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After The Beaver Creek Fire, Anglers Are Forced To Cast Their Lines Elsewhere

Steve Dondero

Warm Springs Creek is a clean and beautiful tributary of the Big Wood River in Blaine County. The creek is also a great spot for fly-fishing.

Well...normally.

But after the 174-square-mile Beaver Creek Fire was officially contained last week, heavy rain and thunderstorms moved through. That storm and the continued rain that followed brought mud, ash and debris down the mountain – and into Warm Springs Creek and the Big Wood River.

Peter Spatz is with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in Boise. When he visited a water gauge that was showing high flows on Warm Springs Creek after the storms, he was surprised by what he saw.

Credit Peter Spatz / U.S. Geological Survey
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U.S. Geological Survey
Peter Spatz checked out the Big Wood River after storms brought ash and debris from the Beaver Creek Fire burn scar down the mountain.

“When we got up there, we saw these rivers and creeks just choked with a lot of that ash from those burns, and I had never seen anything like it," says Spatz. “It was very viscous with a lot of this silt and ash, almost to the point where it seemed like it was like used car oil, kind of like liquid graphite. It had a really heavy smell from the fire.”

Spatz has seen runoff from large fires in Montana and Wyoming – but nothing like this. He took out his waterproof camera, and plunged it into the muck. The result? Total darkness. Spatz says he saw fish up near the banks, looking for some cleaner water.

For Terry Ring, the murky waters mean an adjustment for his business. Ring owns Silver Creek Outfitters in Ketchum. He’s been leading fly-fishing trips in the Wood River Valley for the last 34 years. But Ring says that right now no one is catching anything in the muddied waterways.

“You can fish when the water’s off-color, but you just won’t catch anything,” says Ring.

Ring says despite the ash-laden local waters, he hasn’t lost any customers.

“Fortunately we live in an area that is public-land rich and we have a lot of fishing opportunities besides the Big Wood River.”

Ring says his company has been taking customers fly-fishing elsewhere – to streams and rivers that haven’t caught any of the runoff from the Beaver Creek Fire.
 

Frankie Barnhill was the Senior Producer of Idaho Matters, Boise State Public Radio's daily show and podcast.

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