Monday, October 19, 2015

Trout in the Autumn Wilderness

In northern Wyoming autumn is often a truncated season that serves only as harbinger to a protracted winter.  This fall has been unusually mild, allowing for more time on the water than I have any right to hope for.  As I prepare for the coming winter my mind is drawn back to my last wilderness fishing trip of the year.  In mid-September I traveled the nearly three hours from my home to the Cloud Peak Wilderness located in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming.  I had decided to spend the majority of this trip stalking waters far off trail.

Ascending the Forest Service road to the trailhead, I immediately noticed campgrounds were no longer filled to capacity with local and touring families, but instead with the signature walled tents that denoted hunting camps.  As I prepared my gear at the trunk of my car below the trailhead I wondered if I should have brought hunter orange with me, especially as I saw two hikers throw on their bright orange vests before taking off on the same trail I intended to use.  I rapidly decided that I would trust the hunters around me to be as sure of their shots as I am when in the field hunting big game.  Naive perhaps, but reassurance enough for me.

I was treated to quintessential wilderness solitude on this post-Labor Day hike.  As I worked two small off-trail drainages, intersecting the main trail only as necessary, I encountered a total of four people the entire day.  Not bad considering that during the summer you often can't go ten minutes, and definitely not an hour, without meeting a group of people on this particular trail.

Following game trails up the first drainage of the day reminded me of the thrill of wilderness in autumn.  Moving up-slope and upstream the forest around me was filled with the sound of moving bodies.  With the sharp snap of breaking branches and shaken foliage came the pungent ole-factory sensation that told me those unseen animals in motion around were big game and most likely elk.  Fresh scat confirmed this belief even though my eye never glimpsed them.  Of course, my eyes were more for the waters I was following than elk this day, but I would've been remiss if I hadn't stopped on the edge of a large clearing and watched intently for movement before moving across the clearing to reach the crystalline waters near its center.

Aspen and cottonwood are rare in the woods where I found myself that day when compared to the abundant evergreen species of the Bighorn Mountains.  But it was the vivid colors of the aspen and cottonwoods that drew my eye as I cast my fly upon cold wilderness waters.  Fall had already laid its hand upon the landscape at ten thousand feet in the Cloud Peak Wilderness.  Emerald leaves had cured to hues of gold, orange, and solitary reds, standing in wonderful foliar contrast to the dominant evergreens.  

The colors of the trout I pulled from the cold waters that day reflected the delicate beauty of the autumn wilderness and heralded the coming winter.

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

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Public Lands and an Angling Birthright

Public lands are an American birthright.  Too few American's are aware of this birthright and the treasures they hold for all.  Being a Wyoming native, public lands aren't simply dear to me, they are a part of my identity.  If you're reading this blog you likely do not fall into the enormous group of citizens who are largely unaware of the vast public lands that are not only open to them, but call to be cherished by ever more souls.

Sun sets on Lake Helen in Wyoming's Cloud Peak Wilderness
The local national park  or forest and the names of Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Glacier National Park ring with hallowed reverence.  Living outside the western United States where the majority of the country's public land are found prevents far too many American's, particularly children, from fulfilling their birthright.  Too many are denied the opportunity to step foot into their public lands and exploring all they have to offer from recreation to ecology to spiritual fulfillment.

For anglers, public lands are also the home to cherished public waters.  While fishing regulations are the purview of the states, as long as the waters are found within public lands and hold fish, the opportunity to fish these waters is largely guaranteed.  The capacity to reach said waters is a different discussion entirely, particularly for waters in wilderness and other undeveloped landscapes- and thankfully so!

It has become a common refrain as of late for politicians from western states to call for the relinquishment of public lands from the federal government to the states.  Interestingly national parks are often exempt from this call... I suspect because national parks are economic cash cows for the states in which they are found.

The rub for anglers with proposals such as this are twofold.  First, large-scale relinquishment of public lands to the states is an assault on the American soul.  Such outcomes would deny ever more of the American public the opportunity to explore and connect with public lands, denying future generations the opportunity for discoveries of nature and the soul.  Second, state control and management of public lands is by no means a future guarantee of access to what would have previously been public waters.  Many states are required to manage public lands for maximum economic benefit, which would immediately put into play not only potential access restrictions, but would also see new water development project from dams to increased industrial withdrawal.  Both aspects of a reduction in the public domain are a cause for concern for anglers.

