A warm happy fathers day out there to all you fathers. To my father who took me fishing, passed on knowledge, passion, gear, and instilled a love of all things trout. You are one of the best and most unassuming fly fishers I know. Thank you for passing this love on to me.
(Dad getting after it)
I can only hope to do the same for Finn.
(They're never too young to take to the river!)
So, to all the dads out there. Happy Father's Day!
As I have been travelling with the fam for a bit of much needed vacation, I am a bit slow on this one for you all. But I am happy to help urge you to dive into this fab-tabulous fundraiser for Recycled Fish - 30 Flies, 30 Days!
Thanks to good folks at Hill's Discount Flies for donating to the cause, so we can raise money for the cause of stewardship. Each day Recycled Fish will feature a different package of 30 flies and they each come with a fancy leather fly wallet, a gift card to Dicks Sporting Goods, Shark Tooth tippet cutter, and other "bonus goodies!"
So join the fun before it's too late and get hour hands on a nice selection of flies, because I know you all someitmes would rather get striaght to the water than take the time to tie a few flies. Besides, as always, stweardship is a worthy and necessary cause! Click the image above for sign up information.
Here is a last minute submission for the TU/Outdoor Blogger Contest
The air was cool on this weekday morning. Dew and raindrops from last night’s storm held on leaves and grass. It was July. The monsoons had started. Just in time as fires burned around the state. This particular watershed was lucky and avoided the annual torch of early summer fires in the Southwest.
I thought of some the fires – two started by careless campers - as we wandered down the hill making our way through the ponderosa pines, toward an open valley to the stream. With the recent rains, vegetation was lush and green. The isolation of this watershed seemed to protect things from both people and their negligence. Though looking at the trees you can see fire marks from previous summers, perhaps more optimistically from lightning strike.
We neared the end of the descent and settled into the valley. The tall grass up to our knees would prove beneficial in stalking wary native trout on a clear day. At first glance over the valley of grass, however, the uneducated would wonder where the water and therefore trout were located.
Places like this are tucked away, hard to get too. First you have to drive, then be willing to walk a good ways. The average angler certainly won’t make the trip. Fish of this sort, streams of this size take an odd dedication to the sport and fish. With lightweight, fiberglass rods, my cousin and I are hardly seeking monster trout. Instead, we are giddy to catch small, bright, and orange-throated beauties.
The water was skinny, but held deep cut –banks, offering seclusion and insulation in these high desert waters. Some might turn their nose at streams merely two feet across in some spots. Yet, casting into these waters takes delicate precision to hit your mark, get a clean drift, and set the hook through the grass.
While small, these fish have a special appeal. These are ancestors of salmonid evolution. Their ancestors following ice and waters flows millions of years ago to find themselves relatively isolated in the high mountains of the Jemez Mountains. Fires aside, their isolation has proven beneficial particularly as we assess the fate of native trout in the west. Today, however, in that isolation we’ll sneak up on the fish whose legacy tells a story of geologic time, one shedding light on the life of these mountains, this watershed and its ponderosa forests. Today, we are in search of Rio Grande cutthroat (Oncorhynchus clarki virginalis).
Fish like these are special. They belong here. They have not been mixed in the genetic blender with all of the rainbow, brown, or even brook trout spread around the West by overeager anglers and fisheries managers. By professional standards, these are pure, native (so much more than wild) trout. Assessing climate change, leaders in conservation such as Jack Williams of Trout Unlimited agree that native fish and watersheds like these are essential to fish and ecosystem resilience, not to mention the nature of our sport.
Over 400 years ago in a handful of watersheds to the east, a Spanish priest of Coronado’s colonizing travels wrote of these fish in the Pecos wilderness. He noted both their number and beauty. At the time, one might surmise the yet to be named truchas fed the party after long and tiresome travel through hostile landscapes. Yet, he wrote not of their sustenance but of their beauty. His words were the first written of trout in the so-called “New World” by Europeans, at least 150 years before later colonists would catch Eastern brook trout. Theirs is a complex history that has survived cultural flows from indigenous peoples or Spanish missions to mostly-Anglo fly fishers.
As I make this first cast, all of this history - ecological and cultural – that makes the stream and its inhabitants so very special, dissolves away. Casting in the light, sunny breeze, I forget the ecological and cultural narrative running through my head. Now I am focused getting my small stimulator to light on the bend, inducing a healthy strike from an unseen fish hiding in wait under the deep cut-bank of the Rio Cebolla.
Perhpas I am giving more time in this little narrative to Ray Petersen than I should, but his legacy is too important to ignore and the early years of Bristol Bay fly fishing were so very shaped by the 1950s and 1960s.
