Pine Creek (Direct) - Segment No. 1


New Fork



Managing the Pine Creek fishery has long been a high priority for the Department by virtue of its location and appeal to resident and tourist anglers alike. However, the impetus to determine instream flow needs here and pursue an instream flow water right came from a request by the city of Pinedale and then-mayor Rose Skinner. Mayor Skinner promoted the widely held sentiment in the community that a healthy river and viable stream fishery through town would benefit everyone without harming any other water users. The town’s motives included a desire to stimulate tourism-related businesses, enhance property values, provide better fishing opportunities, and generally improve the quality of life for citizens of the community. They simply lacked a legal mechanism to keep enough water in the stream at all times of year. Though the town had a large quantity of water storage in Fremont Lake that could have been used to provide needed flows, state law prevents them from using it for instream flow. Only the state can hold the needed instream flow water right and call for water when it is needed. The Department acted in response to Mayor Skinner’s request to help restore flows because we agreed that the benefits envisioned by the town were justified and achievable with our help. A slight modification in state water law would allow Pinedale to use some of their own storage water in Fremont Lake on a temporary basis to address this important value and improve the fishery even more. There have been unsuccessful efforts by various individuals and legislators in recent years to pass legislation that would make it possible for Pinedale and other communities and individual water right owners to realize fishery benefits like those in Pine Creek.
Since filing for and securing instream flow water rights beginning in 2001, year round flow and fish numbers have improved markedly in Pine Creek and the New Fork. Over 3,700 brown trout and even higher numbers of rainbow trout have been counted per mile of stream. The local Trout Unlimited chapter has helped to increase numbers even more by restoring fish passage past irrigation diversions on the stream. This entire stream is covered by Area 4 fishing regulations. There is a limit of three trout per day or in possession, only one trout can exceed 16 inches, and no more than one cutthroat trout may exceed 12 inches. There are no special restrictions on the kind of tackle or bait that can be used here other than as provided by general statewide regulations.
From Fremont Dam down to confluence with the New Fork River.
The best public access to this stream is found right in the town of Pinedale. The stream flows under State Highway 191 just north of the business district in town. The city parks located immediately upstream and a short distance downstream from the bridge offer good opportunities to fish or just enjoy foot paths along this scenic stream and relaxing riparian environment.
It’s been over two decades since the Wyoming legislature passed a law that recognized leaving water in the stream for fish is a legal beneficial use of water. To some, such an action seems like a no-brainer. To others the notion that water could provide a beneficial use of real value without being taken out of its natural state was simply wrong. Before any proposed instream flow water right can be approved by the State Engineer, the public is given the opportunity to appear at a public hearing to voice their views on each proposal. Needless to say, some of these gatherings have been more controversial than others. A proposal to allow instream flows in Pine Creek through Pinedale generated one of the more highly energized hearings. “Approving this water right will make Pinedale look like a desert”, some said. “Leaving water in the stream and scaling back on irrigation will make the wells around town go dry when groundwater isn’t recharged by irrigation” said others. In contrast, others spoke of the positive benefits that better flows through Pine Creek would have on tourism-related businesses, property values, and recreational opportunities for kids. Game and Fish Department personnel illustrated the value of using storage water the Game and Fish Commission owns in Fremont Lake for instream flow when extra water was needed to keep Pine Creek fish alive – something they couldn’t do without a formal instream flow right. After considering all the input at the hearing, reviewing detailed reports by the Game and Fish Department and Wyoming Water Development Office, and addressing the state’s water laws the State Engineer approved the proposed instream flow water right. So far, Pinedale doesn’t look much more like a desert than it ever has and groundwater levels have not diminished. However, the trout fishery has never been more robust and kids (and others) have had some of the best fishing opportunities ever.