Friday, August 31, 2012

Quick Sips: This is fly & Other Stuff

Well, this is a fly.

Bristol Bay once again needs our help from a fund raising perspective. Click on the image below to go to the website which describes the latest matching grant program or click here to donate.

Also, found this great quote over on The Drake forums. It was presented in a discussion on whether beads were a shortcut or not to the Alaskan experience of fishing for rainbows and char sitting behind spawning fish.
"Taking a trip for six months, if you get in the rhythm of it, it feels like you could just go on forever doing it. Climbing Everest is the ultimate and the opposite of that, because you get all these high-powered plastic surgeons and CEOs, and you know, they pay $80,000 and have Sherpas put all the ladders in place, and 8,000 feet of fixed ropes. You get to a camp and you don’t even have to lay out your sleeping bag, it’s already laid out with a little chocolate mint on the top.
The whole purpose of climbing Everest is to effect some sort of spiritual and physical gain; but if you compromise the process, you’re an asshole when you start out and you’re an asshole when you get back.” - Yvon Chouinard
Applies to fly fishing. Applies to life.

Have a good long weekend all. Tight lines.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

On Mojo

When Ross and I embark upon a sporting venture it's tradition to make the first song of the road trip Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire.  I don't know if this routine makes the fishing better or the drive safer, hell I don't know why we do it, but we do. It's mojo and you don't fuck with mojo.

I haven't run into an angler yet who, if watched closely, doesn't have some superstition. The lucky shirt. A bracelet. A routine for gearing up. A brand of beer that's only consumed on a river. A fishing hat.

Pick a hat.
I went to a wounded warriors event at our local VA a few months ago. I wore a hat. A fishing hat. We shifted from one room to another to accommodate the high attendance and in all the moving and unpacking and repacking of fly tying supplies my hat disappeared.

This was an Trout Unlimited ball cap that I got five or so years ago by donating to one of their various fund raising campaigns. It was tan, well worn, sweat stained and had a ragged, orange #10 PMX stuck in the bill.

I caught my first trout on the Deerfield on that fly. It was a beautiful Brown. I kept that fly not because of the fish but because of the cast I made to get it; hard against an overgrown bank while floating down a swift riffle. Memorable. Good mojo.

I have a healthy inventory of hats but this lost hat could be found on my head more often than not when I was on the stream. Why I wore it that day to the VA, I don't know, but I regret it.

The hat is gone. While I'm not superstitious I did have a momentary pang for the lost mojo. Good memories. Good fish. Even if I wasn't wearing the hat when I caught those memories it was an important symbol.

While prepping for the trip to Wyoming a few weeks ago I packed some new hats; one from Keith at Singlebarbed and a new TU hat. I could have grabbed a hat with a bit more history but this felt like the right moment to do something new, something unexpected. I needed to a ruse to to keep bad mojo at bay.

I think it worked.

The experience in Wyoming was over the top. The fishing was good but not great. But the people were fantastic. And I got a behind the scenes look at one of the more critical conservation efforts underway in the west.

I'm still not convinced that the loss of that hat won't matter. But nothing tragic has yet happened. And I have caught a few fish.

Except for that big one I lost Saturday night.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

I never bought a man who wasn't for sale

Will Clark
A handsome chap, no?
Reality TV is educational.

I was watching Pawn Stars (That's "pawn", Jonny, not "porn") recently and a gentleman brought in an ink well in the shape of a gavel. This ink well reportedly belonged to a William A. Clark. Clark it turns out was a wealthy guy at the turn of the last century who liked to buy politicians to further his business objectives. He bought influence from Las Vegas to Butte.

Clark is probably most notorious for his purchase of one of Montana's U.S. Senate seats in 1899 through outright bribery of several state legislators (who at that time were responsible for selecting Senators). Once this was revealed Congress refused to seat him though he was subsequently elected by popular vote once the Seventeenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed.

Mark Twain thought highly of the man:
"He is as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag; he is a shame to the American nation, and no one has helped to send him to the Senate who did not know that his proper place was the penitentiary, with a ball and chain on his legs. To my mind he is the most disgusting creature that the republic has produced since Tweed's time."
Perhaps Clark's greatest gift to us all was the dawning realization that money and politics don't mix very well. So, limitations were eventually put on political financial contributions by both individuals and organizations. No where were these lessons better learned than in Montana; they have had some of the most stringent campaign finance laws in the Union.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled in the Citizen's United v FEC case that corporations were entitled to the same free speech protections that individuals enjoy. The rationale goes something like this: Corporations are assemblies of people, people shouldn't have their free speech rights abridged, therefore neither should assemblies of such people in the form of business corporations even if those corporations were formed for the sole purpose of influencing elections.

