Ravenous in Yellowstone

Two fish swam lazily on the leeward seam of a boulder just on the edge of the outlet of Tower Creek in Yellowstone Lake. One was very large, fat but stout, olive green with white spots, clearly he was a Mackinaw, the lake trout. His maw was full of sharp teeth and clearly he had just eaten because he didn’t seem to mind the trout holding next to him in the current. The trout was smaller and leaner, but had broad shoulders, and in the right light, he gleamed gold with an olive green back and black spots. He had great red slashes below his mouth, the mark of a cutthroat trout. The two fish eyed each other with caution, finally, the lake trout felt compelled to speak to the smaller trout and turned slightly to speak.

“Look at me brother and despair. In the waters of my ancestors, I was a great King. No herring could escape my hunger or my deadly attack from the deepest darkest depths.  My people are at war in our homewaters with the Salmon. But my people have been transplanted again and again and every where I invade, my instincts become a scourge. Here I dwell now, in my new kingdom, the mighty Yellowstone Lake. I have conquered you and now you are my subject. “

The cutthroat did not seem impressed, and he swam a couple of circles around the lake trout. He smiled politely before speaking.

“Yes, it is true, you have made your mark, you’ve taken many of my brothers and sisters, you have reduced us to mere food. We once roamed this lake and its tributaries in the millions. When the sun turned its great orb on Yellowstone, it often blushed with envy at the golden light we produced, and now we are diminished. We run and hide, far up the creeks to escape your armies.”

The great lake trout practically swooned in his power.

“Then why are you not hiding from me now my morsel? Is it because I’ve just eaten and you can see I have no more room for you?”

The cutthroat replied, “No, we no longer need to hide, for we’ve found new allies and I’m here to deliver a message. Your own ravenous hunger will be your downfall.”

The large lake trout was troubled by the message, but only momentarily, for his hunger had returned and so he turned and snapped-up the cutthroat trout. Suddenly he felt satisfied, even pleased that he had once again let his instincts guide him. In his reverie, he turned and headed back for the deep, but found that he couldn’t move. There was something around his neck that grasped at his gills. In a panic he gave a shove but was held fast. He tried to breath and found he could not. He tried to swim down to the depths but the turn only made it worse. He began to see spots and blackness, his vision was fading. It dawned on him then, the other trout’s prophetic warning had come true. His last thoughts were, “Perhaps if I had spared my brother, I would not be stuck fast in this net, but then, I rule here, do I not?”

———–

America’s first park is under siege, not by armies, but by a fish, a non-native from the char family, the Mackinaw, commonly known as the lake trout. Since its illegal introduction in the mid-90s, Lakers have devastated the once millions-strong native population of cutthroat trout. Voracious predators, lakers kill the fry and adult cutthroat and crowd out every other species of fish, removing a vital step in the ecosystem that supports more than forty other species in Yellowstone Park, including otters, bears, wolves, foxes and various raptors. Unlike cuthroat, lakers dwell deep and avoid predation. Today, the National Park Service, local chapters of Trout Unlimited and other partners are joined in a battle to restore balance to the lake and its tributaries, with an aggressive lake trout reduction plan, involving tagging and gill netting. Because of their size, lake trout can be netted, allowing younger smaller cutthroat to escape.

In my growth as a fly fisher, I have rekindled a deep and passionate commitment to our environment and its protection. Here in NY, the laker is a prized fish pursued by trolling, seldom taken on the fly. However, the “Mack” has no place out west, not when we have the science and knowledge to protect our native species. However, this battle is about more than science. Reducing the lake trout population and restoring cutthroats in Yellowstone is symbolic. In an era when every pristine habitat is under threat from mining, development or climate change, the seemingly immovable forces of business and man, the challenge of restoring balance is under our control. Individuals can make a difference. By entering the 2012 Outdoor Blogger Tour contest I hope to be able to witness first hand the efforts of the National Park Service in protecting Yellowstone and returning to NY to think, write and talk about it with my local TU chapter. Though I know conservation begins at home, the protection of Yellowstone’s native species stands as a special effort that can inspire us all.

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

Sulphurs at Twilight

I decided to get back to the river and see if the sulphur hatch I had experienced last week was going on–and force myself to stay late enough to really experience it. Seemed the word had gotten out and the river was loaded with guys, but all at respectful distances. Greetings were given, smiles were shared. Oh yeah…it was still going on, just had to wait til nightfall. I amused myself by hooking a 17″ brown on a barr emerger but in a lapse of focus he broke off. Later I walked in the exact opposite direction of the guys to go far downstream where trout were rising under overhangs to nymphs and emergers in the film. I couldn’t quite figure out the pattern and so in frustration tied on a big white cahill, maybe a #14 I think. Within a couple casts a big brown came out of nowhere, not even in the feeding lane, and chomped it. He was a handful to land and after several good runs, I got him in the net.

