CHEYENNE – The water gushed out of the portal, seemingly alive with writhing 8-inch rainbow trout. Hundreds poured out in a steady stream and, in a mere 10 minutes, the excitement was over.
Nick Eglseder, senior fish culturist with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, moved atop the large truck with tanks mounted on the back.
“That was just half of them,” he said. “This truck has two tanks, and now I’ll open up the other side to do it all over again.”
With that, he sidled along the truck edge and turned the valve. Water gushed out again, loaded with trout.
Eglseder was at Wheatland Reservoir No. 3, delivering 21,000 rainbow trout to this large fishery. It was the first installment of trout for the fall stocking. According to Steve Gale, fisheries biologist for the Laramie Region of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, 80,000 rainbows are stocked in the reservoir every year, with half in the spring and half in the fall.
“Wheatland Reservoir No. 3 is doing really well,” Gale said. “Catch rates are good, and there are also some very large trout in the reservoir.”
Thirteen years ago, the future of the reservoir was less rosy. That was during a multi-year drought, and the reservoir was in dire need of water. When full, it is the largest reservoir in the Laramie Region at more than 4,700 surface acres.
Reservoir was dismal due to lack of water
In the annual fishing report published by the Wyoming Tribune Eagle in 2006, the future of the reservoir was bleak.
“Wheatland Reservoir No. 3 looks dismal,” Mike Snigg said in 2006 when he was the Laramie Region Fishery supervisor. “Due to the low water, the reservoir is broken into about four or five subsections.”
At that time, angling was restricted to bank fishing or use of belly boats, since there wasn’t enough water to launch a regular boat. There were still some nice rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout in the deeper water. The trick was getting to it, since the ankle- to knee-deep mud around the water was a significant obstacle.
By 2009, Snigg reported reservoir conditions had declined even further. By that year, there were only a few “skinny walleye left.” Carp were quite plentiful, though, and they actually attracted flycasters who wanted practice landing large fish.
Big turnaround starting in 2010
Conditions took a huge turn for the better in 2010, though, when winter snow and spring rains finally arrived, providing “new” water for the region’s lakes and reservoirs. Wheatland Reservoir No. 3 became one huge reservoir again. Stocking with trout began that season, but, due to the unexpected turnaround, only “extra” fish that weren’t already scheduled for other waters could be put in the reservoir.
Since then, the reservoir has been back on the stocking schedule. Because the reservoir is so large, it continues to receive “extra” fish. The result is a good bit of diversity of trout in the reservoir. While the dominant species is rainbow trout, anglers can also expect to catch some huge brown trout, Yellowstone cutthroats and Snake River cutthroats.
There is also a good population of walleye in the reservoir, but these were never stocked by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department into this reservoir. Instead, they were initially stocked in Wheatland Reservoir No. 2 in 1977. That reservoir, approximately 12 miles to the east, lacks public access and is no longer stocked.
By contrast, access to Wheatland Reservoir No. 3 is due to some public lands surrounding the reservoir and an agreement with the Wheatland Irrigation District for public access. It is managed by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department as a Public Access Area.
“There are walleye in Wheatland Reservoir No. 3, but they got there from Wheatland Reservoir No. 2,” Gale said. “They came via stream connections between the reservoirs.”
Walleye are carnivorous and tend to eat small fish, crayfish and leeches. Gale said one reason the rainbow being stocked in the reservoir are fairly large is to prevent them from being eaten by the walleye.
That strategy is working, with a particularly robust cohort of rainbow trout in the 14- to 16-inch range. Gale said the nets used to sample fish won’t catch the larger trout, but anglers report hauling in very large rainbows, weighing 8 to 10 pounds and measuring more than 25 inches.
The reservoir is quite productive, with plenty of natural food, so fooling a fish into taking a fake fly or lure can be challenging. The reservoir is fairly shallow, and that results in excellent natural food for the fish in the form of zooplankton and aquatic bugs.
Since those dismal drought years, water levels in Wheatland Reservoir No. 3 have remained steady for the past nine years. Such stability has been very good for both the trout and the walleye. For those hoping to catch the largest fish they’ve ever landed, this is the place to do it.
Cyanobacteria bloom advisory currently in effect
There is one hitch to all that great fishing. For the second season in a row, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality has issued a harmful cyanobacterial bloom advisory at Wheatland Reservoir No. 3. Also known as blue-green algae, the cyanobacteria can form blooms that produce toxins and other irritants that pose a risk to humans, pets and livestock.
Gale said the algae blooms were reported historically in Wheatland Reservoir No. 3, so it is not something new. They have not occurred in recent memory, though, until 2018 and again in 2019.
According to the WDEQ website about the bloom advisories, the Wyoming Department of Health recommends avoiding contact with water in the vicinity of the bloom, especially in areas where the algae is dense and forms scum. Rinse any fish caught with clean water and eat only the fillet portion. Also, keep pets and livestock away from the bloom area, but if they come into contact with it, rinse them off with clean water as soon as possible.
Lindsay Patterson, coordinator for surface water quality standards with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, said the bloom in 2018 did not fully dissipate until mid-October.
“The cooler air temperatures definitely help in curbing cyanobacteria bloom growth in a reservoir,” Patterson said. “The timing of bloom dissipation is dependent on a number of factors, including water temperature, the size and depth of the reservoir, the flow of water into and out of the reservoir, and wind levels.”
Signs at the main boat launch area provide further details. Once the bloom has passed, the signage will be removed.
Fishing is still excellent at the reservoir, but anglers just need to be aware and take precautions. And compared to a decade ago, it is the place to try for a huge lunker.