Sunday, June 12, 2011

Conservation and The Bestest Trip Ever!

The organization
to which I belong
and volunteer!
The folks at Trout Unlimited and Outdoor Blogging Network have sponsored a program this coming summer where they're going to drag four bloggers out into the back country of Montana for some fishing and writing and photography and videography and all the other stuff that fly fishing bloggers do.(1)

In order to score an invite to this shindig, a unicorn will look deeply into the souls of all interested writers and chose four that are purest of thought and intent.(2) I kid. In fact, one has to write about their favorite trout fishing trip and also write a bit about why "you think coldwater trout and salmon habitat deserves to be protected and restored."

First, the latter question. I came late to the cold water conservation game. I took up fly fishing almost seven years ago thanks to a 40th birthday present from my buddy Ross and Orvis' fly fishing school. I took to this new sport with zeal. Prompted by the folks at Orvis, I joined TU and have been an active member of my local TU Chapter(3)

A combo backpack/vest
I own (5)
I probably should have been a trout fisherman all my life. The places where trout live have such a strong appeal to me. Well before I took to angling, running water called to me. Often, I would find myself stopped on a bridge peering down into a stream wondering what lurked below. And the rise of trout on the mirrored surface of a New Hampshire pond late on a summer evening is an iconic image of my time spent in the Granite State.

I have a pragmatic, holistic view on cold water conservation. As a carbon-based life form, I know that better water on the surface leads to better water in our aquifers and, thus, coming out the faucet. As a human being, cold water conservation makes a lot of sense because all those things we do to improve water quality often lead to improving other things -- lower reliance upon carbon fuels, less mountain top removal mining, fewer pollutants running out of hard rock mines, etc. And, finally, as an angler cold water provides habitat to my most favorite of chars, my most favorite of all fish, the Brook Trout. So, in short, cold water = good.

Now to a fishing tale(4).

I'm going to retell a portion of a tale that I told late last summer. It was my all time favorite trip, especially the afternoon session where my wife, two boys and I hiked back into a canyon to fish for Cutthroat. I sought a Cutthroat for much the same reason that I love the Brookie. It's the native species of the area and it struggles to make its way in a world full of invasive Brookies, Browns, and Rainbows.

We had started the day on the Madison and Gallatin. The fishing wasn't very good but we did manage enough tugs on the line to keep things interesting. I caught the other big native, the Rocky Mountain Whitefish, several times but still needed a Cutthroat.

I had mentioned to our guide, Travis, earlier in the day that my goal was to catch a Cutthroat Trout. He mentioned that the waters we would be fishing wouldn't likely be Cutthroat water. However, he did know a small stream that might yield a Cutthroat but it would be a hike. The family agreed that it would be a fun adventure so we left the Gallatin behind and set out to this new stream.

The creek, let's call it Cutty Creek, crossed the road in several places but the spot that he felt would give us the highest likelihood of catching a cutty was well off the beaten path where the stream took a long detour into a deep canyon.

To get to the canyon we hiked about a quarter mile across a field and forest to an abandoned roadbed that you couldn't see from the main road. The forest in this area had clearly burned at some point in the past decade or so. Not only were there plenty of fallen trees to scramble over but the dense thicket of saplings was surely hiding rabid grizzly bears ready to strike.

One thing I've never heard from a guide was a briefing on bears. The particular creek we were fishing was located in the Grizzly Bear Management Area. Fortunately, we didn't have an encounter with a bear but Ann and Travis were both carrying the large pepper sprays that are allegedly effective when faced with bear trouble (6).

An abandoned roadbed made the walk in bit easier as we climbed and then followed the ridge above the canyon. Once we were well into the canyon we scrambled down the canyon wall to the floor. The trip down the steep slope was challenging but the entire clan handled it without major injury.

I fished at the first set of pools and managed a couple of small Rainbows and my first CutBow -- a Rainbow Cutthroat hybrid. The fish came to either a Royal Wulff dry or the dropper below -- I switched between a small prince and a zug bug. They seemed to work equally well.

I also managed a few wild Rainbows in this stretch from six inches to about eight inches. All beautiful fish who slashed at the flies with abandon.

Cutbow Water
We climbed above the waterfall in the picture above and bushwhacked our way through some pretty tough willows and deadfalls. We worked a bunch of pools including one where I managed a rainbow and Chris managed a Cutbow to the net. Sam fished the same pool and managed to get a fish on but it shook the hook.

We continued to work upstream at times wading along the banks, at times scrambling over deadfalls and at times seeking any path through the canyon's maze.

Ann streamside
Sam, Chris and Travis preparing to fish
A wild Rainbow
Reminders of the forces that shape the landscape
Scrambling uphill to find a way through
And back down when the way is blocked

Chris' Cutbow
Streamside Fishin' Family Foto. There's that
great backpack/vest again! (5)
A representative deadfall
Sam leading the way down one scramble
As we progressed towards the upstream end of the canyon I fished every likely run and pool. The water here was at a fairly steep gradient so it was more pocket water than anything else. I got a few slashes and one fish on but nothing came to the net.

Towards the end of the day we came upon a most spectacular pool. Long, deep and moving just fast enough to keep the trout from getting too good a look at the fly. The family halted streamside so I could get a few casts on the pool before we marched through. The first drift I got a hard strike on the bushy Royal Wulff fly and landed an eight inch Cutthroat. Mission accomplished!

Finally, a Cutthroat
We ended the day working our way out of the upstream end of the canyon and across a large willow field through which the creek meandered. All told, we probably covered about a mile and a half but the up and down, crawling-around certainly made if feel longer.

It was a great day of fishing and it was a special treat to have the family along. I was especially satisfied with the boys getting into fish and being outdoors seeing why I love this sport and the places it takes me. Who knows, maybe some of it will rub off.

The upstream end of the canyon

1. Which means they'll be lots of scandalous stuff like fishing lies and discussion about the relative merits of Singlebarbed Nymph Dubbing vs all others. What happens in Lima, Montana stays in Lima, Montana.
2. I really have no idea what the criteria are (or if TU has any unicorns) but they're probably looking for someone who has decent writing skills, a Family Membership in TU, who sits on the board of directors of their local chapter and is the Youth Education Coordinator for said chapter and rather enjoys fishing related adventure (e.g. me). Oh, and stunning good looks too (for which I have no proof).
3. See footnote two, above. Especially all that volunteer stuff for TU!
4. Finally.
5. Ideal for hiking and fishing the backcountry in Montana
6. I will spare you a retelling of the peppery beer crap w/bells joke.


  1. Good stuff, Steve. Best of luck in the contest!

  2. Hopefully that unicorn is looking upon you fondly...great writing! Good luck in the contest

  3. Steve, Im impressed with the writing for sure--very well done. I enjoyed the story; felt as if I was walking along with you. I'm even more impressed by your family--you are a lucky man to have such adventurous people surrounding you. Way to go!!

  4. Will, thank you very much. kinds words. Yeah, the family is pretty adventurous. Just wait till I drag them out for a pond sampling trip in the backwoods of Maine in August!

  5. Very nice. Love the footnotes. Good stuff.