, and this year was no exception. That being said, the fishing has been very good lately.
The fall streamer bite has been ramping up and will only get better as we approach the height of the brown trout spawn in early December. If you watch the weather, you can enjoy some outstanding streamer action. A variety of streamer patterns will produce. The large, articulated patterns are currently in vogue, although they can be a lot of work to throw and I haven't found that they work any better than smaller patterns. I still favor squirrel leaches, Wooley Buggers, and Zonker patterns. Sink-tip lines can be helpful, but don't use anything too heavy yet. Once the water temperatures drop into the 40s, fishing the deep water with full-sinking lines can be the ticket.

Nymph fishing has been steady on sowbugs, scuds and San Juan Worms. There are still fish in the riffles, but when temperatures drop into the 40s the fish move into slower water.

Fall Baetis mayflies are hatching in the middle of the day. If it's cloudy, you can enjoy some great dry fly fishing. CDC Sparkle Dun or Parachute Baetis patterns produce well. The fly pattern is important, but presentation is more important. If you're a wade fisherman, 3-Mile Access is the place.

Anglers are reporting big fish this fall - fish in the 18" to 20" range. The trout are in great condition. If the weather isn't abusive, this is a great time to float the river, view wildlife and enjoy some solitude.

Hale Harris

Upcoming Events
#GivingTuesday, Dec. 1st

The Bighorn River Alliance has signed up for #GivingTuesday!  On this day of global giving, you can make a donation to help the Bighorn and support the Alliance by clicking here.

#GivingTuesday is a global day giving that takes place the first Tuesday following big holiday shopping days like Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. 

Bighorn River Days, July 15 & 16

Come celebrate the Bighorn, catch a Carp and help raise funds for the Alliance at the 2016 Bighorn River Days celebration!
  • Live Band
  • Carp Classic Tournament
  • Silent and Raffle Auction
  • Dinner with the Alliance

More information available on our website soon!


The Bighorn River Alliance is certified not for profit 501c(3) organization.  All donations are tax deductible as allowed by law.
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