But why do companies need a voice? If they're assemblies of people, surely the voice of the people is sufficient. But apparently not.

Citizens United changed what corporations were allowed to have a voice on. Previously, they could produce issues advertisements but not directly put their resources behind a specific candidate. Now corporations can directly advocate for specific candidates.

So, instead of putting an ad out that says something like "Unregulated mining creates good jobs for Americans", organizations like Citizens for Patriotic Blue-Blooded Mineral Extraction or, say, The Pebble Limited Partnership can now put out an ad that says "Bob Smith is bad for America cause he supports mining regulation. Vote for Sally Johnson."

Citizens United erased the line between people and non-people in the most fundamental human area of our democracy -- the vote.

And that brings us back to Montana and Billy Clark's legacy.

Due to Montana's history of political corruption they have had strict campaign finance laws including one prohibiting companies from contributing to political campaigns. But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled (summarily, by the way, without any oral arguments or facts presented) in American Tradition Partnership v Montana that the Citizens United case trumps the state law and therefore the American Tradition Partnership can support or oppose any Montana candidate it wishes.

The majority opinion from Citizens United stated:
"independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption," and therefore "[n]o sufficient governmental interest justifies limits on the political speech of nonprofit or for-profit corporations."
Unlimited, "independent" money spent on political campaigns neither corrupts nor has the appearance of corruption. Phew, what a relief.

Justice Stevens argued in the dissenting opinion that:
"These legal entities, he argued, have perpetual life, the ability to amass large sums of money, limited liability, no ability to vote, no morality, no purpose outside of profit-making, and no loyalty. Therefore, he argued, the courts should permit legislatures to regulate corporate participation in the political process."
Doesn't seem unreasonable. Corporations are different from people in some easily definable ways.

But the decision was the opposite. Corporations have the sames rights as people from the perspective of supporting political aspirants.

So what the hell does this have to do with conservation or fly fishing? It's not yet clear. I do know a few corporations that aren't very fond of regulation and regulation is the life blood of conservation; maybe they'll want their voice heard.

In this election cycle eyes will be on the results of Sheldon and Miriam Adelson's donations. They've already put $20 million on Republican Presidential candidates and will put another $51M into other conservative organizations.

If Governor Romney wins and implements new pro-Israel or anti-union programs, key Adelson issues, then we'll have an important data point on the influence of independent money on politician's behavior. If Governor Romney wins and ignores the desires of wealthy donors, then the court's majority opinion will be affirmed (same for if he loses).

I just can't imagine any politician ignoring the desires of a large donor regardless of whether that money is given directly to their campaign or is independent as in the case of the Adelsons. I also worry about how this plays out on the local and state levels where money for candidates is a lot more scarce and far more welcome.

I'm looking forward to seeing how this plays out. Hopefully it won't be too painful.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Browns of the Lewis River

Jim Vincent, co-founder of RIO products, wrote an opinion piece in the most recent issue of The Drake lamenting the loss of large brown trout in the Lewis River in Yellowstone National Park. Here's my letter to the editor, Tom Bie, in response to his Scuddlebutt article.


Jim Vincent, in his recent Scuddlebutt article, attributes the loss of the large browns in the Lewis River to the increase in fishing limits in Yellowstone National Park and directly blames officials for the change in policy that now favors native trout. Those limits, which went into effect in 2006, allow anglers to keep up to five fish in the Wild Trout Enhancement Area of which the Lewis River, below Lewis Falls, is a portion.

I don't know what the science says about trout population in that stream or what the causal factors may be in any decline. I understand how angling pressure can hurt a fishery, especially one that winds along a well traveled road.

I enjoy fishing for native fish in their native ranges but I'm not a native fish snob. I'll gladly fish for both wild and stocked rainbows and browns. And nothing puts a smile on my face like a Steelhead, far from it's native range, pulling line off my reel on the Salmon River in Pulaski, New York.

I still know some places in Connecticut that hold native fish as well as streams that could hold native fish. But I'm not fool enough to think that in a state where you can't swing a dead Coho without hitting a McMansion that we're going to restore brook trout to its native range. And I know of several dams whose removal would restore Atlantic Salmon runs to their biblical proportions. But again, I'm satisfied to cede restoration to the harsh reality of flood control, power generation and pragmatism.