Calls for the federal government to surrender the public domain to others who believe they can better manage public lands are nothing new.  The Sagebrush Rebellion, the County Supremacy Movement, and the Wise-use Movement have all sought the same outcome in previous decades.  Sportsmen and women today, just as in decades past, stand as bulwarks against unsound proposals to deny us and all American's access to their birthright found in public lands.

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

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Cecil the Lion, Grizzly Bears and Conservation

The killing of Cecil the Lion and the questions the act has raised in the public and among the conservation community particularly, have faded from the headlines.  However, during the height of the debate that raged immediately after Cecil's death I read an editorial in a local (Wyoming) newspaper that has stuck with me over the last few weeks.
Cecil the Lion
Photo from

The author, an outfitter who makes a living by guiding hunters to big and trophy game, presented a compelling argument that directly tied together the death of Cecil the Lion and his profession.  He noted that hunters and outfitters are salivating for the de-listing of the grizzly bear from the auspices of the Endangered Species Act here in my native Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in order to hunt the species.  He then went on to articulate the economic value of grizzly bears alive as compared to the money generated from a potential trophy hunt for the species.

In his editorial the outfitter confronted head-on the question of whether or not conservation of rare or endangered animals are greatly benefited  through hunting- his conclusion was a resounding no.  As the author noted, millions of dollars are generated as a result of tourist coming to Yellowstone just of an opportunity to see a grizzly bear and potential take a picture.  For literally millions of people such a chance is a bucket-list opportunity.

Grizzly Bear
Photo from U.S. National Park Service
There is no doubt that sportmen and women contribute to conservation and contribute mightily. Whether it's through license fees or taxes collected on sporting goods- taxes that we've gone to the mat to ensure they are maintained- hunters and anglers put their money where their mouth's are.  But, we must never lose sight that hunting and angling are guided by a code of ethics and that code is undermined when poor choices and outcomes are glossed over with a disingenuous claim that killing an animal provides a net benefit to conservation of the species. This is particularly true of species with low numbers that are either endangered or on the cusp of becoming endangered.

I thought about Cecil and grizzly bears as I followed a trail this weekend in the Cloud Peak Wilderness of Wyoming's Big Horn Mountains. I thought about the ethics of angling and how time has shaped our fishing attitude from "keeping your limit" to "limiting your keep" that, in turn, has produced today's catch-and-release ethic.  While angling rarely suffers the limelight that comes with the hunting and killing of a rare or endangered mammal, the death of Cecil the Lion provides us a moment to consider both the ethics that has become a central part of fly fishing as well as how we want our sport to be viewed by the non-angling public.

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

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

When poison is necessary to restore native trout

Native trout in today's cold-water ecosystems must cope with numerous threats that include habitat loss, pollution, climate change, recreational fishing pressure, and competition with stocked non-native trout.  As native trout have continued to lose ground many (sub)species have been petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act of which six have been listed.  And as presented by Trout Unlimited's State of the Trout report, excluding already extinct trout, more than 50% of the remaining (sub)species occupy less than 25% of their historical habitat.

State and federal agencies along with local stakeholders and non-profit conservation groups have collaborated to protect and restore native trout throughout their historical habitat.  One of the tools utilized to restore native trout to habitat that has been lost to non-natives stocked for recreational opportunities is the piscicide rotenone.

Rotenone is used to completely cleanse a waterway of fish (and typically any other organism that relies on gills to breath including tadpoles, non-adult salamanders, and macro-invertebrates) in order to make way for native fish to be restored to the waters.  Typically a water is treated more than once in order to ensure that non-natives aren't hiding in some watery nook or cranny waiting to refill the now open environment with its own progeny that would once again compete with the native trout that are being restored.

A great example of the use of piscicides such as rotenone to restore native trout can be found in the waters of Yellowstone National Park (YNP).  In 2011, YNP published a Native Fish Conservation Plan, which set the stage for the restoration of genetically pure Yellowstone cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki bouvieri) to Soda Butte Creek later this year.  Rotenone will be utilized to remove non-native brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) from Soda Butte Creek, which is a tributary to Yellowstone's famous Lamar River, making way for Yellowstone cutthroat trout.

