Tuesday, May 15, 2012

On the eradication of wayward Macks

Yellowstone Lake is as big as the sky.
Standing on the cobble shores of Yellowstone Lake the wind whips your face and you feel and smell the kind of damp air that is reserved for large bodies of water; add some salty stickiness and you'd think you were on the shores of some ocean's bay. Waves lap the shore but you see how a sustained wind could drive the water up hard; I suppose that's how all that drift wood got up near the tree line.

After spending a week roaming the juncture of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming I thought that anything "Big" would begin to seem normal. Big Sky, check. Big mountains, check. Big bears, check. Big trout, I wish. You get the idea. Everything is huge in a magnificent, stunning, awe inspiring, staring-with-a-slack-jaw kinda way.

But then you see Yellowstone Lake for the first time and despite having seen it on a map a few times you think, "Damn, that's Big!".

And you think about the Cutthroat.

And you think about those damn Lake Trout.

And you think, or may even say aloud, "Jeez, those Cutties are screwed."

Unaware of the danger, my smolts
frolic at the edge of Yellowstone Lake
I read about the Lake Trout problem before I visited the park a few years ago but one doesn't truly appreciate the scale until you see the lake and the many feeder streams in which Cutthroat Trout once spawned in stunning numbers. Since some person or persons released Lake Trout into Yellowstone Lake, Cutthroat populations have declined by 75%. One stream's spawning run was 55,000 strong in the 80s but now is measured in the hundreds. Lake Trout outbreed, outlive and eat Cutties and without our help the natives will soon be gone.

It's oft said in angling that "You shoulda been here yesterday/last week/back in the 50s when fishing was good." That old saw seems particularly appropriate for the Yellowstone Cutties. Only 5-10% of the population that existed when I graduated from college remains.

Invasives and habitat challenges are nothing new to those familiar with conservation. Here in the east, like many places across this country, we've extirpated, restored and extirpated again all manner of wildlife populations as we built farms, then mills, and cities, and industry and then let it all go fallow again as field and forest. We seem intent on doing it again with housing subdivisions. Bad decisions, all in the name of progress, made with supreme neglect for wildlife but generally not with bad intent.

More recently we've managed to introduce the zebra mussel, didymo, whirling disease and a host of other nasty things; more acts of neglect. And we continue to liberally put Rainbow and Brown Trout, the kind of invasives we "like", where they wouldn't otherwise be. I suppose there are some concessions to be made but the lines seem arbitrary.

What seems particularly insidious about the Yellowstone Laker problem is that apparently someone did it on purpose and it has been catastrophic. A pristine location, or at least as pristine as they come, destroyed by a guy with a bucket and an idea.

At that's the solution as well.

People, ideas and actions.

Pretty little fish.
There's a stream not far from my house that runs through a typical Connecticut suburb. It's a little miracle. The water runs cold in the warmest of years and even in droughts the springs continue to feed it with cold, clear water. For three hundred years it has suffered all manner of abuse but wild trout, especially Brook Trout, still live there. TU, a local watershed association and the town have worked to protect and restore this fishery but most of the work can be credited to the imaginations and efforts of a few hardworking individuals.

In Yellowstone I expect it's not much different. We need that cadre of dedicated individuals to imagine a different future. But we also need all of us. There's a hand to lend when work needs to be done, a keyboard that needs to be whacked when politicians need to be redirected and there's a checkbook that needs to be opened when its time for that.

But equally as important, there's a lesson in all this to bring home to our own watersheds whether they're storied and grand or just plain old grand.

The ground smokes & steams. Everywhere.
Who are the custodians of your home waters? (Hint: That mirror will be handy in identifying one of them) What organizations help out? Are you a member? Do you make your voice heard when foolishness and idiocy are meandering through the halls of legislative bodies?

Even subtler actions are important. Bring a trash bag along on your next trip. If you fish bait, don't release it into the river or lake. Inspect. Clean. Dry.

I've been to a few of the marquee National Parks and while Yosemite has a special spot in my heart I haven't seen anything that matches the variety and grandeur of Yellowstone. To come down into the Lamar Valley and see the river winding through the flood plain and all those fuzzy dots, bison upon closer inspection, grazing is to be transported into another, magical time. The beauty of the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone are without compare. The rolling paint pots, the fuming geysers, and even the cheesy theatrics of Old Faithful manifest the power that is deep within our planet.

And the Grand Prismatic Spring? It's one of those "see it, to believe it" sort of things.

And I haven't even talked about the fish or the animals or the flora.

Yellowstone is the benchmark. If we cannot protect it, if we cannot find it worthy of our efforts to restore and sustain for ourselves and future generations, then we have truly lost our way.

Grand Prismatic Spring.
There's no photoshoppery  going on here. Those are the real friggin' colors. Unreal.

There are even good rocks to kick back and chill upon.

And you might as well catch the Tetons on the way up

This is my submission for the Trout Unlimited, Simms, the Yellowstone Park Foundation and the Outdoor Blogger Network – Blogger Tour 2012 contest

Additional Resources
The battle for Yellowstone Lake
Trout Shangri-La: Remaking the Fishing in Yellowstone National Park
Save the Yellowstone Cutthroat
Yellowstone Map - that lake is huge! Damn those Lake Trout!


  1. okay....I hope that they will just wad my submission up and use it for starting a nice campfire. You just hit a walk off home run my friend. Excelsior!!!!

    1. I wouldn't be too quick to judge my friend, you did a fine piece of writing, perhaps your finest. Thx for the compliment. I hope to see you in Wyoming.

    2. Was thinking the exact thing!

    3. I think we should all start referring to it as Sam's Rock, as in, "Yup, I recall in '04 when I lost a pair of sunglasses just upstream of Sam's Rock." or "That sum'bitch Brown broke me off on Sam's Rock".

  2. And I lost a trout (or whitefish) by that rock. I wonder if he was wearing your sunglasses?

    "...I think I've fished too much." -- Is this even possible?

  3. Spot on, my friend, and the photos just make it sweeter. I'm rooting for you to be in the park come July.

  4. awesome. right you are. we are the custodians. I hope you find yourself in Yellowstone come this July :)

  5. Well, I know what I'm having to eat tonight: Chicken Dinner, because in my opinion we have a winner! Very nicely written piece, Steve!

    1. Thx Kirk. No doubt the competition will be stout but here's to hoping!

    2. Did I call it or WHAT? I should get something for being a wise old sage, anyway ;)
      Congrats on a well-deserved, forthcoming trip!

    3. I will trust your instinct more readily in the future! Thanks, Kirk.

  6. Really really nice piece...awesome stuff! Good luck in the contest.

  7. Congrats on the win! Well deserved. It's great that you and Marc get to meet up in Yellowstone! Enjoy...

    1. Thanks very much. Yeah, it will be an amazing trip. Sorta ironic that the number of times we've talked about meeting to fish and now we'll finally get to in Yellowstone. I'm still stunned.

  8. Good post and congrats on the win. We'll be following along.

    1. Thanks very much, Jason. I look forward to the journey.

  9. Congratulations Steve, great entry. I know you're gonna have a blast out there. Can't wait to see the pics and read the report.

    1. Thx. I'm looking forward to it. This time with a keen focus on fisheries!