Sunday, July 12, 2015

Native, Wild or Hatchery? Why does the lineage of a trout matter?

Yellowstone National Park has embarked on an aquatic management program that emphasizes restoring and maintaining native species.  This decision has come, as all government decisions do, with  plenty of detractors.  What has surprised me is the number of anglers that have come out against this management approach.  The suppression of lake trout in Yellowstone lake in order to try and save the lake's once enormous population of Yellowstone cutthroat trout and the  removal of introduced nonnatives in order to restore Westslope cutthroat trout have both been attacked by the very anglers whose sport would benefit most from these actions.  I hope you can imagine my surprise.

Yellowstone Cuttroat Trout - Upper Slough River
Yellowstone cutthroat trout
Photo from Hatch Magazine-
For all of our knowledge on the life stages of aquatic invertebrates and our ability to look at surface waters and understand the structure beneath and what it means for trout, I'm struck by how many anglers seem to overlook the differences between the species of trout that tug at the end of their line.  Was the trout raised in a hatchery and dumped into the water from the back of a truck?  Is the leaping beauty the wild offspring of a stock that has lived in the stream for many generations?  Or, is the speckled trout a reflection of its surroundings having evolved in the waters from which it became prey to the anglers craft?

Stocked, wild, or native?  These are labels that carry with them tremendous ecological distinctions.  Generally speaking stocked and wild trout come from other watersheds at the least, and, at the greatest geographic extent, other continents.  But native trout  have evolved in those waters were they are caught and are an integral part of a foodweb that has evolved over millennia.  This is where ecology begins to unravel when discussing the lineage of trout and the need for native trout conservation begins.

In watersheds throughout the United States native trout continue to lose ground. Trout Unlimited's recent State of the Trout report vividly presents the precarious position of native trout throughout the country.  Give this a moment of thought as you identify the next trout you catch and ask yourself whether it is a native, wild, or stocked specimen.  We are living through the sixth great extinction of the Earth's history and it's not done yet.  The cumulative threats to native trout may cost us our single greatest asset to the sport of fly fishing.

You can also find my discussions on fly fishing and conservation issues at-
Twitter- @conservationfly

Monday, June 29, 2015

The State of Trout in America

Last week the world's preeminent coldwater conservation organization, Trout Unlimited (TU), released a nation spanning report on the state of native trout in the United States.  The report reflects a remarkable shift in the vision and focus of Trout Unlimited from wild, non-native trout to native trout.

The report is sobering in its assessment of today's threats to native trout, yet optimistic in its vision for tomorrow.  Paraphrasing from the report, three of twenty-eight species and subspecies of trout are extinct while thirteen species occupy less than 25% of their historical habitat.  Trout Unlimited has strongly presented the case that the threats to native trout are continuing to increase rather than decrease.  Threats to native trout and their habit have long been recognized and include historic natural resource practices, the indiscriminate stocking of non-native trout, and most recently climate change.
Tensleep Creek, Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming

Trout Unlimited presented an eight-point strategy to protect and restore native trout throughout the United States.  The strategy is ambitious and, much to TU's credit, seeks to build bridges with industries that are often vilified.  Many of the points contained in the report are familiar to those who know the organization, others reflect advances in the germane fields of science, while a couple of the points reflect where the organization has fallen short and seeks self-improvement.

Trout Unlimited claims 155,000 members and notes that we  are an odd bunch as well as a group that contributes tremendously to local economies through both the love of our sport and our passion for conservation.  Chris Wood, President and CEO of Trout Unlimited, is on the mark when he describes fly anglers passion, stubbornness, optimism, and charity.  The State of the Trout Report reflects not only the tremendous threats to the beautiful fish that in great measure allows fly fishing to be as much sport as art, but also the uphill battle that this generation and next must undertake if native trout are continue to be a beautiful and unique part of our world.

As I explore the report in more detail I will revisit it's substance in future blog posts.
The report can be found at-

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Fishing when the Cacti Bloom

It is the tail-end of that time of year when I (and many others) anxiously await for the high waters of spring runoff to subside so that I may again return to the water with rod in hand.  This year, runoff was extended courtesy of late spring snow and rains that followed a depressingly warm January and February.

As my anxiety has begun to peak I've taken to almost daily treks along the Stock Paul Nature Trail on the edge of town here in Cody, WY.  Walking along the trails nearly everyday this last week, gazing enviously at the churning river, singular yellow blooms along the sagebrush covered uplands would occasionally catch my eye.

The nearly daily pilgrimage's to the  edge of the Shoshone River have treated me to an increase in the delicate, beautiful yellow blooms of fragile prickly pear cactus (Opuntia fragilis).  Having the opportunity to enjoy the brief window of blooming cacti pulled my gaze from the river and instead opened my eye to nature around me.  Now, as I wait for the waters to recede, I've taken to tallying the birds of the nearby sagebrush uplands and the riparian corridor of the Shoshone River.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Stomach Pumps Diminish the Sport of Fly Fishing

The use of stomach pumps in fly fishing diminish the value of ethical chase in the same manner as the use of silencers in hunting.

We've all been there- casting endlessly to rising trout only to be refused at every offering.  We change flies, we change tippet sizes, we change the type of cast we use, but nothing seems to work.  Then suddenly the surge of the strike breaks our haze of determined frustration- fish on!  There's nothing quite like landing a fish after such tireless exertions.  It's the highest form of prize in a pursuit that straddles both sport and art.

