As the paddlefishing season ramps up — it began Thursday — the remnants of this winter’s crushing ice floes remain visible at the Intake Dam fishing access site.
“At Intake and Black Bridge, ice was piled up 9 to 10 feet thick,” said Mike Backes, fisheries manager for Fish Wildlife and Parks in Miles City.
Intake Dam is between Glendive and Sidney; Black Bridge is closer to Glendive.
Backes said there are ice scars on riverside trees 10 to 15 feet off the ground caused by blocks of ice that measured 38 inches thick.
“When you get ice that thick moving with a little water energy, it can do some damage,” Backes said.
FWP spent two-and-a-half days, 170 man hours, restoring electricity to Intake Dam Fishing Access Site and making repairs to vault toilets and camping pads before the popular paddlefishing season opened. Even with all of that work, the camping pads were still in bad shape because the ground was so wet, Backes said.
This was an unprecedented year for ice jams and ice floes on the Yellowstone River. Backes said damage estimates for fishing access sites from Custer downstream totaled about $300,000 — comparable to the cost of repairs following the 2011 flood, and who knows what damage this spring’s runoff might add.
“The ice damage was more structural, though,” Backes said. “The ice just flat eliminated latrines. It took the roof off one concrete latrine at Bonfield, which demonstrates how high the ice was.”
Bonfield FAS is located between Miles City and Terry.
Help paying for some of the work will come from the federal government and state insurance. Although the repairs won’t all be done until later this summer, most sites are useable for the popular Memorial Day weekend.
“We’ve got everything opened up except for Black Bridge, which is open only to foot traffic,” Backes said.
The Yellowstone River at Glendive was running at 25,900 cubic feet per second on Wednesday, about 9,600 cfs above the long-term median flow for this time of year. That could mean good paddlefishing, since they run upstream to spawn as flows rise, but the river has actually dropped a bit since Friday when it was up to about 32,000 cfs.
“It dropped enough that the fishing might not be as feverish on Friday,” Backes said.
Friday is the first day that anglers can keep fish, even though the season opens on Thursday to catch and release fishing. The fish are snagged, since they eat only plankton and can’t be caught with bait.
With the river level up above normal, Backes predicted a quick paddlefish season on the Yellowstone, with the cap of 1,000 fish being filled fairly quickly. The earlier season on the upper Missouri River hit its cap of 500 fish in five days.
“Hopefully it won’t be as fast as the Missouri, that’s disappointing for everybody,” Backes said.