But there are places where I do expect that we'll make an effort to restore the landscape. In places that are safe from development. In places where the stewards have a legal and regulatory obligation to restore native species. In short, in places like Yellowstone National Park.

Native trout everywhere is not the answer just as native trout no where is not the answer. But if Yellowstone National Park, whose mission is to preserve and maintain the geologic and natural heritage of the region, is not the place for natives then there's no place for natives in our landscape.

It sucks that Jim Vincent and anglers of the Lewis have lost something that they dearly love. I'm still pissed off about the recent extirpation of brook trout in a local stream. The brook trout and its anglers are paying the price of progress. Jim is paying the price of rolling it back, just a bit, in the one place where we have any hope of doing so.


Stephen Zakur

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

New Glass

Credit Card Points converted to Amazon Credits plus a few more greenbacks equals New Macro Lens. Now I just have to figure out how to use the damn thing.

Japanese Maple leaves giving up early. It's only August!!!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Truth

Via Mike's Sister

Fishing with Seth

On Saturday morning I rolled out of bed at seven to get down to a local river by seven-thirty. LL Bean had opened a store in Danbury and their staff had posted a meet-up on a local angling website. The river happened to be fifteen minutes from the house so I drove over to meet the guy running the show.

I pulled into the parking lot a few minutes late and met Seth as he was stringing up a rod. Seth works at the store and was the leader of this merry band. It turns out is was a band of two which was just fine by me. This river is small and two is the maximum capacity of any given stretch.

Seth is a recent high school graduate. He's heading so Susquehanna University in a week to study business. I expect he'll also be learning how to tap a keg, make trashcan punch and not look like an idiot to the fairer, smarter sex. I mastered those first two lessons pretty quickly. I'm still working on the idiot thing.

Seth complied with the corporate protocols required of such an outing and I endured both a waiver and a safety lecture. Curiously, the safety lecture included something about not drinking alcohol. I wasn't sure that this included scotch but just in case I left the flask in the car and brought along an extra cigar.

Seth working a deep, fast run.
The river had come up a bit due to a couple of showers over the past few days and the water temperatures were lower. Though there was an uncertain rain as we walked down to a pool the skies were lightening and I expected before long we'd have comfortably cloudy skies.

Fishing with someone new is always a bit of an adventure. Sorta like dating I suppose though my last first date was twenty-five years ago so I'm a bit foggy on how that works. Most folks are harmless. Some you actually like. Others fancy duct tape and hockey masks (we all have our horror stories).

Mr. Brown
You never know which type it's going to be until you get there so it's always a good idea to make that initial trip short and in a public place. Finding out your same-sex fishing partner wants to be big spoon on day one of a four day back country trip can be quite an eye opener (Unless you're into that sorta thing (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)).

Seth was likable and easy going. A good guy to fish with. He was also new to the sport and while he had the basics down he took advice about tippet size, leader length and fly selection fairly readily. If he keeps sponging up knowledge, though hopefully from someone more knowledgeable than me, I think he's quickly going to be an excellent angler.

And he's going to just the right place to get such an education. It turns out Susquehanna is just an hour east of some of the finest streams in Pennsylvania which in turn are some of the finest trout streams in the East. Penn's Creek, Fishing Creek, Slate Run, the Little J, and Letort Spring Creek all provide undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral educations in tempting trout to the fly.

The fishing was what one would expect of late summer trout fishing; slow. I managed two nice browns to the net early in some fast water and though we worked a good piece of water hard for two more hours Seth couldn't shake the striped beast.

My goal for the day was to reach out the the LL Bean folks to make a connection to help with some of our Trout Unlimited projects. I hope we'll find ways to partner on youth education and Coldwater Conservation work. Seth gave me a name of a guy at the shop. What I hadn't expected was to meet someone who I'd fish with again. I hope he shoots me an email. I'm available for a road trip to Penn's Creek.

Mr. Brook from Friday evening's jaunt back to the Brook Trout stream.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Review: The Little Red Book of Fly Fishing

A deadly addition to the fly fishing arsenal.
I'm a reader. It took me a long time to start using digital books. My reluctance to e-read had to do with a belief that a book is so much more than a compilation of words. The value of a really good book is found not only in its words but also for the way it feels in the hand.

