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  • Sunday, March 16, 2008

    Mixed Blessing

    The Good News - Grayling
    The Bad News - Lake Trout
    An Exercise In Hindsight
    “It would be an admirable thing if trout and grayling could be planted in these barren waters, but Commissioner McDonald looks at this subject from a broader standpoint, and sees the grand opportunity which the Park offers for experiments on the acclimatization of certain species of fish foreign to these waters. He has expressed himself as desirous of introducing into one of these river systems the brown trout of Europe; the Eastern brook trout might be introduced in another, and the grayling in the third.”
    — Forest and Stream: A Weekly Journal of Rod and Reel, 1889.

    .. In 1921 there were 4,051,000 fish planted in Yellowstone National Park. It was such a big deal that it made the New York Times, (REFERENCE, PDF.) For good or bad, we're living with their descendants today.
    .. There is an excellent resource for background information on this subject found at the Greater Yellowstone Science Learning Center website.
    .. The Grayling are facing a tough battle in the lower 48, while the Lake Trout are making it tough on the Cutthroats in Yellowstone Lake.
    .. The native cutts are in deep do-do. They face drastic reduction in numbers from the Lake Trout. On the other hand, the Grayling, (a non-native,) have found a small protected niche in the upper Gibbon River Drainage.
    .. The Grayling are where they are because of distinctly purposeful action by fisheries managers of the time. The Lake Trout were planted in areas close to Yellowstone Lake, (Shoshone & Lewis Lakes in the 1800's,) but the mechanism of their transport to it remains shrouded in mystery.
    .. Based on otolith research it appears that transplantation took place at two times in the recent past: about 1989 & 1996, (LINK PDF.)
    .. The simplest lesson, to be learned, is that we cannot predict the outcomes of our actions with any certainty.
    .. Current values suggest that the planting of Lake Trout was a disastrous action. On the other hand, the Grayling imports are seen as a positive action, in light of their precarious situation in the lower 48.
    .. It's been many years since we've fished the upper Yellowstone River, Trail Creek, and Chipmunk Creek. The memories are rich, and the fish we caught have probably grown in size and number over the years - yet we can't help feel a bit saddened to think that the eager Cutthroat Trout in the Thorofare have been reduced to curiosities by the introduction of the Lake Trout.
    .. We have a distinct fondness for the native species in Yellowstone, (and the Grayling as well,) but this feeling is not widespread. Fishers that come to Yellowstone seem just as pleased - (or more so,) - to take Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout, Cuttbow Hybrids, and Brook Trout. There is a growing cadre of fishers with enormous weights and flashy boats that extol the virtues of "Laker Fishing" on Yellowstone Lake.
    .. The history of fish and fishery manipulation in Yellowstone is well documented by Franke, (A, B,) and Schullery, (LINK, LINK,) and Byorth, (LINK.)
    .. The Yellowstone fishing experience of today is conditioned by the history of fish manipulation and experimentation of the past. Hybridization has reduced many pure Cutthroat populations to nothing, and it's happening on Slough Creek too.
    .. The changes in the fly fishing experience for the future will be conditioned by these manipulative factors and the introduction and spread of invasive and exotic species.
    .. For the unthinking fisher, none of it matters. For others it is as much of a concern as getting on the water - for some it's even more important for the lessons to be learned.
    .. May these lessons inform our actions!
    ynp photo