The use of piscicides in support of native trout restoration is a well established management tool in fisheries management.  But, like so many government actions, the removal of non-natives with the use of poison is often met with vocal and at times radical resistance.  I can fully understand how the use of lethal methods may seem antithetical to conservation efforts.  However, until technology bequeaths us a more effective means of non-native removal and native trout continue to brave today's overwhelming synergistic threats, the use of piscicides must continue to serve as a conservation tool.

I suspect that this entry may engender rather vitrolic responses as the use of poison in nature brings with it heated rhetoric.  Nevertheless, this is a topic that is too important to native trout conservation to go unaddressed.  So until next time, let the vitriol flow!

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

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.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Man's Best Fishing Friend

Trout Unlimited's most recent issue of Trout magazine (Spring 2015) included a short essay that laid bare the emotional attachment so many of us have for our four-legged fishing (and hunting) partners. Christopher Camuto opens his heart with pen and ink allowing us a peak into the the enduring relationship that  man and dog build as together we traverse the more wild parts of the landscape and our emotional selves.

Snickers the fishing dachshund

 I never would have guessed that an eight pound miniature dachshund was destined to become my best friend and favorite fishing companion.  While afflicted by a mild fear of water (at little over half a foot tall at the shoulder who could blame him), Snickers would faithfully follow me up and down the stream bank as I waded.

Getting out of the stream
Over the last nine years Snickers has followed my footsteps as I worked waters across the country.  Never patient, he would scour the banks in search of entertainment, but would never stray far.  He always kept me within sight and was always at my heels whenever I left the water.  After a long day of fishing and exploring he has always been a welcome addition to my lap in front of a campfire.

Camouflage Dachshund
Just as Christopher detailed the aging and eventual loss of his four-legged friend in his piece in Trout, so has Snickers begun to age and become more inclined to wait for me at camp rather than follow me along the stream.  I miss having my black-and-tan friend greet me with a wag of his tail and a sharp bark as I step from the stream; he now waits patiently for my return and is the first to greet me when I return to camp. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Trout Unlimited: The Champion of Coldwater Conservation

It occurred to me this weekend as I was drawing together ideas for this week's post that I have never taken the time to discuss the gold standard in coldwater conservation, Trout Unlimited.

Established in Grayling, Michigan in 1959, sixteen prescient anglers had a vision of trout streams filled with wild trout rather than hatchery produced clones dumped from the back of trucks.  Since its establishment the nonprofit organization has grown into the nation's largest coldwater conservation organization with a focus on those things most important to anglers- healthy habitat and wild trout.

I've been a member of Trout Unlimited in different capacities for nearly a decade. I've been a dues paying volunteer member in my home state of Wyoming as well as Montana and New Hampshire.  While attending graduate school in New Hampshire I had the great fortune to serve as a Conservation Director for the local Trout Unlimited chapter.

As conservation organizations go Trout Unlimited is a soft-spoken organization.  It allows its accomplishments to speak for it rather than lawsuits or hyperbole filled press releases.  Whether its restoring locally nominated favorite waters through its "Embrace a Stream" program or engaging school children with the "Trout in the Classroom" curriculum, Trout Unlimited is at the forefront of protecting the resources we love most.

I encourage you to take a look at all the work Trout Unlimited has accomplished, the tremendous number conservation and science programs they oversee, and see if there is a local chapter near you.
Swift River, New Hampshire

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Has the Wild and Scenic River Act failed?

Yesterday the Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks announced that it is likely again safe to eat fish in the Yellowstone River following the recent oil spill following a break in a pipeline that stretches beneath the river. The announcement has given me cause to again revisit the injustice at how few miles of our cherished waters in the U.S. are designated as either Wild or Scenic.

I discussed Wild and Scenic Rivers in an earlier post and today again revisit the Yellowstone River to examine why the designation is so important.  The Yellowstone River is the last remaining great undammed river in the lower 48 States.  That only 20.5 miles of the great river, all of which is contained in the Clark's Fork, are designated Wild & Scenic is a conservation travesty.  The recent, and I should mention reoccurring, oil spills that have plagued the Yellowstone provide more than enough incentive to push for much more of the river to be designated as either Wild or Scenic by Congress.  If all we can protect of the great and mighty Yellowstone River is a paltry 20.5 miles then we have failed to take advantage of the opportunities and protections offered our cherished waters under the Wild &Scenic Rivers Act.

