FISHING AND BOATING

Tensleep Creek

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Length: 7.95 miles
Priority Date: 07/02/1987
Printable Access Map: Download Map
Technical Report: Download Technical Report
X-Stream Angler Article: Download XStream Angler Article

*Angling regulations may have changed since X-Stream Angler Articles were written. Please check current Fishing Regulations for current fishing limits.

About the segment - Tensleep Creek tumbles down the west slope of the Bighorn Mountains through one of the more spectacular canyons in the state. Its steep gradient, relatively large volume of water and proximity to a state highway made it a prime candidate for a hydroelectric generating facility in the early 1980’s. Had it been built, the project would have diverted water high on the mountain, run it through a pipe to a powerhouse at the lower end of the canyon, and produced electricity. It also could have affected flows in about 6 miles of one of the most productive trout streams in the state. Regional economics stalled the project by the early 1990’s and it was never built.

Rationale - The primary purpose of the filing was to maintain adequate base flows for trout spawning in the spring and fall, to survive the rigors of ice formation in the winter and maintain existing growth rates in the summer. Channel maintenance and flushing flows that maintain long-term habitat by cleaning riffles, scour the deep pools and keep the stream banks from encroaching (narrowing) were not filed for. The state engineer has ruled that flows for these habitat needs are not allowed by the instream flow law.

Fishery - Over the centuries, the relatively steep slope of the stream scoured most of the small bed material in the channel to points downstream, leaving an impressive array of large rocks and huge boulders. Below the many mini-waterfalls and plunges lie deep, dark pools inhabited by large numbers of rainbow trout. You’ll find some brown trout in the mix too. The Department quit stocking the stream years ago when studies showed the fishery could sustain itself entirely with wild-spawned fish (over 3,000 trout per mile). Except in places where the highway crosses over the stream, it’s a stiff hike down to the stream, but once you get there you’ll typically enjoy some of the finest fishing in the state with little chance of encountering another angler the entire day. The deep pools and swift water make fly fishing a challenge in places but bead head nymphs are effective as are spinners. The statewide angling limit of 3 fish, only one of which may be over 16 inches long for a stream creel, applies to the entire instream flow segment.

How to get there - From the town of Tensleep go approximately 10 miles east on Highway 16 to the Forest boundary. When the weather permits (most of the summer and fall) turn off at the exit to the Game and Fish Department’s Tensleep Trout Hatchery and take the old (mostly paved) highway to where it rejoins the modern highway. There is little traffic on this road and many places to park for the short walk down to the stream.
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