Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Joe Caton

Joe heads to Willow Creek Reservoir

A conversation with Joe Caton
Joe: Hi, am I calling too late?
BHCN: Not at all. Did you have a good time visiting with your friends?
Joe: Yeah, all is good. You know, I had to dig my scoop shovel out again this week. It snowed on me again, but the forecast says it’s going to be good this coming week. My hopes are high I can hang it back up again.
BHCN: Yes, that snow was a surprise; even though it was forecast, I didn’t really expect that much snow. We had almost 4 inches of wet snow here.
Joe: We had a bit more than that. I was just in Hardin and you still have a bunch on the ground, but around here in St. Xavier, we have about twice that amount.
BHCN: I thought we had it bad. Snow dumped on us one night, then continued off and on for the next couple of days.  
Joe: Yes, my sump pump is working overtime right now with all the moisture, because the ground isn’t really frozen and it started turning warm. The river is already high; I don’t know just how high it might get.
BHCN: Well, right now, according to the lake’s website, the outflow is 6,988 cubic feet per second (cfs).
Joe: Oh yeah, that’s right at 7,000.
BHCN: The inflow is 5,100 and the lake has dropped another percentage point from 88 percent full last week to 87 percent full now.
Joe: Well, that’s good; that gives them a little room in there to hold some water. I’ve got a feeling we’re going to get a bunch more of it soon.
BHCN: That’s right, especially if the mountains around here got as much or more than we did.
Joe: I see the Big Horns have quite a good snow pack. I don’t know what the snow pack is in the Big Horn Basin, but that drains a massive amount of country in the Wind River area.
BHCN: If it’s like this, then there’s a lot of water waiting to come down. So this snowstorm knocked out your plans for going fishing.
Joe: Yes, temporarily. I’m all on deck to do it and have some new streamers tied up I want to try. I’m kind of anxious. The river, even flowing 7,000, is fishable; but as soon as it warms up, these local drainages will make it too muddy to fish. As soon as the ice gets off, I want to get over to Willow Creek Reservoir. That’s pretty good fishing in the spring when the ice first moves.
BHCN: Well, maybe that will help you wait for the river to clear up.
Joe: It will, then I’ll get to try my streamers over there.
BHCN: So they have trout over there, also.
Joe: Oh yeah, brown trout and rainbow and in good size. It’s amazing the size of fish that are in there. I’ve caught them up to five and six pounds. You don’t catch a lot of small trout over there; they’re all 16 to 17 inches or over.
BHCN: What contributes to that?
Joe: As soon as that ice goes off, the rainbows, are trying to spawn and they really can’t in the areas I fish along the dam. I’ve taken a drift boat over there and worked around the edges. You can sight fish; you can actually see the fish if the sun is right. You can tell they’re in the spawning mode when you catch them with their colors, and the hooked jaw and whatnot. There are also some big brown trout that come into the areas where the rainbow are trying to lay their eggs, so it makes for interesting fishing. Sometimes, strong winds over there can make fishing difficult. On the nice days, it’s always good.
BHCN: What do you think contributes to the fact that the average fish you catch is pretty nice?
Joe: During the spawn, the bigger fish push the smaller ones out of the spawning area in the shallow water. I rarely catch a fish under 16 inches. They’re all big and the water is very, very cold, so it makes the trout very good eating.
BHCN: Do you see many people out fishing when you’re fishing?
Joe: Rarely. I see signs where people have been along the edges, but it’s never a busy fishery.
BHCN: Isn’t that the lake they were going to drain?
Joe: Yes, it is. I don’t know if it’s still on schedule to be drained. I’ll have to ask and see if they’re going to drain it down to do repairs on the main gate at the dam.
BHCN: I remember talking with you about that and you were planning on trying to catch as many fish out there as you could before they all got killed.
Joe: Yeah, if they do drain it down, it will have to go nearly dry and there will be heavy fish mortality.
BHCN: Then it will be a few years before that’s a good fishery again.
Joe: Yes, it will take a while. It will need some stocking to come back.
BHCN: That would help it come back faster. Have you done much fishing in the Tongue River area?
Joe: Not in a long time; I fish high up on the mountain up towards the Bear Lodge area on the North Fork of the Tongue and in that area, generally in the early summer, June and July, then it gets pretty dry. The Tongue River Reservoir is an excellent fishery for a number of different fish. It’s got northern pike, walleyes, bass, catfish; it’s an amazing fishery. There are lots of improvements around the edges. They’ve got a store there and the campsites are pretty well maintained. And if you and your kids like crappy, I don’t know any place, anywhere that’s a better crappy fishery.
BHCN: Yes, that’s what I’ve heard around here. Most people are going over to catch crappy.
Joe: It’s a tremendous crappy fishery.
BHCN: We’ve got lot of good fishing spots around here, don’t we?
Joe: Yes, we’re blessed to have a lot of good, warm water fishing and we’re right on the edge of the Bighorn. This is about as far east as you can go and have any decent trout fishing. West of here, you have the Clark Fork, the Bitterroot and the Big Hole area and they’re all really scenic as well. Montana has a lot of good fishing and so does Wyoming. I think Montana has the best trout fishing of any of the western states.
BHCN: What about the Missouri River?
Joe: Oh, on the upper Missouri below the dam, their fishery is similar to the Bighorn. It’s a tail water fishery and very productive. Biggest concern right now is the invasive species of parasite that’s in most Montana waters. It shut down a large part of the Yellowstone last year as they tried to stop the spread of it. We have it in the Bighorn and I don’t know if anyone really knows what will happen. Some think it could be a real disaster for Montana.
BHCN: The closing of the Yellowstone and several other rivers last year was a real financial hit to several towns in Montana.
Joe: Well, the water in this river comes out from the bottom of the lake and the cold temperatures have saved us from a lot of that stuff, but we’ll just have to wait and see how it plays out.
BHCN: Joe, that’s a good place for us to stop this week. Hopefully, this year the water supply will last and the water flow will stay strong and cold… [and] the water will not warm up enough to activate that parasite.
Joe: That’s a good hope. Talk to you again next week.