July 19, 2008

River Recovers: Mobridge, Pollock Enjoy Benefits

By Russ Keen, American News, Aberdeen, S.D.

Jul. 19--MOBRIDGE -- With the water of Indian Memorial Bay around him, fishing guide Denny Palmer of Mobridge sat on the pier of the bay connected to the Missouri River.

Two years ago, the bay northwest of Mobridge was bone dry.

"You could drive a truck across it," Palmer said.

This year, boats launch off Indian Memorial Ramp, which for six years before had been unusable because it was nowhere near water, he said.

On Friday, the section of the river known as Lake Oahe was almost 25 feet higher than in September 2006, when it hit an all-time low of 1,569.5 feet above sea level. The Friday elevation was 1,593.9 feet, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Lake Oahe stretches north from Oahe Dam near Pierre and includes the Mobridge and Pollock areas. When the river was at its lowest a couple of years ago, 75 percent of its boat ramps from Pierre to Pollock were unusable because they didn't reach water, Palmer said. Today, 25 percent are unusable.

With the Internet, avid anglers nationwide quickly learn accessibility has improved.

"It doesn't take long and they come," Palmer said.

That means more business activity in downtown Mobridge.

"It has a big impact on us," said Lyle Lindeman, owner/operator of Lucky's gas station/convenience store in the city. "We've been very busy all summer long. It's been phenomenal. Fishing is good, although I don't know if that's because the river is rising."

When the river was low, some fishing pros maintained catches were actually better because fish were more concentrated. Even so, the access issue at the time kept many anglers away, Palmer said.

Now, gas at $4 a gallon might keep some people at home, he said. But 10 major and successful tournaments on the river near Mobridge since May brought lots of out-of-staters, some of whom said they intend to come back this year, Palmer said.

"People want to experience it again."

Also, people who live in the region might decide to spend more time on the river rather than travel longer distances for summer vacations, he said.

The early summer fishing season is winding down at Mobridge because fish move south toward Pierre this time of year, Palmer said. But they come back when the weather cools.

"Fishing picks up again here around Oct. 1," he said.

Reasons for the rise: Other people's misfortunes are helping Lake Oahe.

The main reason it's up is the Mississippi River flooding that ravaged states farther south. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has released less water from the Missouri River dam system than usual so as not to aggravate flooding farther south, Palmer said. The Missouri and Mississippi rivers meet at St. Louis.

Above-average snow pack in the northern Rocky Mountains last winter also contributes to the Missouri's rise, Palmer said. Some of the snowmelt has yet to reach Lake Oahe.

Palmer said he expects the river to rise another 4 to 5 feet this year. At an elevation of 1,618 feet above sea level, water begins to rush over the emergency spillway at Oahe Dam. That last happened in spring 1997, following a winter that brought record snowfall to northeast South Dakota.

Happy fish: Bays like Indian Memorial now have water, and acres of land along the river proper are going under water, too. Grass, bushes and young trees that sprouted up on these acres during the past few years are now submerged, providing excellent habitat and nutrient base for fish, Palmer said.

But the new habitat makes fishing more challenging, he said, because boats bump into more logs and other potential hazards that until this year were visible. Compared to all the benefits of a rising river, these are minor problems, Palmer said.

"We will take it," he said. "We can deal with that part of it." More Photos

American News Photo by John Davis. Then and Now: Photos taken in February 2005 and in July this year (shown here) of the same spot of the Missouri River near Mobridge show how the river has risen.

American News Photo by John Davis Then and Now: Photos taken in February 2005 (shown here) and in July this year of the same spot of the Missouri River near Mobridge show how the river has risen.


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