The Gardiner River was one of my favorite rivers to fish. This river flows through the high-altitude desert of the Mammoth area of Yellowstone Park. It was named after a Mountain Man that hunted and lived in the area.
The headwaters contained some brook trout while the lower stretch contained rainbows/ cutbows. Lower down you can find Yellowstone cuts and, in the Fall, spawning browns. The Gardiner was a very diverse river.
This desert area of the park is the only place where a poisonous rattlesnake lives. There is also a huge number of mudslides and sediments that create landslides in the area. The resulting mud is like cement and will suck a fisherman’s boots off.
Last year’s flood changed all of that. For the short term, its will be best to fish elsewhere. Last year’s flooding was a heavy hit to the fishery. Any fry or young of year trout are gone. Redd’s, and spawning gravels were also destroyed. The river is now in some different channels.
In the long term, it could become an amazing fishery. The Gardiner was a silty mess. If 3 elk peed upstream, the river would get muddy. The flood flushed out the silt for a generation. The bad news is that the insects, and many young trout went downstream with the silt.
Larger fish can survive floods. Some species like Rainbows and native cutthroats are stimulated to spawn because of floods. The stronger swimmers will put their noses behind a rock or find underwater eddy’s to get away from the heavier waters. If the river changes its course, they can gradually stay in or near the main channels. Some fish will get trapped in low water pools, others will get tumbled and killed in the currents. The biggest concern comes after the flood. The fish have not eaten during the high water. Now that the insects have been scoured from the waters, there is little food to eat. The trout will need to migrate or die.
The Gardiner had become a popular place for tourists to soak in the Boiling River. As a kid in the 1970’s, I rarely saw anyone in the hot pools. It was a place that held a lot of insects and good fishing. Once the tourists found out, parking, trash, crowds, and poor fishing resulted.
Now that the road along the Gardiner River is gone and will not be repaired, there is an opportunity to do some wonderful stream morphology and create a great fishery. Anglers would need to walk in, if a trail was created. The Gardner would become a more remote fishery.
It will take several years for this fishery to return. Insects, fish, and habitat will need to be rebuilt. Build it and they will come. Hopefully, the future will be more normal flooding and not the Heavy Waters we saw last year.
More heavy waters are coming soon!