I like a book that feels compact and dense when held. Don't get me wrong, I also read books that feel wrong. But I really like a book with a critical mass that makes it feel like a weapon. Jason Bourne would have ended his fight with Desh much sooner had he traded that four hundred page, deckle-edged novel for something more compact, more lethal. Something like The Little Red Book of Fly Fishing by Kirk Deeter and Charlie Meyers.

I had seen this book on the shelf at the bookstore but resisted reading it. It wasn't like any "how to" book that I'd read before and I just couldn't get my head around how this deadly little tome might actually contain enough knowledge to warrant the seventeen dollar purchase price ($11ish on Amazon).

The book is organized into five sections covering casting, presentation, reading water, rigging flies and then the final section on everything else. Each section contains some of the book's 250 tips written in a very direct and conversational style. Each tip is penned by either Charlie or Kirk (their respective initials are at the end of each) and provides a unique point of view on each subject.

What I liked most about this book is the style and intent of the authors. As opposed to some academic tome on the subject of fly angling it feels like you're sitting around the fire at the end of a long day on the water, swilling beer and listening to your buddies talk about what worked and what didn't during the day.

Like most advice, especially from your goofball buddies, it's a take it or leave it sort of thing. Some ideas immediately click cause you've been there before, experienced the problem and can see how the tip might just work. Other's work because you've heard them twice before and now on the third try it's starting to sink in. Still others provide food for thought.

Here's a few samples of the tips and style of the book.

On wind knots & the Big Bang Theory:
....When I see the intricate mazes of highly complex, patterned knots that result from a micro-second lapse of concentration, it reinforces my belief that this whole delicately balanced universe may have indeed resulted from a massive explosion. -- K.D.
The ultimate casting advice (okay, this one is a bit preachy but it's spot on):
....Give me a good drift over a perfect cast, any day, and you'll catch more fish.... -- K.D.
Quoting Pat Dorsey:
...."The difference between a good fisherman and a great one is often no more than a BB" -- K.D. (If nymphing Steelhead teaches you only one thing it is that weight rules the day)
Daring to be different the tips all have unique names.
One of my favorite tips is #134: Raging Bull....You're standing on fish. Here Kirk talks about the fact that many anglers wade right in and cast to the far bank cause as everyone knows, that's where the fish are. Of course, they totally ignore the fact that the fish may have been right where they're standing before they eagerly waded in.

This was exactly the advice I got from the guide who taught me to nymph. As we approached the water, Mike (I can't recall his last name) instructed me to fish my way across to the seam we wanted to fish instead of wading through unfished water. Later as we worked our way upstream he nodded to a guy in a popular hole and said "That guy's standing where he ought to be fishing." Sage advice that has helped bring me fish over the years.

So, I give this book a solid recommendation with one caveat. I don't think this is a book for the beginner. You need some fly fishing context for the lessons contained within. You have to get out and make a bunch of mistakes and learn a few hard knocks lessons before I believe the advice will have the most positive impact. But I would highly recommend this book for someone who's on the journey to becoming an experienced fly angler.

Or anyone about to engage in mortal combat.

Full Disclosure: I received this book as part of the prize package for the TU/OBN/YPF/Simms Blogger Tour award. They then forced me to read it while Kirk Deeter was looking over my shoulder. Okay, that part is not true. But I did spend the better part of a week roaming around Yellowstone with Kirk and I consider him firmly on the friend list. Regardless of what influence you think free stuff and friendship have on me, I stand by my words.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Summer Night

Night is coming sooner now. I know that the summer solstice is the beginning of the end but through late June and July as the weather warms you don't notice the minutes being shaved daily. There's still hope for better weather and vacations and time with family. And there are hatches to be fished.

Now the warmth no longer nurtures hope. It's just hot and you want it to go away. The quickening evening provides some solace from the days travails and relief from the scorch but it leaves precious little time for casting bushy attractors beneath leaf burdened trees.

Last evening the meetings ended late and the only stream I thought fishable was a twenty minute drive. And then there was a misplaced cellphone that needed finding and an aborted search for a camera and then stringing up a rod streamside. All tasks that conspired to deliver me at deep twilight to the banks of a reliable Brook Trout stream.

And it was as reliable as I remembered. Hoppers attracted attention but Stimulators hooked fish. They were where you expected them to be in sixty-four degree water; fast water and quick seams.

The brute of the night was twelve inches. Thick. White edged fins caught the low light. Dark in the body. Found at the confluence of two seams that merge below an L shaped plunge.

