A traveling ICU nurse finds peace on a fishing line in Arizona’s high country

Lori Patterson stood at the edge of Akre Lake in a tucked-away corner of pine forest in eastern Arizona and watched the fish dance.

As the sun set, fish jumped out of the water, casting a painterly blur on the blooming aspen trees’ reflection in the lake, high in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests.

Patterson felt a tug on her fishing line and a burst of excitement. With her husband’s coaching, she reeled in a wriggling Arctic grayling and, with it, what felt like a life-changing love for fishing.

Patterson, a traveling ICU nurse from Tennessee, is on assignment in Arizona to assist with the COVID-19 crisis. In the time she’s been here, fishing has become a welcome respite from the stress of her work as a nurse at the front lines of a pandemic.

“It was this really amazing feeling like you’re a part of nature,” Patterson said in a phone interview. “It’s like catching a wild beast, having a moment with it, then knowing it’s going to return to its home and not be harmed.”

Patterson had caught plenty of rainbow trout over the years in her home state of Tennessee, but it wasn’t until the pandemic that the joy of angling became an essential outlet rather than an occasional outing with her husband.

The only refuge in a closed world

Patterson has worked in ICUs across the country for more than 30 years, spending the last two winters in Arizona with Banner Desert Medical Center. She’s no stranger to high-stress situations and has long known the necessity of healthy ways to lower stress.

Usually, on her days off, she’ll get a massage or have her nails done, maybe do some shopping and go out to dinner with her husband, Jeff. But with businesses closed, that was no longer an option.

“The pandemic has changed everybody’s lives, not just nurses,” Patterson said. “I’m still going to work every day. I still have to take care of patients every day. And I’ve taken care of infectious patients for 31 years. But it’s not something that you typically have to deal with to this volume and this frequency.”

“My wife is the person that runs towards the fire not away from it,” Jeff added.

The outdoors have long provided welcome respite for the two, a way to find some peace and quiet in a fast-paced world. Now it has become their only respite.

“It’s good for your mental health, for your physical health,” Patterson said. “I’ve always felt like fresh air was better than air-conditioned air inside.”

'A huge stress relief for me'

ICU nurse Lori Patterson holds a cutthroat trout she caught at Big Lake in the White Mountains. (Photo: Lori Patterson)

With the pandemic in full swing, they made it their mission for Patterson to complete the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Trout Fishing Challenge. Anglers must catch and release all four species of the state’s wild trout, or at least six of the eight total species in Arizona: Gila, Apache, brown, brook, rainbow, grayling, cutthroat, and tiger trout.

In the past month, she and Jeff have traveled all over “the great state of Arizona,” as they often refer to their new home-away-from-home. She caught a golden Gila trout on the East Verde River, a cutthroat at Big Lake in the White Mountains, a speckled Apache trout and silver grayling at Aker lake, and a brook trout at Perkins Tank in the Kaibab National Forest.

In just 26 days, she finished the challenge, quite a feat for a beginner angler. She was often surprised at the beauty of the fish when she saw them up close. A vegetarian and animal lover, she found the challenge and its requirement to release the trout a perfect way to intimately experience nature without causing harm.

Next month, the Pattersons will relocate to New York, where Lori will care for COVID-infected patients. But Arizona will stay with her, she said.

“There’s just such amazing diversity in this state, not just the fish, but Coues deer and Gould’s turkeys and elk and mountain lions,” Patterson said. “It has been a huge stress relief for me to be able to unplug and get out in nature and enjoy the great outdoors.”

“Did Arizona need Lori more or did Lori need Arizona more?” Jeff asked. “I think it’s probably the latter in this case. It was the place where Lori could do what she could do to help, and the great state of Arizona gave her a way to get the job done.

Click HERE for the full article by Erin Stone on azcentral.com

Erin Stone covers the environment for The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com.

Gila trout recovery on Mt. Graham

Gila trout are one of the rarest trout species in the United States, making them a focus of Trout Unlimited’s restoration work on native, southwestern trout. They are only found in Arizona and New Mexico earning them a spot on the federal Endangered Species List in 1967.

But they were re-classified as threatened in 2006 thanks to successful conservation work. Today, Gila trout conservation is guided by the Gila Trout Recovery Plan and the Gila Trout Recovery Team led by professionals from the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the University of New Mexico, and the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD).

Gila trout fry earning a successful recovery

Recovery efforts started in earnest after a wildfire ripped through Mt. Graham near Safford, Ariz., in 2017, scorching 50,000 acres and the well-established Gila trout fishery on Ash and Frye creeks. Recovery teams salvaged what remained of the Gila trout populations just before monsoon season hit and toxic ash flowed down both creeks. Since then, agencies and organizations partnered to create a plan to reintroduce the Gila trout back to its native streams.

