Wyoming outdoors: Lake DeSmet fishery an angler favorite

Wyoming outdoors: Lake DeSmet fishery an angler favorite

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Many people in northeast Wyoming realize what a wonderful fishery and playground they have in Lake DeSmet. It has been a favorite fishing hole for anglers for decades.

“It is the most heavily used standing water trout fishery in northeast Wyoming,” said Paul Mavrakis, Wyoming Game and Fish fishery supervisor. “More anglers fish for trout in Lake DeSmet than anywhere else in this quarter of the state.”

Recent spring netting results at Lake DeSmet show that the trout fishery is doing well. Though the fisheries group hasn’t had time to analyze the results, it is apparent that there is a healthy population of fish. Mavrakis said there are plenty of rainbow and cutthroat trout in the lake and that they are growing at a pretty good clip. He said the larger-sized rainbows and cutthroats they stock in the fall at 8 to 9 inches are now averaging 11 to 12 inches.

The plants — 100,000 rainbows and 50,000 cutthroats — are made in the fall when the water temperature drops so that the walleye are more lethargic and don’t prey as heavily on trout. Once the trout reach 12 inches, they are usually too large for most of the walleyes to eat.

Most anglers have done well over the past couple of years. I know of ice fishermen who have regularly caught limits of 16- to 18-inch trout. Open water anglers have fared well, too.

While not near as common as the rainbows and cutthroats, brown trout exist in the reservoir and grow large. The browns are naturally produced and either come from intake of water from Piney Creek or Shell Creek.

The walleyes continue to grow in size. While the illegal aliens have messed up the trout fishery a bit, there are anglers that now target them.

Other fish species that inhabit Lake DeSmet are rock bass and yellow perch. Mavrakis said there are some big rock bass in the lake that are underutilized. The perch are not as numerous as they once were two to three decades ago, but do offer some good angling and pan fare.

The number of angling days that Lake DeSmet has each year totals about 35,000, according to the latest creel surveys. According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife 2010 figure, an angling day is worth $71 to the local economy. That adds up to $2.48 million. That’s a nice chunk of change to the local tackle shops, gas stations and the like. Mind you, that figure doesn’t include those people who are recreational boaters, sail boaters or bird watchers, so the figure is certainly larger.

Each year Wyoming Game and Fish spends about $300,000 to raise the trout that are planted into the lake each fall.

More than $1 million has been spent on improvements to the access sites on the lake. They include boat ramps, restrooms and roads.

It’s easy to see that fishing and recreation generate dollars to the local economy and that Lake DeSmet is important to anglers and others. To preserve this important resource, Wyoming Game and Fish is proposing to lease 66,024 acre-feet (7,400 acre-feet firm yield) for 99 years. The lease would apply to junior storage rights that are held by the Lake DeSmet Counties Coalition and have a 50-year termination clause. The lease would be nonconsumptive. Game and Fish would assume shoreline protection and management responsibilities as an in-kind contribution toward annual operation and maintenance costs. Game and Fish would pay $2.97 million over the next five years.

The following benefits description comes from the Lake DeSmet Counties Coalition website:

The lease benefits would be include: 1.) It would secure and maintain a viable fishery. 2.) It would maintain existing recreational and wildlife economic and intrinsic benefits. 3.) It would protect the water quality and ecosystem of the reservoir and adjacent riparian corridor. 4.) It would conserve and protect scenic and resource values. 5.) It would protect adjacent residential property values. 6.) It would provide environmental assurances for future industrial development, thus reducing permitting and regulatory hurdles. 7.) It would provide necessary financial support to meet long-term repair and rehabilitation needs. 8.) It would provide necessary financial assistance in meeting annual operational and maintenance costs. 9.) It would increase availability of water for in-stream flows.

The long and short of the proposed lease is that there would still be plenty of water left for industrial use and that the existing leases would be honored. It is a win-win situation for the fish and the residents of northeast Wyoming. I hope that it is approved.

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