Later, I caught his little brother on a Royal Wulff (my first on that type of fly). He was spastic–and I suppose had never been hooked in his life, because he fought like mad with several jumps. Very spirited.

Since my last visit, it seemed that the hatch had slowed or rather, pushed later, because trout didn’t really start rising until after the sun set. I had a HARD time tying on the light cahill to imitate the sulphurs that started popping off in fits and bursts. It was magical because they seemed to glow in the twilight as they rose off the water. Way upstream, an angler must have caught THE fish of the night because he started yelling for help and a net. I myself cast only once or twice before an enormous brown took my fly and decided to run first upstream, then downstream. I forced myself to remember to keep an angle and play him back and forth. Finally he tired and I slid him almost backward into the net–but HOLD on, he wouldn’t fit. I was looking down at one of the biggest browns of my life.

Easily, 22″, maybe 23″, right then I should have cried out for help myself–so I could get a good picture. He was just too large to pick up in one hand and get a good pic. AND OF COURSE, I didn’t have the camera light on so none of my pictures of him in the net came out. More than the image of him though, his weight is imprinted in my memory. I put my hands around the back of his neck and felt a chord of muscle and determination as I slid him back in the water. I’ll admit, I was haunted for a day or two by not getting a good picture, but only for a day. We’ll meet again my friend, we’ll meet again.

Personal Best

I’m beat. I’m exhausted. My hand hurts, my eyes sting, my back is sore….

But yesterday I had the BEST day of fly fishing since I’d taken up the fly rod last May… I took the day off and hit a local river thinking there might be something happening given we’d had a couple of days of rain, 72 degree weather and the forest canopy was finally full… I headed for a particularly pressured stretch of water on a fork of a river that I had avoided all season.  I should have known it would be a special day when I bumped into some regulars from last season who gave me a nod, wink and smile. I walked up to a well-known challenging pool to see what could be seen. Suckers, carp, oh and rising browns…everywhere. I tied a pheasant tail nymph to a caddis as a dropper and on the second cast and I hooked into a 15″ holdover brown, my biggest from that pool so far. I was so surprised that I almost forgot how to play him in.

I thought it was a fluke until I bumped into another fellow angler whom I’d met last season who told me that he’d had some of the best fishing EVER on the this fork in the past week. The trout were fat and happy from the mild winter and there’s been some epic hatches to boot (caddis, BWO’s, sulphurs).  Seems the big reservoir browns moved in to eat the sucker and carp spawn as well (reservoirs gleam gold and silver, the holdovers are more buttery brown from a life in the river). He said he’d caught three 15″ fish on the previous night and broke off two… I thought, well, that’s HIM, he’s been fly fishing this river for 40 years, of course he gets the big ones…but maybe something was going on…

Then I moved out of the pool and upstream, to see, dozens of wild browns rising, no stockies–just clear bright scales, a full blood red adipose fin and tell tale white stripes on their anal fins. They were small, about 9-10″, but mixed in were some brutes. I spent an hour trying to raise a 18″ brown who was eating nymphs as he defended a depression bowl under the rocky tailout of a pool under a bridge. I threw everything at him until he finally started to rise to my parachute BWO which he finally ate on maybe the thirtieth cast. I was particularly pleased that he did so right in front of two other anglers too who were catching the smaller trout hand over fist… Unfortunately, after five minutes of playing him, and nearly falling in, I let too much slack and lowered my rod tip, and he broke off, but not before I felt a deep connection to him.

Happy, already satisfied to tell the truth, I decided to move up the river, past the bridge. I’ve had some luck in the eddies, nymphing, but in a particularly long run below a dam, I always got skunked, despite rises–or at least I did last season. This time, with much more confidence, I waded on in, right up the center, casting to the bubble line and up under trees near the banks, and immediately starting hooking-up with browns. I could see caddis popping off and sulphers struggling on the surface so I fished those, and alternated back and forth with a BWO and light cahill and caught a few 10″ers but as I moved upstream of the tailout, the fish got bigger.

I would catch a big 16 or 17″ fat brown on the rise, and then it would take several minutes to play him back downstream so he didn’t mess up the fishing upstream. I’d snap a pic and then wade back, this time just a little further than before, wait for another wave of the hatch and cast and hook up again. I did this about eight times, each time hooking up from about 5pm to 8pm. I landed six out of the eight and each was 15″+, most 17 or 18″, and bright with gleaming bronze colors, blood red spots and the tell-tale white anal fin markings of wild fish. A couple had a blue dot just behind their eye. One buttery brown just spazzed out on me completely and jumped once, twice, and then again. Another bull-dogged and just dove for the bottom like a ton of bricks. Each one was a different experience. A couple had lazy takes, others were ferocious rises and scared me half to death. I heard the famous toilet-bowl flush several times on the river. All up and down the run, the slap of rises and slurps of takes and flushes of big gulps was like a slow drumbeat that seemed to slow time, putting me in a trance.

