Trout Unlimited Fundraiser to highlight Dry Spotted Tail Creek project to return trout to waters

February 22, 2019

MITCHELL — When Bruce Rolls first moved to the area to teach school, he remembers his students taking him out to go fishing on Nine Mile or Winter Creeks, where they would catch two 5½-pound rainbow trout from the streams.

The trout were a migrating strain of rainbow trout that were hatched in the gravel bottoms of the 17 streams and drains along the North Platte between the Wyoming border and Indian Creek by Broadwater. The fish would grow and travel down the river to Lake McConaughy. When the fish reached about 5 pounds, they would travel back upstream to spawn in the same creeks they were born in.

“That’s all gone in the wayside, but there are attempts to bring that back by getting a foothold back in that system,” Rolls said.

Rolls said the state no longer stocks the streams, and the trout migrate back to where they are hatched, not where they are raised. Most of the creeks have gravel beds and provide an ideal place to lay eggs.

The first step to restoring these fisheries lies in one of those streams — Dry Spotted Tail Creek — located just west of the Scotts Bluff County Fairgrounds.

The Dry Spotted Tail Creek project is situated on 1,200 acres of riparian river frontage and river bottoms owned by the Platte River Basin Environments (PRBE), a local conservation group. Rolls sits on the PRBE Board and the Chasing Rainbows Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

He was joined by Chapter Treasurer and PRBE Property Manager Bob Smith to talk about a project which will redirect the creek to a more natural path, and ultimately provide better spawning ground for migrating rainbow trout. The partnership includes dedicated efforts from Nebraska Game and Parks, Trout Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, PRBE, Ducks Unlimited and the Nebraska Environmental Trust.

Rolls said that before the west was settled, Dry Spotted Tail Creek was one of several “dry drains” that ended in playas, or dry lakes, left behind as the North Platte River shifted southward over millions of years.

In the early 1900s when irrigation systems came to the region, it took the water from the North Platte to the highest point in the valley on both the north and south sides of the river. To the north side of the river are gravel deposits left behind by the river as it migrated south. To the south of the river are hard pan brule clay deposits. By the 1920s, it became apparent that the seepage from the canals on the north side of the river had infiltrated the underlying gravel beds, causing the water table to rise as much as 150 feet. Farmers facing waterlogged fields needed a way to restore the irrigation water not consumed by the crops back down to the river.

The solution was to dig drains, and in the areas north of the river they used the natural drains to get it as close to the river as possible. When the water would drain no further, the drains were channelized directly to the river. Such was the case for Dry Spotted Tail Creek.

“That’s why you find the last two to three miles of these creeks are dug drains, and they’re dug on property lines,” Rolls said. “The Chaloupka Homestead was on quarter and the Fanning Homestead was on the other side of Dry Spotted Tail.”

Rolls said neither family wanted to have the drain dug through their respective hay meadows, so it was agreed to have the drain on the boundary line. This solution opened pasture land, but dried up ideal habitats for trout, waterfowl, wetland plants and other wildlife.

However, PRBE is trying to return the drain to a more natural path to the river rather than a straight shot to the river, making it into better habitat to serve as a trout fishery.

“We believe (the creek) should be over the natural course that it went over years ago,” Smith said. “We have a little gem here in western Nebraska, and if this project is successful, we might have the opportunity to do this on other streams and make them better fisheries.”

The goal is to not only enhance recreation and allow the natural fishery to continue, but the project will also augment the water that goes back to the North Platte.

“It stabilizes the streams and the return flow to the river, which is an important part by saturating the whole meadow, the gravel beds then release the water to the river on a year-round basis rather than a limited period of time,” Smith said. “It’s quite beneficial to stabilizing the stream flows on the North Platte River.”

A number of ranchers along the creeks are interested in putting in trout hatcheries, as well as members of the public.

“We want to work with the ditch companies and we want the public involved,” Rolls said.

The Chasing Rainbows Chapter of Trout Unlimited will be hosting a fundraising event from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Mitchell Event Center at the Scotts Bluff County Fair Grounds on Monday, March 18.

The event is free and open to the public, with free hot dogs and chips offered.

The fundraiser is part of a celebration of the approval of the redirection for Dry Spotted Tail Creek, which has a pre-bid process underway.

Tours of the project site next to Spotted Tail Creek will be offered from 4 to 4:30 p.m.

The event will feature demonstrations of fly tying, fly casting, displays of different types, and a presentation by Bob Reece of Cheyenne, Wyoming, who is the exclusive guide for the Horse Creek Ranch west of Cheyenne. Reece’s Presentation will be from 6 to 6:30 p.m. The event will also feature a raffle with the following items:

• An Orvis 8’ four piece-four weight rod, Orvis reel, fly line with backing and a double rod case

• A St Croix 8 1/2’ four piece-four weight rod, Orvis reel, fly line with backing and a double rod case

There will also be a mandatory pre-bid meeting with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the partnership representatives, engineers and contractors interested in bidding the project construction. This meeting will not include the general public. A representative from the meeting will be available to answer any questions about the project after 4 p.m.

For any persons willing to help with the fundraiser, contact Bob Smith at 308-641-7515 or email him at rmsmith@pvbank.com.