The Brookies in this stream are dark. The green swirls on their backs yield to deep, dark flanks where the halo'd spots are well hidden. I felt cheated when I first caught these fish. The blue and red markings are difficult to discern and that's one of the features I like most about the Brookie. But they're unique and knowing that you know of it kind of makes up for the disappointment.

Deep under towering pines I realized that I was now fishing to sounds of a rise. I hadn't seen my fly in fifteen minutes. I was holding on desperately for another tug on the line though truth be told the fishing was already satisfying and unhooking fish in the dark is an anxiety building task I'd rather not perform.

The August night's voices were already loud. I hadn't noticed them start and wondered if they just picked up at full volume or rose gradually so I didn't notice them at first. Warbling tree frogs and their amphibian cousins were distinctive but the buzzing and chirping bugs all mixed together into the white noise that makes sleeping with an open window soothing at this time of year.

A headlamp helped me find the path south and I joined the beasts that scampered beneath the leaf litter moving to home. Moving to safety. Moving in the darkness and leaving the burden of the light behind.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Scientific Anglers

These people
rock! They fund
tons of great programs
in the park. Join now!
My contributions to conservation programs at Trout Unlimited are generally limited to either being arms and legs on a project or writing checks. They're both important roles and I fill them because I'm no scientist. About the closest I get to science is collecting bugs for our macroinvertebrate sampling. I don't know the bug's Latin names but I can fill a sample jar with them when required.

In Yellowstone there's a need for all manner of scientific study to support the execution and refinement of the Native Fish Conservation Plan. Some of that work includes fish sampling. It's everything from "What type of  fish are in those streams?" to "What's their genetic make-up? ".

Given the vast geography of the park - 2,650 miles of streams and 110,000 acres of lakes - you need a lot of human beings to go do that work and to do so the National Park Service relies upon volunteers to help.

And these volunteer are not scientists, they're fly anglers.

Funded by the Yellowstone Park Foundation since 2003, Yellowstone National Park's Volunteer Fly Fishing Program runs from June through September each year. Each day the program's volunteer directors take a handful of anglers on fishing trips. The purpose of these trips is to complete fish sampling for projects identified by fisheries biologists at the beginning of each season.

Bill Voigt, co-director of the Volunteer Fly Fishing
Program, Best Job on the Planet
According to Bill Voigt, co-director of the volunteer program, and a volunteer himself, the science and the projects are quite diverse. In one study they collected whole fish in several lakes to support a loon study for a university in Oregon. Loons summered in the lakes where the fish were sampled. Researchers want to know how mercury moves through the food chain of loons.

Lucky volunteers also fished the Firehole River to study the impact of the park's many thermal features on trout. Water temperatures were documented where fish were caught, fin clips were taken and fish were measured. All that angling amounted to data for researchers and a good day on the water and a tug on the line for volunteers.

If you're visiting Yellowstone Park in the future you can participate in this program. Bill's only criteria seems to be that you have an interest in the work at hand. Angling experience levels don't seem to matter and old and young can participate alike.

To help ease the financial burden, volunteers receive a free pass to the park and free lodging. Volunteers can choose between living in the bunkhouse or camping at a campsite near the research team's headquarters.

I'm already plotting my return to the park and when I do so volunteering for the program will be a must do activity. I'm sure I'll find Bill and his wife, Joann, side-by-side leading projects along the park's waters helping normal folks become scientific anglers.

Rebecca and Marc fishing the Lamar River
Rebecca lost a very nice fish along here (you're welcome for reminding you of it) and
I got a nice Rainbow not too far from where Marc is standing. Otherwise, a very slow afternoon on the river.
Editor’s note: In June, Trout Unlimited, along with Simms, the Yellowstone Park Foundation and the Outdoor Blogger Network, held an essay contest. Two winners, Marc Payne and I, were selected to attend the second annual TU Blogger Tour – this year’s tour took place July 24-28 in Yellowstone National Park. It was friggin' awesome.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Point at it!

Slough Creek is a tributary of the Lamar River which in turn is a tributary of the Yellowstone. It is a delightful stream that winds its way down from mountain meadows way up in Montana, crosses over the fat, imaginary boundary line into Yellowstone National Park, then into Wyoming, before it meanders down to the Lamar.

As part of the Yellowstone drainage Slough Creek should be chock full of Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout (YCT). They're there for sure. But one will also find a few Rainbows and hybrids and who knows what else.

