Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Guest Post: Flathead Lake Bull Trout and Cutthroats in Trouble

Editor's Note: 

*For anyone who has followed this blog for any amount of time has come to put up with a few conservation minded posts that have been of my opinion alone. Through the Outdoor Blogger Network, I came across this recent conservation post about Flathead Lake and how the introduction of non-native lake trout has impacted the fishery, and thought it worthwhile to repost it on "Up the Poudre".


The following is a guest post by Chris Schustrom and Bruce Farling. The two Trout Unlimited officials in Montana are working to protect native west slope cutthroat trout and bull trout in the Flathead Lake watershed. This opinion piece is available for posting at The Outdoor Blogger Network

Flathead Lake fishery collapsing thanks to non-native lake trout
By Chris Schustrom and Bruce Farling

West slope Cutthroat trout

This spring native westslope cutthroat and bull trout will stage for their epic journeys from Flathead Lake to spawning streams in the Middle and North Forks Flathead River.  Once quite common, their numbers are significantly diminished from the recent past because many cannot navigate the gauntlet of predacious non-native lake trout(and illegally introduced northern pike)that occupy the lake and river. Our neighbors, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, want to bolster the populations of native fish to once again provide a diverse sport fishery as well as revive an important part of tribal culture. With the support of anglers, the assistance of objective science and a review panel of biologists from state and federal agencies, as well as the university system, the tribes are working hard to strike a reasonable balance in the fishery at Flathead Lake. They deserve your support.

Flathead Lake once hosted one of Montana’s most popular and robust sport fisheries, featuring millions of kokanee salmon, cutthroats, yellow perch, bull trout and lake trout. Today, the salmon are gone and cutthroat and bull trout numbers have been reduced dramatically. Also gone are many fishermen. Perch and lake whitefish remain, but their availability fluctuates year to year, depending on water levels and predation. Well-meaning state managers who introduced Mysis shrimp into the Flathead system in the 1980s triggered the decline in the lake’s fishery and fishing opportunities. The shrimp provide an ample food source for young lake trout, improving their survival rates. Once these lake trout get larger they feed on other fish. In the nineties the exploding lake trout population consumed about 10 million kokanee in Flathead Lake, collapsing perhaps the most popular lake fishery in the state. Angling numbers then dropped by about 50 percent.  When the kokanee disappeared, so did hundreds of bald eagles that gathered each fall to gorge on spawning salmon at McDonald Creek in Glacier National Park. Thousands of tourists then stopped coming to view the eagles. Tourism dollars dropped.

The culprit ... introduced non-native lake trout

The large lake trout population – as well as illegally introduced northern pike — also preys on bull trout. The result has been an alarming loss of the native fish in the lake and the connected North and Middle Forks. Today, adult bull trout in Flathead Lake are estimated to be only about 3,000 fish. Localized spawning populations continue to disappear. It is now illegal to fish for them. Scientists estimate lake trout numbers, however,are around 1.8 million. They are tough to catch without a large boat and specialized gear. Lake trout migrating from Flathead Lake have also nearly eliminated bull trout from 10 of 13 lakes on the west side of Glacier Park. Further, they have severely reduced cutthroat numbers in the upper Flathead system, reducing their population to less than half of what they were before Mysis arrived. Because many of the easier-to-catch cutthroats in the upper Flathead River system migrate from the lake, angling opportunities – and the tourism dollars they generate — in the Middle and North Forks are threatened by lake trout.

The near monoculture of lake trout in Flathead Lake threatens the future of sportfishing in the upper Flathead basin. The tribes, however, are addressing this challenge head-on. They are evaluating tools, including maintaining fishing tourneys coupled with limited and scientifically based netting, that can reduce the lake trout population to a reasonable number. This could reduce predation and benefit native bull and cutthroat trout, as well as other sportfish such as perch and lake whitefish. It would also still maintain a lake trout fishery for the minority of anglers who can afford powerboats and the specialized gear it takes to pursue them. Despite the fears of the small cadre of commercial charter operators who fish for lake trout, it would be impossible to eliminate their favored fish from Flathead Lake.