At that time, "fly fishing only waters" were fairly commonplace in the lower 48. There was, and still is, a perception that fly fishing is better for the fish than other types of fishing. There is varied research on this matter, but certainly fishing with a fly in a catch and release situation is better for the fish than fishing with bait. Moreover, an added by product of "fly fishing only waters" is that it limits the numbers of people on the water and that in turn limits the pressure on the fish. This was particualrly true in Bristol Bay.
Petersen knew what he had in Brooks and he recognized early that there were two groups of anglers on the water. He saw local Alaska fishermen, who were "hardware and bait fishermen" and the anglers from the lower 48 were fly fishermen. This led him to lobby the US Fish and Wildlife Service, particulalry since Brooks was within a US National Monument of Katmai, to make a change to Brooks management. Shortly there after, USF&WS limited catch of salmon and reglated fishing method on Brooks to fly fishing only. As a side note, this encoruaged more lower-48 anglers to visit Brooks, fish these waters, and spread the word on the majestic nature of Bristol Bay.
By the mid-1950s, National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife undertook the first scientific look at sport fishing, pressures, opportunities, and challenges for the area. They also looked at fish populations, locations, and lead to assesmsents of regualtions, catch limits, and the encouragement of catch and release. Also, while hatcheries were common place in the lower 48 with over 80 years of establishment, fisheries managers recognized that hatcheries had no place in Bristol Bay for sport or commercial fisheries management. That mentality thankfully remains today.
Fishries management and conservaiton in Bristol Bay is a tricky story to wrangle, as control of waters shifted hands in managemnet between federal agencies, state management, and the struggles between each of those. Of course, all states have jockeyed with these power struggles. Though in the second to last state of the nation, the relationships between state and federal agencies is often more strained than most. Today, many issues remain as the US EPA is looking at protecting what the State feels are its waters (Bristol Bay) and locals fear the overreaching arm of the federales!
Pebble Mine aside, Bristol Bay lodge owners, guides, and fly fishing industry - including current lodge owners and industry leaders like Nanci Morris Lyon (Bear Trail Lodge) - have been instrumental over the years in urging positive conservation and fisheries management. One example is the Sport Fish Management Plan of 1990 that changed regulations to force leaving larger breeding rainbow trout in the Naknek River leading to its now famous, gargantuan fish. There are, exceptions to the rule, as in all cases. However, the fly fishing and sport fishing worlds have, continue, and really needs to help lead in the conservation of such a precious resource.
This history is one you can check out in - Bo Bennett's Rods and Wings, as well as Frank Norris's Sport Fishing in Early Alaska (1986) and Tourism in Katmai Country (1992). However, the history is fairly underwritten and my blurbs are very surface and cursory. It would be great to have someone dive in and write a detailed history of sport and fly fishing in Bristol Bay - I would love to do so, but $ is always an issue!
Clearly, planes define fishing in Bristol Bay and Ray Petersen's leadership in the development of the region was nicely paired with his leadership in Northern Consolidated Airline. Yet, he was not the only pilot to lead the charge. Along side hiim was Bud Brahnam(his son Chris Brahnam is the founder of Royal Wulff Lodge), who had been a milirary pilot. In 1944 he was actually assigned the task of guiding President Franklin D Roosevelt on a fishing excursion. Braham reported that despite polio, Roosevelt “could cast 60 feet from a sitting position. He loved fly fishing and he was good at it.” While this trip was to Kodiak, Brahnam's legacy in Bristol Bay ranks up there with Petersen. He is is the founder of Kakhonak Falls Lodge on Iliamna Lake. Unlike Petersen, Brahnam's chose this location first and foremost for its beauty, not the trout. Yet, with his flying experience and the central lcoation, allowed Bud to cater his clients to the prime waters of the region.
Between Bud Brahnam, Ray Petersen, and others such as Don Horter or John Walatka (Ray Petersen's right hand man), the early years of the Bristol Bay logdge and fishing world were marked by a unique level of support and cooperation. After all, the conditions demanded it when in region. But even spreading the word to the world, the message was a broad one to come to Bristol Bay and fish its majestic waters. Having Northern Consolidated Airline at hand helped the cause, but Shakespeare became the first company to propone Bristol Bay as an Alaska fishing destination in their cataloge in 1952 (Solid trivia for you!).
The 1950s set the stage for fishing in Bristol Bay, Brahnam and Petersen built several lodges, they spread the word and lured high dollar clients, they had the market cornered. Through the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s more lodge visionaries would enter the market and try their hand. Some would succeed and many would fail. Today the options range from Anglers Paradise Lodges to Alaska Sportsmans Lodges and the fishing might be as good or better than it was in the early days or at least the middle years, thanks to the entry of science and conservation measures encouraged, in part, by the industry leaders themselves (which is tomorrow's post).