I reflect on this as we yet again clean-up another oil spill along a cherished river and wonder if the Wild & Scenic River Act has failed or if we've failed to capitalize on the spirit of the Act?

Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone River
I recently posted a set of picture to my Facebook page  from my hike along the Wild and Scenic Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone River in Wyoming on the first day of Spring.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Rivers, Oil Spills, and Clean Water

A recent local newspaper article examined the impacts of development within river corridors through the lens of recent oil spills resulting from breaches of the oil pipeline that runs under the Yellowstone River near Billings, Montana.

Gushing oil in the Yellowstone River, the longest undammed river remaining in America, unfortunately illustrates only one of many cumulative impacts to our cherished rivers.  Toxic chemicals, nutrient pollution, dams, dredging, riparian development up to the edge of rivers, the loss of floodplains- all of these threats cumulatively impact the waters we love and that we love to fish. If you were to put your drift boat in at the mountain headwaters of your favorite river and float to its terminus at the ocean it spills to, you would encounter greater and greater damage as you moved downstream.

This is not to say that development, technology, or society are incompatible with health rivers and clean water.  Instead, many of our cherished waters are approaching or have already reached a tipping point.  In many cases the tipping point may be water that is undrinkable, may not be safely allow for swimming, or the fish successfully pulled from the waters eaten, in short falling far short of the goals of the Clean Water Act.  We have reached a point in our societal path where we need to examine with open eyes and open minds the trade-offs that exist between continued development of our waters and conservation of such a limited resource, an examination that hopefully is informed by our love of the sport of fly fishing.

The Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone River near Clark, Wyoming

Monday, March 30, 2015

Fishing without a Pole

On the first day of Spring I found myself spending the unseasonably warm day fishing without a pole.  Perhaps more accurately, I spent the weekend on trails nears some of my favorite waters in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the Big Horn Basin of Wyoming.  I call this fishing without a pole as even though I wasn't casting a line my thoughts were tied to my home waters as I logged mile after mile on two different trails.

The first trail paralleled the Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone River.  The route I followed is the Morrison Jeep Trail and offers access to superb water and splendid scenery.  On this particular day there was no ATV traffic to contend with, which if you are interested in taking the trail and want at least a modicum of peace, I recommend hiking the route between December and April in order to reduce the amount of ATV traffic you encounter.
Looking west into Clark's Fork Canyon along the Morrison Jeep Trail

During the course of the day I encountered a small herd of Big Horn Sheep as well as a numerous small herds of mule deer, much to my surprise.  I walked the length of the ATV route, about five miles, until the trail began ascending the canyon wall.  The ATV path zig-zags up the canyon wall and allows you access to the Beartooth Plateau above, but this wasn't for me today.  Instead I continued following a footpath upon which ATV traffic was barred by a wrought iron fence and gate.  Little to my knowledge the trail continued for what a little less than a mile before terminating as the sheer canyon walls pushed out to meet the edge of the water.  I had hoped to cover a bit more distance before turning back to return on the same route I came, but alas it was not to be.
Warning sign before beginning the ascent from the bottom of Clark's Fork Canyon.

While my trip had met its half-way point, I was pleasantly surprised by the new potential fishing holes I'd found as well as a most interesting collection of trees that gathered together in a small copse on my side of the river.  The little riverine community included Englemann spruce, limber pine, and juniper.  Juxtaposed against the sheer rock cliffs and the river the grove offered the perfect spot from which to eat lunch and consider the Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone, fly fishing, ATVs, public lands, and the multitude of issues and conflicts that surround each.  In short, it was like fishing without a pole.

End of the trail as river meets rock

Friday, March 13, 2015

Currently Reading- The Creation: an appeal to save life on earth

Once again world renowned biologist E.O. Wilson leaves his mark on the world, this time through his book The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth.  Through chapters that are structured as letters addressed to a Pastor, Professor Wilson seeks to empower secular and Christian readers to find common ground while he issues a clarion call for humanity to acknowledge and respond to mankind's biosphere-spanning environmental impacts.