Without new approaches at Flathead Lake, bull trout and cutthroat trout will eventually be reduced to a tiny fraction of their historical numbers, or even extirpated. Without new approaches, angling opportunities and the economic benefits they generate, will continue to dwindle. Without trying, and instead turning the lake and river over to lake trout, we will be judged harshly by future Montanans who will never feel the tug of a large cutthroat on their line at Flathead Lake.

 Bruce Farling is the executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited. Chris Schustrom is the president of the Flathead Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

New Rooms

The television groaned unintelligibly from the other room, leaving two dogs confused on the couch. Pundits seemed to be squawking about the impending doom of a nation, while the two bulldogs sat patiently, waiting for the channel to be tuned back to something more “comfortable”. The last three times CiCi tried to change the channel on her own, it cost me the remote. It is an expensive habit that I am trying to break, leaving the changer on the couch that is. Grabbing the remote from the chest that doubles as our coffee table, both dogs watched as I punched in the three numbers that bring Saturday morning animation. I reminded Rex that I used to watch the same thing at his age. He smiled.

With the dogs taken care of, I walked back to the small room that I have claimed as my own. It isn’t big by any stretch of the imagination, but it is big enough for my desk, chair, and most importantly, the fly fishing gear that I have dutifully accumulated over the years. And taking one look into the southeast corner of the space, I can confidently say that I have been doing everything in my power to stimulate the economy. It feels good.

Un-emptied boxes lay scattered on the floor, ready to be aired out from a move that happened three weeks ago, but a transition that is still uncomfortably new. But soon enough, the books, videos, tying materials, vise, and any other unnecessary, but still very pertinent objects will find a spot that will define their home. Or at the very least, the junk will get respite from its confinement in the cardboard where it now sits idle. Maybe idle is okay.

The smell of the fresh paint has started to fade, all but replacing an old tenant’s enthusiasm. Two coats took care of that. Two coats that replace memories that were not mine, but respectfully acknowledge a past I didn’t know. Much like the slide that pours off our deck into a small garden, I don’t ask questions, I simply appreciate the whimsy. A whimsy that makes it tolerable to pull half a dozen wall anchors out of a six inch by six inch square, or replace the shower/sauna grade “can” lights that gave little to no light in the dining room and kitchen . This house was not ours to judge, we came in late. It just happens to be our turn in the rotation to make this home our own.

I recounted the rods, trying not to be caught doing any real work to my new space. Maybe idle is okay, I’ll go check on the dogs.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Warming House

A piercing wind cut down the exposed canyon, hitting my neck with an unbridled ferocity that quickly took the romance out of the task at hand. The unwelcomed gust pushed me back, forcing ten toes to clench numbingly to two frozen soles. I pulled the hood over my ears and hat, reminding myself that I used to live in North Dakota, and even though I was hit, I wasn’t soft. I refocused my eyes on the water, just in time to watch the two familiar nymphs skate across its surface. So much for line control I thought, as the faux bugs took flight behind me.  At least I wouldn’t have to worry about my backcast.

The next cast, I watched the wind push my line downstream, sending confirmation that my flies weren’t anywhere close to where the fish were feeding in the water column. What else was new? The cold started to set in as I checked my flies for imperfections and the leader for any knot I hadn’t tied. Snipping off the bottom fly, I traded it for something with a tungsten bead and a little more weight. Regardless, with the steady gale, the change was made for nothing more than peace of mind.

Jake and I had made plans to fish a few days earlier at a Trout Unlimited banquet, where he and a few of the other local tiers were showcasing their skills and raising money for the chapter. Jake was tying a few articulated streamers, demonstrating a particular pattern that had been wreaking havoc on the city trout of Fort Collins. While the other tiers, showed off flies that ranged from practical to artistic, but all could be fished if one chose to do so. Although visually, many of these flies have been tied for the fisherman's eye alone, they are touted as the must haves, that is, if you are a respectable fly fisherman. I’m not so sure, as my vise has the tendency to prove, ugly bugs can and will catch fish too. You just need to appreciate them for what they are, tools. How many times have you heard someone say, “Wow…that sure is a pretty looking hammer”?

