A Rebounding Fishery

Canoeing on the Baraboo RiverThe Baraboo River fishery is recovering after removal of the last dams that impeded fish passage into the upstream waters. Native Americans praised the fishery and local newspapers in the 1860s report 30-pound northern pike, stringers full of bass and catfish, and 100-pound sturgeon being caught.

At the same time however, the developing communities were building dams to provide power to meet the needs of an expanding population. The dams benefited the new residents but also had a negative impact on the rich Baraboo River fishery. The dams obstructed fish passage by limiting the movement into upstream cooler, shallower waters, their ideal spawning habitats. The impoundments behind the dams slowed water flows and deposited sediment on the gravel and rock riffles, the best habitat for fish to spawn.

By the 1990s these combined impacts had taken their toll. The Baraboo fishery had become dominated by carp, bullhead and suckers. Removal of the last dams along the river is reversing these impacts.

Almost immediately after removal of the last dam fish started moving back upstream. Spring runoff events began to scour the accumulated sediment off of the gravel beds and rock riffles.

Reports of crappies, bluegills, and channel catfish are common. Northern and walleye pike are being caught again throughout the river. Smallmouth bass fishing along the rapids through the city of Baraboo is a regular occurrence. And, a small step toward the ultimate recovery of the river is the occasional report of a sturgeon being seen spawning along the shallows of the river in the spring of the year.