Middle Piney Creek - Segment No. 1


Upper Green



Because Middle Piney Creek is managed as a wild fishery the maintenance of adequate stream flow to provide spawning habitat is important. It’s also important to have adequate flow to ensure the growth and survival of all life stages throughout the year. The amounts of water that were filed on for instream flow water rights are intended to meet these specific needs for brook trout. Higher flows than those that were approved by the state engineer are needed to maintain long-term habitat conditions by flushing fine sediments and redistributing gravel in the stream but the state’s instream flow law does not recognize protection for this flow need. Though the stream is within the historic range of Colorado River cutthroat trout, none have been recorded here in recent times and there are no plans to reintroduce them in the stream.
Middle Piney Creek is presently managed as a wild fishery for brook trout and supports relatively high numbers of brookies with smaller numbers of brown trout. The stream receives a relatively high amount of angling use (for Wyoming) in part because brook trout are relatively easy to catch and there is good road access along the stream on the national forest. Most of the trout in the stream are in the 10-to-12-inch range, but their average size increases as the stream grows larger near the Forest Service boundary. Area 4 flowing-water fishery regulations apply here, which means the daily limit is three trout in posession, only one can be a cutthroat trout, and only one can be more than 16 inches. Natural, legal baits (like salmon eggs and worms) are allowed.
From the west line of Section 3 down to the boundary of Forest Service land and private property.
Middle Piney Creek is easy to find and is accessible by good paved or gravel roads in all seasons except winter. To get there, take the Middle Piney Road (highway 350) west from the town of Big Piney. It’s about 18 miles from town to the Forest Service boundary. Follow Forest Service signs to Middle Piney Lake and you’ll parallel the stream the entire time you’re on Forest Service land. There are several places to pull off the road and head down to the creek. You’ll also find a Forest Service campground near Middle Piney Lake that’s seldom full.
Long before recorded history, a massive landslide occurred on the mountains above Middle Piney Creek west of Marbleton and Big Piney. The conglomeration of silt, rocks, and debris that slid off the hillside swept across the valley floor, creating a high dam and large natural lake. The lake remained relatively undisturbed until a water right application was filed in 1919 to enlarge the natural lake to provide storage for irrigation. The man-made dam was finally completed in 1940 and provided a little over 4,000 acre-feet of water for local ranchers. As the years passed, the outlet gate quit working and the dam developed seepage problems. Because of the increased risk of dam failure caused by the seeps, the outlet gate was left open, and the lake no longer stores water for irrigation. The United States Forest Service took ownership of the facility in 1998. Because the dam posed a risk of loss of life or property, the Forest Service proposed breaching the dam. However, local interests asked the state Water Development Commission to first consider whether it was practical to rebuild the dam and restore its function for irrigation. In 2006, a consulting firm was hired to study the cost of replacing the old dam and compare that expense with the benefits of using the extra stored water to irrigate grass pastures and hay meadows. Even if the costs of a new dam outweigh the benefits of additional irrigation and the old dam winds up being removed, the original natural lake formed by the landslide would remain and continue to support the lake fishery that exists there today.