FISHING AND BOATING

XStream Angler Instream Flow / Big Sandstone Creek

Big Sandstone Creek

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Length: 3.0 miles
Priority Date: 06/27/1996
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 - In Wyoming, we sometimes go to fairly extreme lengths to get water. For example, most citizens of the state, including many Cheyenne residents, don't know that the city gets between 50% and 60% of the water it needs from a complex system of surface water collectors, dams, and pipelines that originate on the west slope of the Sierra Madres mountains south of Rawlins over 100 miles away. Getting the water to Cheyenne involves more than just physically capturing and piping it almost a quarter of the way across the state. The process must also negotiate an equally complex maze of complicated interstate compacts, Supreme Court decrees and state water right requirements.

Cheyenne's most recent work to get water from the Sierra Madres was done in the 1980's under what is referred to as the Stage II project. That project collects water from a number of streams that flow into the Colorado River Basin and transports it to Hog Park Reservoir, located on the east slope of the mountain. This process is called a trans-basin diversion because water is taken from the Colorado River basin and moved to the North Platte River basin. Water from Hog Park Reservoir doesn't actually get to Cheyenne; it's just used by the city to "pay back" water to the North Platte system that the city collects in the Snowy Range further upstream.

As Stage II was being built, the city began looking at yet another phase of water collection in the Sierra Madres called Stage III. Under one of several scenarios for this plan, water would have been collected from streams in the northern end of those mountains, stored temporarily in a reservoir on Fish Creek, and then pumped over a low divide into the North Platte River basin as payback for additional use of water by the city from Snowy Range streams.

Stage III was never built for several reasons including its high price tag and lack of need at the time. Although Stage III is tabled for now and there are no plans to pursue that project again in the foreseeable future, it remains a potential issue that could some day affect fish and fishing in a number of trout streams on the north end of the Sierra Madres. One of those streams is Big Sandstone Creek.

Rationale - Studies and recommendations for this instream flow water right were designed to identify and protect base flow habitat for brook trout.  Brook trout spawn in riffle areas in October and November.  Their eggs hatch in mid-winter and the young fish (larvae) remain in the gravels until ice-out in the spring.  Flows from October through May 14 were designed to ensure there is enough water flowing over and through riffle areas so eggs and larvae can survive the winter.  These flows also provide adequate base flows for adult trout survival.  Rainbow trout spawn in the spring so flows from May 15 to June 30 were recommended to maintain spawning habitat for this species.  The flows recommended from July 1 through September were based on studies that showed those amounts of water were needed to maintain habitat for trout growth.  Channel maintenance and flushing flows that maintain long-term habitat by cleaning riffles and scouring deep pools were not filed for.  The state engineer has ruled that the state's instream flow law does not allow flows for these habitat needs.

Fishery - Big Sandstone Creek isn't a big stream but it is one of the larger streams that roll off the side of the Sierra Madre Mountains on its way to the Colorado River. It's the kind of stream that might be featured in a tourist brochure showing a classic western trout stream. Big Sandstone originates in dense alpine timber and grows quickly from the inflow of springs and tributaries. Throughout the instream flow reach, the stream is a pleasant mix of pools, runs, and riffles that harbor relatively high numbers of non-native brook trout that range up to about 12 inches long. Native Colorado River cutthroat trout are also present in small numbers in isolated parts of the stream. Rainbow trout and mountain whitefish can be encountered too, but are more abundant near the stream's confluence with Savery Creek. Native non-game fish including mottled sculpins and mountain suckers also inhabit the stream.

Access is reasonably good along much of the stream but large portions can only be reached by hiking up or down from one of several road access points. You'll seldom encounter another angler on the stream, but if you take the time to explore very far from the road, you'll find some great fishing and pristine solitude. Area 4 flowing water fishery regulations apply here. That means there's a limit of three trout per day or in possession and only one can be over 16 inches long.

How to get there - Take highway 71 south from Rawlins about 48 miles until you reach the Medicine Bow Forest boundary. The pavement ends at Sage Creek but it's a well-maintained gravel road the rest of the way to the forest boundary. There the road turns into Forest Service Road 801. Big Sandstone Creek flows under this good gravel road in another 3.5 miles.
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