There’s no denying trout is king in the Big Horn Basin, but it’s good to have a little diversity. Now, there’s a newly rehabilitated fishing destination full of largemouth bass just …
There’s no denying trout is king in the Big Horn Basin, but it’s good to have a little diversity. Now, there’s a newly rehabilitated fishing destination full of largemouth bass just waiting to be rediscovered.
Renner Reservoir, a 70-acre lake on Buffalo Creek that sits about 9 miles south of Hyattville, is now fully rehabilitated after receiving a complete makeover from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department over the last few years. For a chance to catch a feisty bass — especially in a gorgeous setting — Renner is a relatively short drive to get to crank-bait heaven.
“We tend to be a trout-centric state due to the water temperatures and the habitat we have,” said Sam Hochhalter, Cody Region fisheries supervisor. “When we have opportunities to provide warm water fish they’re really appreciated by angling communities and are high value sport fisheries for us as a management agency.”
Last month, Game and Fish fisheries employees spent a day moving more than 400 mature bass from a private pond to the reservoir to give anglers a chance to catch a lunker.
“The landowner’s generosity is second-to-none and his willingness to work alongside us is what made this transplant happen,” Hochhalter said.
The crew worked late into the night, arriving at the reservoir after 11:30 p.m. to move the fish.
The average size of transplanted bass was 11 inches, Hochhalter said, with the largest being a little over 14 inches long and weighing 1.2 pounds.
An additional 3,500 fingerlings will be stocked next summer. And they will grow fast.
In May, the Cody Game and Fish crew stocked the lake with fathead minnows, a baitfish for the bass. Invertebrates, resident tiger salamanders and the minnows have had the lake to themselves, growing at a fast rate. In the absence of large predators, the forage base for the largemouth has exploded, Hochhalter said. The abundance of food will be good for newly arriving largemouth. “Our expectation is that we see really rapid growth,” he said.
Within a half-decade, Hochhalter hopes Renner will grow into a trophy bass destination.
“I think until we hit a stable population in terms of size, structure and density, we’re probably five years out,” he said. “In the meantime, though, there’s going to be decent largemouth fishing opportunities. It’s just going to continue to improve.”
The project had its share of complications. One of many challenges included the discovery of natural springs under the reservoir, which caused the drying time of the lake bed to take much longer than expected. Some areas never dried out completely, forcing construction crews to work around the problem.
Prior to the rehabilitation, the popular bass fishery was lost following a near complete winter-kill in 2014. For years the reservoir was plagued by winter-kill events and dense vegetation, which stunted bass and sunfish populations. The rehabilitation process began in summer of 2016 by breaching the dam to drain the reservoir.
Emptying the reservoir accomplished several things, biologist Joe Skorupski said in a recent Game and Fish release.
“First, it removed the stunted sunfish population that thrived in the reservoir due to shallow habitat and dense vegetation,” he said. “Secondly, it allowed access to replace the outflow structure and add a water feature at the inflow pipe and accomplish dirt work to improve fish habitat.”
The crew created a water fountain with the inlet structure, which will improve oxygen levels and reduce the chance of winter-kills. They also fixed the outlet structure, which had not been functional for more than a decade. The structure provides flexibility to change water levels, allowing for better management of vegetation and wintering conditions for fish. Once repairs to the dam were completed, a new concrete boat ramp was poured and the reservoir refilled.
While size and limit regulations have yet to change, at least temporary adjustments to the rules should be expected. “We have a host of biologists across the state that are actively engaged in conversations, trying to find regulations that biologically make sense,” Hochhalter said.
The growing season in Wyoming is shorter than states to the east, Hochhalter said.
“We need regulations that make sense biologically,” he said, “but also provide an opportunity for anglers to keep a trophy fish if they want to get a mount — or to keep a few smaller ones, because bass are delicious eating.”