Two weeks earlier, Jake and I had fished the same stretch of water with a certain degree of success. A day measured in inches rather than numbers. A day that gave my rod a stretch that it hadn’t felt in a long time, almost making me think that I actually knew what I was doing. This day, there would be three of us, Jake, his dad Scott, and myself. I was happy to be included for reasons I hadn’t explored, but have suspicions that it had something to do with the fact that I don’t get to spend enough time with my dad. I miss the days where we would play nine holes of golf after work or school, connecting more as friends, rather than just father and son. Now, there are too many miles between us to make it happen as often as I would like. But that might be a simplified excuse, as I surely took living so close to him for granted, and didn’t spend enough time with him when I had the chance. Either way, you live and learn on your own schedule. You gain perspective when you have the luxury to look back, finding now an appreciation for things that might have seemed insignificant at the time.

The line was blown into a deep bow floating downstream, the result of a poorly timed mend that had started the flies swinging early.  I dropped the tip of my rod low to the water, in a weak attempt to keep as much line out of the wind as possible. And as the flies swung perpendicular to where I was standing, a small flash straightened the lines bend. The hook had been set, the drag sang in approval. I took three steps downstream as the fish turned back towards me, and was greeted with the arrival of Jake, his dad, and a net.

We took turns fishing the run for the next hour or so. Scott landed a nice rainbow, Jake was content throwing streamers in vain, while I was happy to get my feet out of the water long enough to recognize the tingling of recovery. It was the same feeling I got as a kid, when we’d play hockey outside. We would skate until we couldn’t feel our fingers and feet, and then retreat to the warming house to appreciate the shelters comfort. Although, we never did quite warm ourselves properly, the windows were too revealing, while the ice was too inviting. Even after dark, if the lights were on, there was a game to be played. And as innocent as we were, we all knew that dinner would be waiting for us when we got home.

I worked the nymphs deep, trying to find the fish that had been rising a few minutes earlier. The wind seemed to be gaining in confidence, making the simple routine frustrating. I blew warm air into my left hand as I felt a merciless chill creep down my neck. My flies were drifting out of control, they had been lost to two currents, both air and water. My day was over.

I climbed onto the bank and took a seat. Wedging my boots between the uneven rock, I anchored myself to the ground. It was a half-hearted attempt to stay out of the wind, but an attempt none-the-less. I wiggled my toes and rubbed my hands together for warmth, trying to coax fingers and feet back to life. But as the day’s light started to fade, I watched Jake come tight to a fish, letting me know that it was my turn on the net. And as the familiar scene revealed itself before me, I stood up. 

Dinner could wait. The game was too good to be missed.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Redington’s Sonic Pro Wader Pant Review.

I was excited when presented with the opportunity to review the Sonic Pro Wader Pant from Redington. I had been in the market for a good pair of wading pants for the last year or so, and had been a little reluctant to pull the trigger because the traditional waders that I own work just fine, and on most hot days I wet wade anyway. But I was searching in hopes of finding a reasonably priced pair of pants that could bridge the gap between confused fishing seasons. I needed something to wear when it was too warm to wear full breathable waders all day, but still too cold to comfortably wet wade for hours on end.  So, finding a pair of pants seemed like a logical thing to do.

Having spent a few days on the water with the pants since receiving them a couple of weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable they are. They are extremely light, much lighter than my traditional waders, and are noticeably more comfortable when walking trails down to the water. The pants are nice in the sense that if you want to fish light, they seem to provide you with an option that keeps you comfortable enough to realistically fish them in both cold and warm weather.

I was impressed with the design, as these pants seem to have many creature comforts reserved for some of the more expensive pants that are on the market. I especially like the option of being able to tighten the built-in belt as well as having removable suspenders for extra support. The pockets add a nice touch as well, giving at least a little storage to the pants.

Overall, these pants seem to fit the bill for what I was looking for. They are light, durable, well built, and most importantly, comfortable. I look forward to putting them through the paces this spring and summer as the weather gets warmer, and from everything that I am seeing from the get go, I won’t be disappointed.