By early April 2019, Frye Creek recovered enough to receive its first supplemental stocking of 20,000 fertilized Gila trout eggs. The process required building a redd on the outside of a plunge pool and injecting the eggs a few inches below the gravel’s surface. Just days later the trout hatched, securing refuge in the slower current of the pool. This is a new technique for Gila trout, originating in New Mexico and exhibiting an 8- to 10-percent success rate from egg to fry. Grapevine Creek in Arizona also successfully received this same treatment, displaying similar results.

Injecting fertilized eggs on a redd

Gila trout eggs on a redd

Another effort to reach the Gila Trout Recovery Plan conservation goal happened in November 2019. Trout Unlimited, AZGFD and USFWS crews backpacked 250 Gila trout fry into the headwaters of Frye Creek, roughly 3 miles above the Frye Mesa Reservoir. This helped expand their range and helped ensure the cold waters in the headwaters could help them endure threats from climate change.

Volunteers make good mules for trout fry

Most recently in March 2020, Frye Creek received another 16,000 fertilized Gila trout eggs from AZGFD and TU staff, of which I had a pleasure to be a part. Our hike up Frye Creek was energizing, with spring run-off in full swing and new growth on every tree and bush.

It showcased the resiliency of mountain streams and their riparian areas displaying only a few charred juniper trees, emphasizing the stark reminder that a fire decimated this watershed only three years prior. This watershed is home to a diverse ecosystem that supports elk, Couse deer, Goulds turkey, javelina and my favorite, black bear. We observed 3- to 5-inch Gila trout in multiple pools during this stocking, representing diverse age classes from our previous egg and fry stocking. By spring of 2022, we should have a wild, reproducing population of Gila trout in Frye Creek, with the hope of returning it to the great sport fishery it once was.

Black bear scratches on this aspen mean lots of wildlife in this region of Arizona.

Fishing for Gila trout:

If you’re looking to catch one of these native treasures in Arizona, try Upper Gold Water Lake, Lynx Lake, Frye Mesa Reservoir or the West Fork of Oak Creek. When stocked in lakes, these fish can grow up to 18 inches. Although they’re not wild reproducing populations, these fisheries still offer the chance to catch this beautiful native fish, bringing you one step closer to completing your Arizona Trout Challenge!

Learn about more about one of the southwest’s native trout.

Click HERE to read the full article on TU.org.

Time to get away

It was time. Actually, it was well past time. I had to get out of the house. I work from home and have for years, so these stay-at-home orders weren’t a big change for me. But because I’m immunocompromised thanks to ongoing cancer treatments, I haven’t been in town, seen friends nor been anywhere but doctors’ offices for well over a month. Don’t get me wrong, I know many out there are worse off, but it was time for me to get away.

I did what I always do when I need a release. I studied maps to find a spot close by with water. I knew we shouldn’t drive far, so a spot along the Dolores River is where we headed. I floated this section about 12 years ago when the Bureau of Reclamation let enough water out of the dam to be exciting, but I didn’t remember much other than it was beautiful and the water was cold.

We dipped down from the canyon rim leaving behind fields upon fields of beans. Red rock faces and massive ponderosa pines greeted us and there it was, the low but clear Dolores. We jaunted down the road to a pull-off tucked behind a boulder the size of a small house with some nearly leafing out gambel oak, and of course, right next to the river. The sun was shining and warm for the first time in a few weeks, so I plopped my tired body into a chair on the bank of the river and just sat.

There’s nearly nothing I enjoy more than sitting on the edge of a river. Whether it’s in waders with a rod in my hand or lying in the van with the doors open, the sounds of a river sooths my soul. The gentle rapids tumbling over rocks make pockets of noise while rushing to a calm pool just downstream. I watch for action in the water and for bugs flitting through the air. I listen for slurps and close my eyes to envision the activity.

OK. That’s it. I can’t take it anymore. I pull on my waders, gather my gear and head a bit downstream to a deep hole. It’s a streamer kind of day since I haven’t seen any top water action. I wade across the cool water and start to chuck the meat. I keep at it for a while with bikers, hikers and recreational vehicles occasionally passing by. They all ask how it is, and I say, it’s fishing. One nice gentleman offered up a few of his streamers, but I was set.

Beauty around every corner. Photo by Kara Armano.

As per usual, my husband outfished me. I guess that’s what I get for teaching him how to fish all those years ago. His line came tight and with a bit of a fight, he reeled in a nice fish. It took us a minute to figure out what was happening when other fish darted towards the fish on the line. Once he got it to the surface, we realized it was no trout. It was a decent sized smallmouth bass, which explains the fight.

Though the water was cold with spring runoff that day, I knew the reason behind the surprising catch. Being below McPhee Reservoir, this section of river often runs very low making the water temperatures too high for trout, at least this far below the dam. The deep pools are enough to sustain the smallmouth population throughout the year, so next time, I’ll remember where those pools are and to bring my streamer box.

Thank God for a weekend away!

For the full article by Kara Armano on TU.org, click HERE.

Kara Armano is TU’s southwest region communications director. She lives and works in Durango.

