State officials began draining Lake Elmo earlier this month and when I stopped by to check it out on Thursday afternoon (10/21) it looks like progress is going well. The lake is being drained because of invasive Asian clams. Yellowstone County Commissioner Denis Pitman said back in January that he believes this is the first time the lake has been drained since it was created in 1904.

Photo by Michael Foth, Townsquare Media

Lots of old tires and shoes.

As dusk started to settle over the muddy, mostly empty lake, we were among a couple of dozen people wandering around the perimeter of the muck. Eyes to the ground, I'm not sure what I was hoping to find. Scattered among hundreds of clamshells were random old tires and sunken footwear. In the picture below you can see the remnants of some man-made fish habitats that were sunk to the bottom of the exposed lake bed. Toward the middle of the lake, there appears to be a portion of a small boat sticking out of the remaining water.

Photo by Michael Foth, Townsquare Media

There once was a casino and nightclub at Lake Elmo.

In January I wrote Five Things You Didn't Know About Lake Elmo. In the '30s and '40s, there was a popular nightclub and casino called the Elmo Club on the shore. When officials announced the lake was going to be drained, many Billings residents were speculating about what would be found at the bottom. I wrote,

My guesses are hundreds of fishing poles, beer cans & bottles, coolers, sunglasses, old tires, flat floaties, and tons of junk.

After spending an hour or so wandering around in the mud, my prediction appears to be mostly true.

Photo by Michael Foth, Townsquare Media

Fish. Lots and lots of dead and dying fish.

A large backhoe at the southern shore of the lake has been digging a trench for the massive water pump hoses to drain the remaining water. Trapped in numerous pools were tons of fish. The picture above looks like mostly carp, but in another spot we watched a guy with a long net scooping up a variety of trapped fish, including a muskie, a big catfish, and a couple of small perch. I'm assuming (hoping?) the backhoe will eventually bury the pools of dead fish. Otherwise, it's going to get pretty stinky around Lake Elmo.

Photo by Michael Foth, Townsquare Media

We found lots of tangled-up fishing line and a few lures.

Lake Elmo offers surprisingly good fishing opportunities (when it's full of water, of course). In fact, Billings resident Brandon Wright caught a state record largemouth bass at Lake Elmo in April this year. I expected to find more fishing gear poking out of the now-exposed mud/sand bottom, but I suppose it's been fairly picked over at this point.

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Photo by Michael Foth, Townsquare Media

Oops! Looks like someone lost their ankle monitor.

Perhaps the most interesting thing I found was an electronic ankle monitor that had been cut and tossed off the dock on the south end of the lake. Someone's parole officer is probably looking for the device.

Photo by Michael Foth, Townsquare Media

Plenty of old cans, bottles, and other debris... but no treasure.

It will be interesting to see if anything really cool turns up in the bottom of the lake as the remaining water is drained. If what I found was any indication, I wouldn't expect much. As we walked around the mud, I found myself wishing I had a metal detector. Surely, there must be some lost rings or other jewelry under the mud, just waiting to be found.

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