  • ·         Light weight material makes these waders extremely comfortable, even in the colder weather.
  • ·         Constructed and built with the fisherman in mind, mixing durable materials and comforts, so not to be confused with thoughts like, “Will these waders just keep me dry, or will the perform in a way that I can appreciate while on the water?”
  • ·         Reasonably priced (comparatively)
  • ·         The hook on the gravel guard is plastic, and unlike other waders I own, seems to come unpinned frequently.
  • ·         The neoprene socks were advertised (on a medium) to fit a size 8-10, I found them to be a little small. Just make sure to try them on before buying or ordering.

  • ·         Awarded the “Kudos Award” in the Wader category for Fly Rod & Reel magazine
  • ·         100% nylon, 3-layer, wader fabric
  • ·         High-tech Ultra Sonic Welded construction (no sew) and double taped seams throughout
  • ·         Removable suspenders
  • ·         Laser cut exterior pockets with YKK water resistant zippers
  • ·         Adjustable waist band
  • ·         High density, ergonomically shaped neoprene booties
  • ·         Interior welded storage pocket
  • ·         Articulated seams for increased mobility
  • ·         Mesh carry bag included
  • ·         Seam technology licensed via Orvis Patent

In my opinion, these pants are worth a look the next time you find yourself in the market for a good pair of wading pants. And at $229.95, they aren’t cheap, but they are worth the investment. Now, if they could only help me catch more fish...

*Please check them out at:  http://www.redington.com/Sonic-Pro-Wader-Pant.html

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Headless Chicken

I just saw it. It was somewhere between here and there, last seen sometime between last Wednesday night and early yesterday morning. It’s been a little over two weeks since my last home cooked meal, and a few heavy cardboard boxes seem to be playing cat and mouse with the crockpot I am desperately trying to find. It won’t be the end of the world if we don’t find it, but my “Supersized” eating habits are starting to take their toll. And unlike some blurred college memories, a fridge filled with a couple of six packs of beer and some bagels aren’t the sustenance they used to be. Well, to be more honest, the bagels just aren’t cutting it.

It used to be that moving involved a full SUV, a friend who had nothing better to do, and a solid afternoon of packing and travel. But over the course of the last eight or so years, I have become a collector of things, not one thing in particular, just a collection of many things that may or may not be important. Like the Batman piggy bank, two cases of pint glasses, more knives than anyone could possibly ever need, three sets of golf clubs, a tennis racket, two unused sets of dinnerware, a cool looking guitar, a waffle maker, a margarita maker, t-shirts that used to be clever, rolled up rugs, old Jimmy Buffett records, framed prints of bird dogs and pheasants, a backscratcher, ten dog bowls, v-neck sweaters of comfortable material, sea shells I was gifted, interesting “I Love Fargo” paraphernalia, two hockey sticks, Pearl Jam posters, and a myriad of other junk that not one person other than myself could understand the impulse to buy, or acquire such things. Now, add the important things; like the wife, dogs, and fly fishing gear, and what used to be one trip with the truck is now three. You'd think we were buying girls scout cookies just for the boxes.

In Fruita, a small town on the western slope of Colorado, they celebrate a famous headless chicken named Mike. And as the story goes, a hungry farmer named Lloyd Olsen was sent out by his wife to get a proper fryer ready for the night’s supper with his in-laws. With knife in hand, he went through with his wife's plan to slaughter “Mike”, the most impressive chicken on the lot.  But when the unsuspecting farmer cut off old Mike’s head, the valiant rooster forgot to succumb to the mighty blow. Olsen was so astonished that the chicken didn’t fall over, that he let him be. And upon finding Mike the next morning asleep with his chiseled head secured under one of his feathery wings, the legend was born. Mike lived without a head for the next eighteen months, finally choking to death in a motel room somewhere in the Arizona desert. A tragic end to be sure.

We moved south, just twelve miles as the crow flies. And somewhere between Fort Collins and Loveland, I lost my crockpot. I can’t seem to find it anywhere, so like Mike the headless chicken, I move on. Blissfully unaware of what might be hiding under my nose.