Hey Native Fish Peeps, What Say You?.


My farewell to Yellowstone Park trouting

Outdoors / By Paul Bruun

A friend phoned Monday, relating the rainbow and brown trout excitement on his newest wet fly patterns in the Barns Pools on the Madison River. A spate of recent snowy, rainy days guaranteed a booming kickoff to the Madison’s celebrated fall trout migrations and supersonic fly-fishing.

During the past 50 years I’ve lusted for the Madison’s roaring aquatic surroundings. Swinging fly lines, carefully wading the uneven stygian depths and thrilling to smashing strikes of picture-perfect wild trout once filled my Septembers and Octobers.

This much-anticipated fall fishing began with around-the-clock driving — sometimes over 2,700 miles — from wherever I was living in the 1960s and early 1970s, to and through the Yellowstone National Park gates and onto the Firehole, Gibbon and ultimately their heavenly creation, the Madison River, as well as the Yellowstone and Lewis.

The happenstance of a 1973 Jackson newspaper editing job moved me 130 miles or less from such favorite Yellowstone haunts as the Nine Mile Hole, Mule Shoe Bend, the Iron Bridge, Fountain Freight Road, the Confluence Pools, Seven Mile Bridge, Mount Hayden Run, Grasshopper Bank, Firehole Canyon, Lewis Falls, Dragon’s Mouth, Sulphur Caldron, Little Firehole, Midway Geyser Basin, the fabled Barns Holes Numbers 1-6 and Baker’s Hole, which meanders delicately into and out of Montana.

When several trout-chasing pals asked that I join their high-energy exploits over the next few weeks, the temptation was strong.

Just like old times

“We’ll rent the big cabin at the Sleepy Hollow in West Yellow, cook great food like we used to and put our new fly patterns to work,” one said.

“I can’t do it!” I exclaimed sadly, letting my own words sink in with a penetrating result.

“Can’t or won’t?” came the reply.

The truth is that it was equal measures of both, and as of this pronouncement I suspect that I’ve fished my last days in Yellowstone.

This hasn’t been a snap decision. Ever since my first Yellowstone visit in May 1955, I’ve been a dedicated fan of our nation’s first national park and its grandeur. But long about the 1990s, when fisheries management practices carefully began to eliminate wild trout, all in the name of genetic purity (or ethnic cleansing?) and native species integrity, I could see a schism in my confidence with the ranking park powers that be.

Superintendent gets few letters

Jack Anderson was the veteran Yellowstone superintendent when I started with the Jackson Hole Guide in 1973. Anderson began his career as a horseshoer in Sequoia National Park, and hard work ultimately led to the best job in the National Park Service. Jack was a serious and talented fly angler, so when his biologists recommended the five-fish limit on the Yellowstone River in the park be reduced to two fish and ultimately to catch-and-release, he agreed.

“I braced for a violent public reaction,” Jack told me years ago in his Mammoth office. “All we were doing was filling campground garbage cans with dead fish. I got a total of two unhappy letters. So I listen to my biologists.”

I’m not sure who Jack did or didn’t listen to later, during the unfortunate

and ultimately disastrous battle with premier grizzly bear researchers Frank and John Craighead. These pioneering big-game biologists urged Yellowstone management to not comply with Environmental Protection Agency decrees to close all the park dumps immediately. Slamming shut the favorite grizzly restaurants inundated campgrounds, gateway cities and visitors with hungry bears, which rangers had to eliminate. It was a mess!

After the 1988 fires the next big mess came when Yellowstone managers, biologists and park-sanctioned environmental organizations declared war on a suddenly present “surprise generation of lake trout” in Yellowstone Lake. Park experts blamed the public for illegal planting, although park history is loaded with mysterious stockings over the years.

Just as in the grizzly bear debacle, Yellowstone managers have taken the liberty of painting the lake trout as public enemy No. 1 when it comes to Yellowstone’s cutthroat survival. Originally stocked in Shoshone Lake by the U.S. Army, which managed the park in 1890, both brown and lake trout were introduced to Yellowstone by the government. A great number of the park’s waters were originally fishless, and hatcheries and rearing stations attempted to introduce a variety of species, from salmon to northern pike, into the park.

I’ve worked hard to become less angry when voicing my attitude toward park biologists, associated wags and environmental groups that have formulated the lake trout gill-netting, catch-and-kill attack (similar to the invasion of Normandy) on Yellowstone Lake. But after reading the pure sadness in globetrotting and championship angler Jeff Currier’s Sept. 14 “Fly Fishing the Yellowstone River” blog on JeffCurrier.com, my decision was made.

The Yellowstone Lake cleansing was just the beginning. That merrily opened the floodgates to poisoning Soda Butte Creek, Hebgen Lake tributaries of Duck and Grayling creeks and now Grebe Lake and the marvelous meadows of the upper Gibbon River, among other places. Wholesale destruction of fish to return “the good old days and species” in a time when water temperatures are soaring globally is a fool’s errand.

Rather than ranting and raving about all the saps I meet who blindly spout “gotta kill all the lake trout I can because they’re invasives,” thanks to misinterpreted Yellowstone park dogma, I’m calling it quits.

Yellowstone won’t notice my absence. They won’t even know I’m gone.

Continued fundraising for the saving of “native fisheries” by mowing down all of those once successful colonies of wild trout remains the all-important goal.

Count me out!

Paul Bruun writes every other week on his adventures and misadventures in the great outdoors. Contact him via columnists@jhnewsandguide.com.