In the fading light, I tied on a light cahill and as I waded back, casually tossed it at rises here and there–the fish were nosing it–and then one last ferocious take and I was hooked up again, with what I think was the biggest of the day. I could feel his mass below the water. My rod bent over immediately but before I could put a proper angle on it, I was so tired, I dropped the tip and the brown made a run which broke me off. I smiled and turned downstream to wade to the edge of the pool. As the sun set casting the river in deep shadow, I didn’t need to see any more trout come to hand today, I could hear them all around me, and that was more than enough.

The Housatonic

This weekend the Gowanus Noodlers hit the Housatonic for the first time. We were celebrating our one-year anniversary since our Wulff School meeting where we learned to fly fish. The Housatonic is big water and feels very much like a Western trout river. Broad, meandering, with a freestone bottom but tailwater characteristics, the main TMA is about 9km and stretches mostly through a state park between two bridges in Cornwall and West Cornwall. The water was about 800 CFS and very wadeable due to low snow melt this winter and the classic Mother’s Day caddis hatch was on in the mornings and evenings.

It’s not a native trout fishery–gets too hot in the summer–but it gets hold-overs. Tuesday they stocked 9K bows and browns that go from 12 – 18″ or more. The Housy really looks like a classic western river, wide in many areas with over a dozen good pools and plenty of pulloffs for cars. Its surrounded by a state park so feels isolated and quiet, very little humans except those on the road. The browns held close to the banks and the bows in the riffles and fast water. Armed with a map of the various pools from the Housatonic Fly Fisher’s Association, we pulled in about 20 fish and missed half as many more. I had on a couple of monsters who broke me off–holdovers easily in the 20+ range, but most trout was an average 13-15″.

Though stocked, the bows were good fighters lots of jumps. Early in the day there was a good caddis hatch, then nymphing for the middle of the day and then caddis again in the evening, as well as some big mayflies. It may look a little fast for dry flies, but once you get on the water, you find fish rising in some obvious places.


The river is breathtaking right now, and fishing very well. Whats more, I saw an owl and large wild turkey, along lots of other waterfowl–it feels a million miles away. One hole, the “garbage hole” (see above), could have been straight out of Montana, really. This is one river I expect to return to on a monthly basis. Especially as it gets warmer and the smallies come upriver. I love smallies on the fly. We already caught a few and I sight-fished to at least a 6lb bronzeback in pre-spawn–before he broke me off. You could get away with a 5wt, but if you have a 7/8wt that won’t hurt either to get your cast out there, because on occasion we saw rises in the middle of the river but unreachable due to drop-offs and so forth.

 

Film CRAFT X

This is the tenth installment of Film CRAFT. I’m surprised and happy to see you’re still with me. I’ve been going through a lot of change in the last year and searching for, hunting down films that show American craftsmen and artists building things with their hands, reminds me to keep it simple. Of course nothing in life is simple, but when I watch these films, I get to dwell in the space where the mind slows and the hand takes over. Instinct merges with hard-earned skill and insight seems as tangible as taking a book off the shelf.

 

Cypress Kayaks

 

John Derian

 

Outlier

 

Tom Mylan, The Meat Hook, The Better Bacon Book (actually an iPad app).

 

An Afternoon With… Mikael Kennedy

 

And just in time for the Derby…

Mint Julep at Bohemian Hotel

Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership

I recently learned about the work of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) through one my favorite author/outdoorsman, Steven Rinella. Perusing the MeatEater website I saw the videos Rinella did in partnership with TRCP “Conservation Field Notes.”  You can view them here. They are well-shot, impassioned and detailed. TRCP’s mission “Guaranteeing you a place to hunt and fish” aligns tightly on public policy that will effect our rights as anglers and hunters in an increasingly contentious, anti-environment government. I feel strongly that the Obama administration and Congress isn’t doing nearly enough in this area to protect what I think are inalienable public access rights being chewed-up by the 1%. Nor are they looking long-term at the environmental benefits inherent in protecting access.

The TRCP has also created a short series called TRCP’s Native Trout Adventures. Joel Webster, Director of TRCP Center for Western Lands travels across the west fishing native trout fisheries with policymakers, environmentalists, and fish and game officials to shine a light on how precious and varied our native trout is. Along with some beautiful fly fishing, the webisodes explain the various initiatives the TRCP is involved in to protect and restore native trout populations. I had never even heard of the Redband trout or that there was a species of sea-run cut-throat. I was particularly thrilled to learn about the Roadless Areas initiative which keeps development in check in crucial habitat. And thrilled to learn that I could help by supporting the TRCP. I’m now pondering a serious cross-country, multi-year trip to fish for every last one of America’s native trout.