A small fishery gets some big news

With world-class fisheries like Silver Creek, the Big Wood and Big Lost rivers right around every corner, it’s easy to forget that there are lots of other hidden places to fish sprinkled around Sun Valley. One such place runs parallel to the Big Wood River, just over the mountains to the west.

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A rather rare rainbow trout from Rock Creek.

Rock Creek is so skinny that most folks who travel the bumpy dirt road that runs along its banks hardly even notice that its there. Cutting through the dusty, high desert country, which seems best suited for cattle and rattlesnakes, Rock Creek doesn’t look like much more than an arroyo.

But water does run there, and thanks to a new project taken on by the Wood River Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the University of Idaho’s Rangeland Center (UI), there’s hope for the health of the unique fishery.

Rock Creek is a tributary of the Big Wood, joining the river just before it becomes Magic Reservoir. Its drainage has been long been home to ranching, but few outside of local hunters ever spend much time there. The Land Trust acquired Rock Creek Ranch, which takes up the heart of the canyon, in 2014. Last spring, an agreement was reached to turn the ranch into a study area and to begin rehabbing the watershed.

Cameron Packer is the Rock Creek Ranch stewardship technician for the Land Trust and TNC. She has been part of over a dozen fish surveys done on the creek this year. She said that Rock Creek is home to a variety of species, but that few of the fish are much larger than “minnow size.”

Just like the most recent fish electric shock survey showed, Rock Creek is home to bridge-lipped suckers, redside shiners and speckled dace and lots of frogs. Cameron said that they were excited to find sculpins, but trout were few and far between and only located above the beaver ponds in the upper stretch of the creek. Cameron said she’s also seen a lot of moose, deer, sage grouse, rattlesnakes and even badgers around Rock Creek this summer. But besides the odd mountain biker, hunter or horseback rider, she rarely sees people out there, even though it’s just a short ride from Hailey.

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The barn at the Rock Creek Ranch. Photo by John Finnell.

“We have a pretty good snapshot of what’s in the creek now. It’s neat to see what’s in there and it will be interesting to watch and see how it improves,” Cameron said.

While UI studies the impacts of grazing, restoration projects on the creek will be ongoing. Phase 1 of the project begins this month.

“The hope is to make it a more complete system and improve connectivity, fish passage and habitat,” Cameron said, explaining that work on the lower end of Rock Creek near its confluence with the Big Wood should improve spawning resources for trout.

Earlier this summer, I rigged up my trusty fly rod and went casting along the beaver ponds and upper reaches of Rock Creek. While the fishing wasn’t easy, it was rewarding. For not only was I lucky enough to land a couple rainbows, I also had the honor of enjoying some small mountain stream fishing, all to my own, in our own backyard.

It was also pretty exciting to realize that with passionate and hard-working people like Cameron, the support of people like you, and the teams from the Land Trust, TNC and UI on the scene, things are only going to get better for Rock Creek and its fish.

By Mike McKenna