According to Mike Ruhl, a Fisheries Research Scientist at Yellowstone National Park and the lead guy for fish conservation in the rivers and streams of the park, Rainbow Trout were stocked in the Lamar River in 1938 and in another tributary of the Lamar, Soda Butte Creek, in 1937.

Additionally, Westslope Cutthroat Trout (you can't make this stuff up) were stocked into tributaries of the Yellowstone drainage, notably the Lamar, in the early 20s. These are great trout streams so it was very easy for these legacy non-natives to settle into their new homes. And once you're in the neighborhood you might as well visit other nearby streams. And they have.

We took a hike up Slough Creek on Thursday. At least I think it was Thursday. The cumulative effect of PBRs was beginning to take its toll. Regardless, one day two weeks ago we hiked into bear country to find some trout.
A fearless walk in bear country. I let everyone go up ahead while I checked to make
sure we didn't get ambushed from the rear.

Rich Hohne, Simms Marketing Manager Extraordinaire
boulder hopping in the canyon. Source: Rebecca Garlock.
There's a steep, boulder strewn canyon about a half mile or so upriver from the campground and that's where the fishy water starts. Above there is a meadow, Upper Slough Creek, where some lunkers are rumored to live. We split at the canyon with the more patient heading up to the meadow and those of us who just couldn't wait any longer to wet a line set out to work the canyon's pockets.

There was a sweet little plunge pool along the near bank that was well guarded by a leaning pine. My first cast got a look, the second a strike and then I did my best to spook the whole damn thing. All in all the first hour or so on the water was unproductive though others found fish.

After hopping some rocks and wading the rapids Rebecca Garlock, Marc Payne and I decided to fish downstream in some slower water that just begged to be fished. We all managed some smaller fish, mostly Cutthroats with one Rainbow in the mix, but we lacked a satisfying tug on the line.

The Wooley Bugger Rules
After another hour of working along a gravel bar with Rebecca I decided to return to the foot of the canyon and fish the fast water where earlier Marc had seen a larger fish roll. I sensed a Wooley Bugger hatch coming off so I tied on my best #8 Olive imitation and went to work.

On my third swing the fly stopped dead and the rod bent with a curve that was the inverse of the smile that immediately lit my face. This was a heavy fish that made a short run to the deep water of the immense pool where he tried to hide to no avail.

The fight wasn't dramatic. Some heavy tugging occurred and there was the occasional swirl on the surface but for the size and weight of the fish I would have expected more energy. That's not to say the fight was short but I would have appreciated a leap or two. In fact, the most pulse livening dimension of the fight was me praying for the tippet and knots to hold.

Marc fishing the run at the bottom of the canyon.
I was disappointed that Rebecca and Marc weren't there to see the battle. Part of that was ego driven but I also relish the camaraderie that is borne of shared success and without someone to share it with it only felt like half a fish.

My telepathic powers must have been enhanced by my excitement because when I looked up a few moments later I saw the two of them coming around the bend on the far side of the river. They were waving and were excited; no doubt from seeing the bend in my rod.

As I scooped the fish into the net I looked up and exclaimed in a loud and confident voice "Big Fish!".

And it was not a lie. The fish easily exceeded the seventeen inch opening on my net and was so fat that I couldn't measure it's circumference by connecting the fingers and thumbs of my two hands. It was fat, fat, fat. And long.

Trying to pick a pocket without luck.
Source: Marc Payne
Rebecca echoed her excitement by shouting in an equally confident and loud voice "Bear!"

Now I have only been fishing for a few years but I was pretty sure that this was a trout and not a bear. Then Marc shouted something about a bear and then Rebecca said "On your side!" and my fishing brain slowly yielded to cro-magnon brain and processed this whole "bear" thing and it dawned upon me that my special moment with a large trout was being trumped with the threat of mauling by a large furry beast.

"Where?", I shouted back.

"On your side" came the reply.

Yes, I know that but if it's not behind me (it wasn't, I checked) and I can't see it so I need more information.

"Where?" I asked again and got the same reply. Okay, that was stupid. Maybe I should ask a different question.

With a flash of brilliance I said "Point at it!"

She did. Somewhere vaguely downstream well out of view.

Now I started bargaining with myself. Surely the threat was not imminent. For all I knew the bear was a mile away, had one eye and a limp and wouldn't be here for days, if ever. Surely I had time to unhook this magnificent beast, snap a few photos and bask in the adulation of my angling comrades.

