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SHERIDAN - The channel catfish traveled 415 miles from Leiter, Wyo. The angler about 810 miles from Okoboji, Iowa and the two met on the Yellowstone River near Pompey's Pillar, Mont.

The result was the fish taking the dead minnow the general surgeon offered and the discovery of what's thought to be the longest documented fish movement in Wyoming fish tagging history.

How long it took the catfish to swim to just downstream from Billings, isn't known for sure, but Wyoming fish biologists do know this: the catfish was netted and tagged June 27, 2007 just below the Kendrick Diversion Dam on Clear Creek east of Sheridan. The age was unknown, but it measured 15.2 inches and weighed .9 pounds.

Then in mid-April this year, Dr. Brian Luepke boated about a 3-pound, 20-inch channel catfish with his son, Paul, the Columbus, Mont. game warden. In unhooking the fish, the father/son noticed a tag in the dorsal fin and fulfilled the tag's purpose by relaying the info to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

"This is a really remarkable fish movement when you consider all the hazards this fish had to face in swimming that far," said Paul Mavrakis, Wyoming's fisheries supervisor in Sheridan. "But what's probably more remarkable is the fact the fish could swim that far without being blocked by a dam."

The Powder River - of which the now famous fish negotiated 240 miles - is one of the continent's longest waterways without a dam. But, after it took a left turn up the Yellowstone River in Montana it was able to negotiate four irrigation diversions in swimming the 150 miles from the mouth of the Powder to Pompey's Pillar.

"Although it's difficult, it's not impossible for fish to get by these irrigation diversions," said Earl Radonski, fisheries biologist with the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks in Billings. "The fish probably got over the first three diversions during high flows and around the fourth via a side channel."

The only fish Montana has documented that negotiated the same diversions swimming upstream was a sauger tagged near Miles City. The native walleye-like fish was netted again by a Montana fish crew in May 2010 five miles upstream from Pompey's Pillar - three years and 100 miles later.

Due to the absence of dams and probably sudden high flows triggered by thunderstorms, the Powder River has registered other interesting fish travels. In June 2006, a channel catfish was tagged in Wyoming's Powder River near the mouth of Crazy Woman Creek. Five days later it was recaptured by the same fisheries crew 25 miles upstream. Two shovelnose sturgeon tagged in Crazy Women Creek in June 1984 were also recovered in Montana's Yellowstone River: one a month later near Rosebud and the other near Glendive.

"The distance this catfish traveled shows how important it is to have connected river systems where fish can move and complete their life cycle," Mavrakis said. "Ocean run salmon are the most famous example of fish traveling long distances but many fish in Wyoming also need to be able to travel long distances for spawning, overwinter habitat, and to escape adverse conditions like a prolonged drought."

Mon Oct 24, 2011 2:36 pm
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