To stuff a plastic tube down the throat of this prize to pull from it the meals it has struggled to gather at the cost of its own energy reserves can do nothing but sully the trophy that has been  so hard sought.  And to what gain?  So that we can just catch more fish or larger fish?  If that is what the sport has been reduced to then it is just as easy to follow a stocking truck and wait for it to disgorge its load of hatchery raised flesh.

The time has come to recognize that stomach pumps have no place in the sport of fly fishing.  Anglers have far too many other choices from which to choose in order to pursue trout ethically.  Sometimes that means changing flies for the tenth time or, as I've done on more occasions that I like to admit, returning home without having landed a single fish.
Let the discussion begin!

You can also find me on:
Twitter-   @conservationfly

Monday, June 8, 2015

Fishing for Science?!

Just when you thought life couldn't get any better Trout Unlimited has again launched its TroutBlitz fish identification effort.  The TroutBlitz calls on anglers to fish in the name of science and if that weren't enough, Trout Unlimited is offering prizes each month to those who document the highest number of species caught through the month of October.  Admittedly, I'm a little behind in getting the word out on this as TroutBlitz officially kicked-off on May 23rd- my apology to all.  And just to show that I'm not trying to tip the scales in my favor I will admit that I haven't even put a line in the water this year (yes, I'm a bit ashamed to admit that).
Gibbon River at Norris Meadow's Picnic area, 
Yellowstone National Park

Trout Unlimited has developed the iNaturalist  app for you to document your catch with a picture and location, which you can then upload directly to their science team.  I sincerely hope you will take advantage of this opportunity to add your chapter to the world's ecological book of knowledge.
Cheers and see you on the water,

You can also find me on:
Twitter-   @conservationfly

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Yellowstone's Fishing Bridge & Native Trout

This Memorial Day weekend my wife and I took our two year old daughter to Yellowstone National Park.  We entered the Park through the east entrance that leads directly to Fishing Bridge.  It is here where once anglers congregated to pull plump Yellowstone cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki bouvieri) from the water with reckless abandon.  Alas, such was the times, but times have changed.

Today the waters of the Yellowstone River that flow beneath Fishing Bridge are closed to angling to protect the native Yellowstone cutthroat trout.  If you've had the opportunity to visit Yellowstone National Park you know that vast portions of the pristine Yellowstone River along with nearly every other water in the Park are open to receive a fly (in season of course).

I like to walk across Fishing Bridge and take in the scenery, but my eyes always stray to the river itself.  I'm searching for the native trout holding in the beautiful waters below.  On the first day of our visit the waters were a bit off color, likely from the recent and repeated rainfall we'd been having over the last week.  The second day brought sight of a pod of Yellowstone cutthroat trout holding together in the waters below us; each one was a bruiser in its own right.  I counted a total of six fish in the pod and saw no others during my brief scan of the waters as I stalked across Fishing Bridge.

The illegal introduction of nonnative lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) have decimated the native cutthroat trout population.  I chalk up seeing only a half dozen fish this visit as a result of lake trout depredation that continues to plague the resident cutthroat trout.  The Park Service continues actively working to suppress the lake trout in Yellowstone Lake which may improve native cutthroat trout numbers.  The view from Fishing Bridge will surely be improved as native trout rebound and once again fill their ecological role in the Yellowstone River that runs beneath the bridge.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Trout, Trees and Grizzlies

Here in Yellowstone country the topic or grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horriblus) has received considerable attention as of late.  The Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee held its annual meeting here in Cody, WY, and the topic of grizzly bears made the front cover of the two local newspapers.

Why grizzly bears and why now?  The Fish and Wildlife Service is again working toward removing the Greater Yellowstone's grizzly bear population from the protections of the Endangered Species Act. The Greater Yellowstone grizzly population was delisted from the Endangered Species Act in 2009, but was subsequently placed back on the list as 'threatened' after a successful court challenge from environmental groups.  

The  argument that resulted in returning the grizzly population in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem  to the Endangered Species List was an ecological argument.  While the population was growing and filling in the available habitat, its existence was far from secure as two of the bear's food sources were under threat- whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) trees from climate change and Yellowstone cutthroat trout (YCT) (Oncorhynchus clarki bouvieri) from the introduction of lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) to Yellowstone Lake.

Whitebark have fallen prey to drought, fire, and most importantly the Mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) epidemic that has been recognized by public land managers and scientists as unprecedented in its scale.

Yellowstone lake was once recognized as the "stronghold" for native Yellowstone cutthroat trout, but a breach in that citadel was discovered in 1994, the result of an illegal introduction of lake trout that have consumed YCT at a voracious rate.  The National Park Service has noted at least some success in curbing these nonnative predators as lake trout numbers have decline, but it is extremely unlikely that lake trout will ever be fully removed from Yellowstone Lake.

Trout, trees, and grizzlies- together the weave a beautiful ecological web.  In this instance they also serve to inform us of the multiple stresses on what is considered one of the most pristine ecosystems in the lower forty-eight states, and right now the debate over grizzly bears highlights the difficulty of managing for a single strand of this ecological web when all others are interconnected and affected.