Gently, but with clear purpose Professor Wilson addresses head-on the divergent worldviews of Christianity and secularists then utilizes science to its fullest potential.  Dr. Wilson presents, chapter-by-chapter, the cumulative impacts that industrialized society has wreaked on the globe providing numerous examples based on his deep background as an entomologist.  Purposefully, the reader is guided through myriad ecosystems to view with detail the globe-spanning issues and impacts that we must address if we are to have any chance at all of maintaining society at the current standard of living and while also maintaining our fragile environmental security.

Having only completed the first two sections of the book I'm looking forward with both interest and trepidation to the remaining three.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Endangered Species Act & Fly Fishing

More than forty years after its inception the Endangered Species Act has contributed mightily to the protection of the nation's coldwater fisheries.  While oft-times criticized for its economic impacts as a result of curtailing development, there can be no discounting the biological and economic benefits that have flowed as a result of maintaining native species in their historic ranges.  Nevertheless, many challenges remain for native salmonids across the United States.

Our coldwater fisheries have become biologically impoverished as a result of the loss of native trout and salmon that have either been diminished in their native habitat or have blinked out of existence following Euro-American expansion across the country.  Both the Yellowfin cutthroat trout and the Alvord cutthroat trout are today presumed to be extinct.  The Endangered Species Act has been leveraged to ensure that our remaining native trout and salmon fauna do not succumb to the same fate as the Yellowfin and Alvord cutthroat trout.

Seemingly relentless pressures from land development, water development, pollution, and the stocking of non-natives have pushed many native trout species to the brink of extinction.  As a result of these continuing pressures the Endangered Species Act is currently offering protection to a host of trout species that include:
·         Little Kern golden trout (threatened)
·         Apache trout (threatened)
·         Lahontan cutthroat trout (threatened)
·         Paiute cutthroat trout (threatened)
·         Rio Grande cutthroat trout (candidate for listing)
·         Greenback cutthroat trout (threatened)
·         Gila trout (threatened)
·         Bull trout (threatened)

Not to be overlooked are the numerous Pacific salmon runs that have also been designated as threatened or endangered under the ESA.

Yellowfin and Alvord cutthroat trout have both been lost to the world.  They can neither be appreciated by those who simply love the natural world or those of us whose connection to the natural world is strongest when holding a fly rod in our hand.  Forty years after becoming the paragon of conservation legislation the Endangered Species Act working to ensure waters that we love do not become increasingly biologically impoverished.The Endangered Species Act has too often been maligned as a hindrance to progress.  

If the last forty plus years have taught us anything when it comes to the protection of trout and salmon species it is that the protections offered by the Endangered Species Act have been well worth the investment. In ensuring that native species continue to inhabit their native habitats the ESA is also promoting the sport of fly fishing by allowing anglers the unique opportunity to pursue trout and salmon within their native habitats.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Currently reading: Year of the Big Fires: The Story of the Great Fires of 1910

It's been a longtime since I last checked out a book from the public library, but research does occasionally pull me in to the doors of the Park County Library (Cody, WY).  Looking for some specific material, I have since become hooked into Stephen J. Pyne's Year of the Fires (Viking Press).  The tale of the conflagrations that shaped fire policy in the U.S. for nearly a century as well as much of the culture of the Forest Service is an engrossing story.  From the personal stories of those who lived through the inferno to the communities and agencies that sought to respond to the disaster as it unfolded, the story of each is compellingly told.  It is unfortunate that an event such as this has become largely forgotten when the scars and impacts continue to be felt in contemporary natural resource management.

Currently reading: Cutthroat & Campfire Tales

Cutthroat & Campfire Tales: The Fly-fishing Heritage of West by John H. Monnett (University Press of Colorado) is a delightful book on the history of fly fishing from the Rocky Mountain perspective.  Wonderfully easy to read with chapters that are just the right length, John Monnett treats the reader to the colorful antics of western fly fisherman from a variety of vantage points.  Each chapter stands alone and is a joy to read unto itself.  The greatest aspect of the book is the manner in which John seamlessly threads the history of western fly fishing into the broader tapestry of East Coast and European fly fishing history.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Wild and Scenic Rivers

America has been blessed with an abundance of beautiful waters that flow across our landscape from coast-to-coast.  In 1968 in recognition of the development pressures that were quickly stripping many of our waters of their very character, particularly as a result of dam building, the Wild and Scenic River Act was passed by the U.S. Congress.