But both Marc and Rebecca renewed their pleas for me to join them on the non-bear side of the river and since the fish managed to roll out of the net as I considered this, I was immediately faced with a logistical problem that was soon solved when I grabbed the leader and snapped off the fish; the olive bugger swam away with its new friend.

I moved around the pool to the shallow riffle and saw the bear for the first time. It was on my side of the river, on the bank, about one hundred yards away. Black bear, probably. Smaller than I expected but still a good sized beast at a distance.

Swimming bear. Who's side of the river is safe now?
Source: Rebecca Garlock
I crossed over to the "safe" side of the river and moved downstream a bit to get a better look at the thing. It was then that we noticed the bear was also crossing to the "safe" side of the river. This was no surprise to me as I have been told that bears are safety oriented since I was a young'un.

We were joined by another angling couple who also saw the bear so now the five of us stood watching the bear swim upstream towards us. It turns out that I was the only one carrying bear spray so I was nominated to stand in front of everyone and to do something to prevent mauling.

The bear wandered along the bank for a bit moving in our general direction. Then it disappeared behind a small rise at the edge of the gravel bar and then reappeared right at the top of that rise looking at us. Ten yards away. Maybe fifteen. Not more than fifteen. This was close enough.

I gave the bear a firm "Hey, bear" in the same loud and confident voice used earlier. I wanted to put it on notice that a whole world of hurt was about to come down on it -- assuming I pointed the bear spray in the right direction and didn't gas us all before we were lunched upon.

The bear halted and gave us a "Where the hell did all of you come from!" look before quickly turning and trundling off into the woods. Of course, before he departed he paused in a clearing and answered the age old question. Later we noted that the bear wasn't so much coming towards us as he was following the path the winds along the river's edge.

Marc went back downstream to fish the water the bear had chased encouraged him off of and I went back upstream with Rebecca to see if lightning would strike twice.

No joy.

Marc, Rebecca and I on Slough Creek. That beach over my left shoulder is Bear Beach
The big fish I caught was sadly not a Cutthroat. Nor was it a Rainbow. It was a hybrid. It had the slashes on the throat but it was spotted heavily like a Rainbow. I'm not sure if it was hybridized with the Yellowstone Cutties or some hardy Westslope from generations past but regardless it is the poster child for what needs to change in this particular watershed -- Rainbows Out, Cutties In.

I should have killed it though I'm not sure if that'd been legal.

Finding a hybrid that large in a river that is thought of as a stronghold for Cutties is surely another sign of why the Conservation Plan needs to move forward. Mike Ruhl mentioned that the boulder strewn canyon we fished was once thought to be a natural barrier but they now know they'll have to create some sort of constructed barrier before restoration efforts can begin.

The plan for eliminating Rainbows and early hybrids from Upper Slough Creek (above the Canyon) will included electrofishing as well as harvest by anglers.

Where do you (and I) sign up?

Well, I'll tell you a bit about how anglers are helping research and conservation efforts next week.

A quick photo taken of the Franken hybrid shortly before the potential non-mauling.
I loved that Olive Bugger. I will miss it.

Editor’s note: In June, Trout Unlimited, along with Simms, the Yellowstone Park Foundation and the Outdoor Blogger Network, held an essay contest. Two winners, Marc Payne and I, were selected to attend the second annual TU Blogger Tour–this year’s tour took place July 24-28 in Yellowstone National Park.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Setting the stage

Storm clouds above Yellowstone Lake. Invaders below.
A 7:15 a.m. flight requires you to be up and on the road early. Fortunately, the Jackson airport is close to town and small; there were no lines at check-in or at security. And, you get to see that early morning light on the Tetons. Quite an improvement over Laguardia.

Clear Creek is a spawning tributary that has been used
as a benchmark for Yellowstone Cutties for decades.
Source: National Park Service
As I sat outside of security putting on my boots a woman sat next to me and stated that she was homesick and ready to go home. She asked me of I felt the same. I said, "No, I could stay here forever."

Coming home brings me back to the beginning. While there are many thoughts and memories yet to be cataloged from my trip to Yellowstone, on the flight home I found myself rereading the Native Fish Conservation Plan for Yellowstone National Park. I now have terrific context through which to view this plan.

As the plan's title indicates the true purpose is to restore and protect native fish in the waters of the park. This is important not only for the fishery itself, but for the entire ecosystem that is dependent upon these native fish being where they're supposed to be.

