PICABO, Idaho (AP) — It’s no wonder that fly fishers revere Silver Creek: a spring-fed trout stream with gin-clear water, slow current and legendary insect hatches.
And they know a prime stretch of Silver Creek is suffering from sediment buildup that raises water temperatures and stresses those prized trout.
But they don’t agree on a million-dollar proposal to fix that.
“It’s a fantastic fishery, but everybody thinks they know exactly what’s right for it,” said Dennis Brauer of Twin Falls, co-president of Magic Valley Fly Fishers.
A beloved stretch of that beloved creek is dubbed Kilpatrick Pond — a wider, slower section of stream formed in 1883 or 1884 when the Purdy family installed a dam to raise the water high enough for diversion into its ranch’s irrigation canals.
The upstream portion of the “pond” flows across land open to public access and owned by the The Nature Conservancy, where the Kilpatrick Road Bridge over Silver Creek marks the property line. From the bridge downstream to the dam, the rest of the Kilpatrick Pond is on private land owned by the Purdy family’s Picabo Livestock Co.
But the waterway is all public. And anglers in float tubes will populate Kilpatrick Pond from the Memorial Day opening weekend to the end of Silver Creek’s trout-fishing season.
“Really, this float tube area is one of the crown jewels of fishing on Silver Creek,” said David Glasscock of Picabo, an outfitter and fly fishing guide on Silver Creek for 33 years.
But remember that sediment? Deposited in Kilpatrick Pond over the past 80 years — from farming, livestock, recreation, roads — it soaks up the sun and dramatically warms the shallow water.
And the cold-loving trout so prized in Silver Creek are sensitive to minute changes in temperature. A rainbow trout in 70-degree water is lethargic and won’t go for an angler’s fly, The Nature Conservancy’s Arthur Talsma said.
So the nonprofit and its ranching neighbor collaborated to design and fund a proposed restoration project on Kilpatrick Pond.
The Nature Conservancy and Picabo Livestock both have permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said Dayna Gross, watershed manager for the Conservancy’s Silver Creek Preserve. But they still need permits from Blaine County and from the Idaho Department of Water Resources.
Blaine County has received more than 50 letters and emails on the proposed Kilpatrick Pond restoration, said Tom Bergin, director of the county’s land use and building services office.
“That’s an exceptional volume of comments for a land-use item in this area,” Bergin said. The employee who’s compiling those comments characterized them as generally — but not unanimously — supportive.
Greg Loomis of Hailey, a fly fishing guide in the area for 30 years, said he’s “absolutely in favor of it.”
“We can’t force the fish to adjust to the way it is right now and expect them to survive,” he said.
So anglers might have to adjust to a different experience on Kilpatrick Pond if the restoration project gains approval. And even the fly fishers who wholeheartedly support the proposal say they understand others’ reluctance to let anyone mess with Silver Creek.
“As fishermen and guides we don’t like change,” Loomis said.
On the upstream portion of Kilpatrick Pond, The Nature Conservancy wants to remove built-up sediment from a 30-meter-wide channel through the pond, to restore a more natural flow of cold water. But mud banks and old sediment on its north side would be stabilized with an underwater fence of posts and fabric and planted with an overhanging bank of wetlands sod, to improve habitat for birds, insects and juvenile fish.
“Expect it to look a little muddy and rough at first,” Talsma told a Magic Valley Fly Fishers meeting in January. But new vegetation should look good in a couple of years.
The University of Idaho and the firm GeoEngineers modeled the proposed channel and its effects.
Kilpatrick Pond immediately downstream of the bridge won’t change at all, said Nick Purdy, president of Picabo Livestock. But in the lower portion of the pond, just before its irrigation diversion dam, the company proposes shifting silt to form wetlands and an island while restoring a channel of faster water that would carry any suspended sediment through and beyond the Silver Creek system, he said.
Picabo Livestock would also replace the dam to allow fish passage and to allow the release of colder water through the bottom of the dam, Purdy said.
Loomis is impressed that these two landowners got together and agreed on a plan: “It’s commendable that they’re tackling this,” he said.
If the nonprofit and the ranch get their permits from the county and state, they hope to start construction in October 2013, cutting short the fishing season.
“The earth work will be complete by early winter 2014 and revegetation will occur into the spring of 2015,” stated a Nature Conservancy fact sheet. At least part of Kilpatrick Pond would be open to fishing in 2014.
Gross said the two projects total about $1 million.
With private donations and a wetlands-creation grant from the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service, The Nature Conservancy is about halfway to its $500,000 funding goal, she said. The nonprofit is also applying for a grant from the Blaine County Land, Water and Wildlife Program funded by Blaine voters’ 2008 approval of a property tax levy for conservation.
Purdy pegged the Picabo Livestock project cost at $400,000 and said the ranch has raised half of that so far — from private users of Silver Creek; a $150,000 NRCS grant for revegetating the wetlands and the future island; and a $25,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in conjunction with Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
So, what’s not to like?
Glasscock fears the work would damage the streambed’s aquatic insect population — those hatches the fly fishers love to match. But The Nature Conservancy will collaborate with the U.S. Geological Survey to study and measure insect numbers, Gross said; she’s confident the small mayflies will come back.
Glasscock also contends that deeper channels in the Picabo Livestock end of the pond would make it harder for anglers in float tubes to make their return trip to the bridge. Now, the pond is shallow enough that anglers can stay in their tubes and walk back in the water without trespassing on the ranch’s private banks.
“So it’s going to be a big loss to the public,” he said.
Not so, Purdy said.
“I don’t think that’s a valid concern,” he said. His design calls for banks of tapered gravel beside the proposed wetlands, so anglers can walk back at the edge of the water.
Anglers also have other options for a return trip past Picabo Livestock’s private property, Gross said, such as kicking upstream with fins, using ping-pong paddles as oars, or floating all the way to U.S. Highway 20 to hitchhike back or arrange a shuttle.
“I’ve actually seen a guy riding a bike on the highway with his float tube,” she said. “I’m not sure I would recommend that. It didn’t look too safe.”
But walking back in the water is the only reasonable way, Glasscock insists.
Stressing that he understands the benefits of the proposed restoration, Ketchum fly fishing guide Pete DeBaun has a different objection:
“It’s a certain sense of purity within the system,” he said. “There’s a feeling that when you dig holes and make islands … the perception of some would be that you’re taking one of the most pristine, untouched rainbow fisheries in the world and you’re going Disneyland on us.”
Trout would be totally at home in a cold, deep, insect-heavy channel, he said. But that fish magnet would also draw “the idiot guide who just can’t help but just put two nymphs, a split shot and an indicator … and low and behold they’ve got a happy client.”
Others have put in a lifetime of trying to fish Silver Creek on its own terms, DeBaun said. Then he tempered his touch of scorn by adding that even the “bluebloods” understand the appeal of easy fishing.
Restoration or not, don’t count on easy in Silver Creek.
“All the trout in Silver Creek have a Ph.D.,” Talsma said, echoing an old saying. “They’ve looked at a lot of stuff.”
The original story can be found on The Times-News’ website: http://bit.ly/11f8IgY
Information from: The Times-News, http://www.magicvalley.com