TU lead scientist recognized by American Fisheries Society

Helen Neville is a juggernaut in native trout conservation, science and life.
Dr. Helen Neville, Trout Unlimited’s senior scientist, was recognized this week by the Western Division of the American Fisheries Society (AFS) with the Award of Merit. The award is given to AFS members who have made positive and regionally significant contributions to the Western Division, to the profession, and to fisheries resources.

“It is hard for me to envision success in restoring native trout without involving Helen Neville’s years of contributions — scientific; on-the-ground, and personal. Helen’s energy, drive and vision have led the way on countless efforts to put native trout on the road to recovery across the country,” said Jason Dunham, supervisory aquatic ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. “Her success is the result of years of pure grit. There is no way to add it all up and do proper justice to Helen’s commitment to native trout. I am absolutely delighted to see her efforts recognized with the Award of Merit. It’s a well-deserved and high honor to one of our best.”

Trout Unlimited Senior Scientist Helen Neville, left, and Doug Peterson with the Fish and Wildlife Service, right, install a stationary PIT antenna on culvert to track fish movement. Trout Unlimited photo.

The American Fisheries Society consists of more than 8,000 members from around the globe and is the world’s oldest and largest organization dedicated to the fisheries profession, advancing fisheries science, and conserving fisheries resources. The award will be announced June 10 at Western Division AFS meeting.

As an AFS member engaged in her profession, Helen recently served as President of the Idaho Chapter of AFS, she has been active in AFS’s Genetics Section, and served in various other capacities across different state and national sectors of AFS. Being engaged in AFS is how one keeps up with the fisheries profession and having exceptional people active in professional societies is how science-based professions like AFS move forward and remain relevant.

Helen is also a leader in conservation science for native trout. Helen completed her Ph.D. at the University of Nevada, Reno in 2003 where she studied how river network connectivity influences Lahontan cutthroat trout populations using genetic tools.

Trout Unlimited Senior Scientist Helen Neville during a tour of a Lahontan cutthroat trout project with John Elliott (Eastern Regional Fisheries Director with Nevada Department of Wildlife), Jason Barnes (Lahontan Cutthroat Trout Coordinator for TU) and Mike Starr (Fisheries Biologist with the Nevada Department of Wildlife). Trout Unlimited photo.

“I will never forget the day Helen came to my office to ask me if I would take her on as a student. Saying yes was one of the best things I have ever done. Helen simply rocked it then and has continued to do so throughout her career,” said Mary M. Peacock, a professor with Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology Graduate Program at the University of Nevada, Reno. “She never looked back and has become one of the most important trout conservation biologists- out there working hard in the trenches. This award is richly deserved and I applaud the Western Division for awarding it to Dr. Helen Neville, trout chick extraordinaire.”

After a post-doc with U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station in Boise, Idaho, Helen joined TU in 2006. Since then she has led science that has expanded our knowledge of how stream connectivity and restoration, nonnative trout stocking, wildfire, and climate change impact native trout in the western United States. She has also applied novel genetic tools to understand how native trout have evolved to be adapted to their environment. As a testament to her scientific acumen, Helen has published numerous papers on novel native trout research in leading scientific journals or books.

“Helen is an immense talent who has mastered applying often abstruse topics into common sense proposals that help make our rivers and streams healthier,” said Chris Wood, president and chief executive officer of Trout Unlimited. “We are so proud of her work and feel honored to have her as part of the TU family. Well done Helen.”

As a seminal achievement in her scientific career, Helen brought in more than $1 million in funding – including a large NASA grant – to develop cutting-edge models to understand the viability of Lahontan cutthroat trout populations and develop decision support tools to inform recovery actions for this ESA-listed fish across Nevada, California, and Oregon.

Trout Unlimited Senior Scientist Helen Neville spends most of her time in the office working on reports and scientific papers, but thoroughly enjoys her time in the field. Trout Unlimited photo.

Helen has also been a leader in conservation. She has led a large-scale conservation program for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation focused on Lahontan cutthroat trout. This multi-million dollar program has bolstered Lahontan cutthroat trout conservation by enhancing science capacity and on-the-ground conservation efforts over the last 10 years.

“Helen’s energy and passion for advancing science and then integrating our improved knowledge into conservation practice is infectious,” said Jack Williams, Emeritus Senior Scientist for Trout Unlimited. “She does great work and does it with enthusiasm. I could not be more proud of her accomplishments.”

Since joining TU in 2006, Helen has become a recognized leader in the national science community, and ascended to lead Trout Unlimited’s Science Program as Senior Scientist, a position she has now held since 2018.

More importantly, Helen is mother of two beautiful daughters, Sadie and Luna, and married to Frank Aldana.

Great people get recognized, as exemplified by this AFS award which recognizes Helen’s professional achievements.

Click HERE for for full story by Dan Dauwalter at tu.org.


Dan Dauwalter is the Fisheries Science Director for Trout Unlimited. He is based, along with Helen, in Boise, Idaho, and has been at TU for 11 years.