Artificial reefs. Spawning spas. Catfish condos (pictured). A lake can get a lot of upgrades when it's empty.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks reports that they are celebrating the successful results of draining Lake Elmo on the northeast side of Billings last fall to rid it of invasive Asian clams. They were discovered in the reservoir in 2019. Asian clams are a big threat to not only other aquatic life in the lake but also anything they touch downstream.

This week, water from the Yellowstone River began flowing toward Lake Elmo and will start to fill the 60-acre irrigation reservoir. As the water level eventually reaches full pool, it will cover a number of terrific features designed to enhance the lives of fish that will again inhabit the lake. And, best of all, in a lake now free of the menace that sparked the draining in the first place.

Other than Lake Elmo, Asian clams have not been found in Montana, which means, fortunately, they had yet to spread downstream. To ensure it stayed that way, FWP biologists knew they had to get them where they lived. Studies showed that freezing, starving, and drying out the clams was the only way to eliminate them entirely.

So last fall, pumps ran non-stop for weeks until the reservoir was drained as much as could be, exposing the clams to a cold, dry Montana winter.

With a dry lake bed, FWP was able to add features that normally couldn't easily be inserted into a full body of water. Improved trails, bank repairs, and new fish habitat amenities were all part of the project.

Lake Elmo now has bundles of brush weighted down with rocks and concrete, and 100-foot long beds of small gravel, all of which fish will use to hide and spawn. There are more big rocks that will give baitfish a place to escape from bass and other predators. Trenches were dug for added depths in some areas. And PVC pipe was fashioned into what Montana FWP refers to as "catfish condos."

In the next few weeks, FWP will start adding fish back to the lake, starting with rainbow trout and catfish. Minnows, bass, crappies and perch will follow.

Here's hoping the clams were indeed completely eradicated and the folks in the Billings area can once again enjoy their new and improved beloved Lake Elmo.

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