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.







Cheers,
Brad
You can also find my discussions on fly fishing and conservation issues at-
Twitter- @conservationfly
Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/conservationflyfishing

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.
Cheers,
Brad

You can also find my discussions on fly fishing and conservation issues at-
Twitter- @conservationfly
Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/conservationflyfishing