The Act established the Wild and Scenic Rivers System in order to provide some protection to the nation’s still free flowing waters. Unfortunately the lofty ideals encompassed in the legislation have largely gone unrecognized.  Today less than a quarter of one percent of our free flowing waters have been protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. 
The Wild and Scenic Northfork of the Flathead River looking into Glacier National Park

Free flowing waters within the Wild and Scenic Rivers System fall into one of three categories, which can be found on the National Wild and Scenic River System’s website at
  1. Wild River Areas: Those rivers or sections of rivers that are free of impoundments and generally inaccessible except by trail, with watersheds or shorelines essentially primitive and waters unpolluted. These represent vestiges of primitive America.
  2. Scenic River Areas: Those rivers or sections of rivers that are free of impoundments, with shorelines or watersheds still largely primitive and shorelines largely undeveloped, but accessible in places by roads.
  3. Recreational River Areas: Those rivers or sections of rivers that are readily accessible by road or railroad, that may have some development along their shorelines, and that may have undergone some impoundment or diversion in the past.

The Wild and Scenic Rivers System fairly glows with unrealized potential.  A perfect example is the vaunted Yellowstone River, the largest remaining undammed river in the lower 48 states.  Only a meager 20.5 miles of this still untamed river have been designated under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act; the entirety of which can be found within the limits of the Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone. 

In 1979 all federal agencies overseeing public lands were directed by President Carter to inventory the waters that flow through their lands and determine which waters held the characteristics for inclusion in the Wild and Scenic River System.  While only a quarter of one percent of our nation’s waters are currently protected under the Wild and Scenic River system 3,400 individual segments have been inventoried within the National Rivers Inventory.  Take a moment to see if your favorite fly fishing destination or home waters have already been identified within the inventory.  There may be a tremendous opportunity to see your favorite waters designated under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, ensuring those waters near and dear to your heart are protected for generations to come.

Take a moment to look at your favorite waters and ask yourself whether they deserve protection and recognition under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.  As is so often the case in conservation, a proposal for designation is most powerful when it is homegrown.  Successfully obtaining a designation under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act ensures that the character of your river and its angling opportunities will be maintained for generations to come.

Monday, February 16, 2015

New Adventures on Familiar Home Waters

One of the wonderful aspects of fly fishing high mountain waters, whether it be headwater streams, alpine ponds, or mountain lakes, is the discovery of previously unknown areas.  Take for instance my journey this last summer to Bear Park in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming. Bear Park overlooks many of the waters I've fished since I was a child, but for some inexplicable reason I have never followed the trail that led me up the side of mountain to Bear Park.

Barely legible Forest Service sign announcing Bear Park

Home waters provide us a sense of familiarity, but as I learned this last summer there exists opportunities for new adventures within or near our most familiar home waters.

Bear Park from an adjacent trail
Although I've fished the waters on this side of the Big Horn Mountains for the majority of my life, taking the time to explore new paths lead me to new stretches of water previously unknown to me.
Tensleep Creek from the bridge along the trail to Bear Park

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Currently Reading: River's Edge, A Fly-Fishing Realm

River's Edge: A Fly-Fishing Realm by Walt Franklin is a work of short essays and reflections on the the connection to nature derived from pursuing the sport of fly fishing.  The stories are largely set (at least to this point of my reading) within the eastern U.S. covering waters of Appalachia country.  For readers and anglers who are most familiar with the waters of public lands in the western United States, such as myself, the volume is a great introduction to the qualities that make the waters Walt Franklin describes unique, worth pursing trout upon, and worth conserving.  The waters, the trout, and the flies Franklin describe paint a vivid picture of the natural art that fly fishing provides in the most subtle of moments.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

It's been a year... how embarrassing

The New Year has come and gone and along with it a year with far too little angling and even less blogging.  I allowed my attention to this blog slip after accepting a new position in my native Wyoming and all the things that are involved with moving across state lines.  After returning home to my native Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem I had only a few opportunities between new job and new house to reacquaint myself with old waters, namely the Shoshone River and the Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone.

After getting settled in I've been dedicating a great deal of my time to working on a book manuscript on the role of fly fishing in conservation, but more on that at a later date.  So, putting my embarrassment aside it is my goal to once again dedicate a portion of my time to this blog and continuing the conversation on fly fishing and conservation.  Stay tuned and I look forward to our future conversations!