The best example of why the natives are important to Yellowstone is in the displacement of native Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout by invasive Lake Trout in Yellowstone Lake. Over 30 species, from Grizzly Bears to Osprey to Mink, count on the Yellowstone Cutthroat making spawning runs into rivers and streams where some of them can be eaten.

Historical ranges and watersheds for native trout.
Source: National Park Service
You can't trade Lakers for Cutthroat in this example because Lakers don't run up the tributaries. Lakers spawn in the lake in waters too deep to be accessed by wildlife. It is a case where not having natives isn't a philosophical issue but a fundamental  one. They are not available as food for animals. And they're not available to most anglers.

And more importantly, the restoration of natives is in line with everything the park and the National Park Service is legally mandated to be:
"....preserves abundant and diverse wildlife in one of the largest remaining intact wild ecosystems on earth...." - March 1, 1872 Act of Congress creating Yellowstone Park.
"[The National Park Service] shall ...conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."  - NPS Organic Act of 1916
So with a legal, regulatory and natural mandate to preserve and restore these fish populations, what the heck are they doing?

The Plan has the following goals:.
  • Reduction in the long-term extinction risk for fluvial Arctic grayling (GRY), westslope cutthroat trout (WCT), and Yellowstone cutthroat trout (YCT);
  • Restoration and maintenance of the important ecological role of native fishes; and
  • Creation of sustainable native fish angling and viewing opportunities for the public.
I especially like that last one.

Natives have been under attack for generations.
Source: National Park Service
These goals are simple to understand and far more difficult to realize. Not only has the unofficial introduction of the Lake Trout had a stunning impact on the Yellowstone Lake Cutties but so has decades of official stocking by the park. While stocking of trout ended in the 50's there are currently wild populations of Rainbow, Brook and Brown trout in many waters in the park including the marquee rivers. Native trout are at an all-time low in many waters.

The plan divides the conservation approaches and measurements between Yellowstone Lake and its tribs and all other rivers, streams and lakes in the park.

For Yellowstone Lake and the affected area measurable goals include:
  • Increase large-scale suppression of lake trout (LKT) to reduce the population by 25% each year (annual fishing mortality rate of 0.56).
  • Maintain surface water access for spawning cutthroat trout in at least 45 (75%) of the 59 known, historical spawning tributaries.
  • Recover YCT abundance to the average observed during the five years following LKT discovery (1995–1999; average of 12,800 spawning YCT at Clear Creek). 
For everything else, they'll measure success by:
  • Preserve and/or restore genetically unaltered YCT to maintain their current spatial extent in streams (3,300 km, which is 75% of the 4,400 km that historically contained YCT).
  • Restore genetically unalteredWCT until they occupy at least 200 km (20% of 1,000-km historical WCT distribution).
  • Restore fluvial GRY until they occupy at least 200 km (20% of 1,000-km historical GRY distribution).
For Yellowstone Lake, netting is the current strategy to remove the Lakers though going after spawning grounds is something that will be piloted this fall. There's a bit of a technology leap required to make it work. I'll have a post later that will describe the work being done on the lake.

On the streams, creating fish barriers or utilizing natural barriers will be the first stage in a strategy that will eliminate invasives and then repopulate with pure strain natives. Again, that'll be another post for how they'll do it including a fascinating tale of how native Westslope Cutthroat populations, once thought long gone, were rediscovered.

So, enough about science and policy. I'll follow this up with a fishing story on Wednesday. Not only is it a tale of fishing for natives but there's a peek at the impact of invasive trout as well as a bear story all wrapped into one.

Marc fishing the Gibbon River. Brown Trout are the norm here. West Slope Cutthroat should be here.

Editor’s note: In June, Trout Unlimited, along with Simms, the Yellowstone Park Foundation and the Outdoor Blogger Network, held an essay contest. Two winners, Marc Payne and I, were selected to attend the second annual TU Blogger Tour–this year’s tour took place July 24-28 in Yellowstone National Park.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Shit Creek

Yes, I probably should be taking this lunch hour to grind through the hundreds of emails that racked up during my ten day vacation but I just couldn't resist a look at the stream flow gauge on a local river.

13 cfs.

Low, but about average for this time of year. The water temps have to be pushing seventy which is why I'll stay away until September or so.

My brain lingered on this number for a moment and I realized that at this flow rate, the wastewater treatment plant upstream must be contributing a significant percentage to the flow. So, with the power of Google search and a spreadsheet I did the math.

11.09% of the river's flow is wastewater effluent. Yum!

And now for something completely different.

Clearing Storm, Grand Tetons