The Future of Trout Fishing in the West Could Be in Hot Water

Experts say the future of cold-water fish species like trout and salmon depends on climate restoration, and anglers themselves.

By mid-July this summer, laminated signs attached to caution cones lined the Yampa River throughout Steamboat Springs, Colorado, declaring: “ALL RIVER USERS ARE ASKED TO REFRAIN FROM ENTERING THE YAMPA RIVER UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE.”

Flows were 20 percent of normal. Water temperatures approached 80 degrees during the day. A river usually full of people bobbing on float tubes, paddling on standup boards, or casting lines to fish holding in deep, clear pools was void of human activity.

The Yampa River, which winds about 250 miles from the Flat Top Mountains through Steamboat Springs, and into lower elevations was not alone this summer. Rivers across the West were closed for much of the summer—by mandate or as volunteer restrictions—in a desperate attempt by water managers to keep fish alive. These closures made headlines during this summer of historic drought, but really, the issues trace farther back than a single fishing season.

“If you look at the last four years, it’s been very tough on trout,” says Bill Atkinson, aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Steamboat Springs. “We had about 3,200 trout per mile over 6 inches in my fall sampling on the Yampa River through Steamboat in 2015. In the fall of 2019, that was down to about 1,900 trout per mile.”

That’s a decrease of 40 percent. This year could be even worse, he says.

Anyone paying attention to news from the West this summer heard stories like these. We read about historic wildfires consuming towns, of salmon floating belly up, and of streams drying. But the root of the issue here isn’t about what happened in June, July, or August, and is still happening now. It’s about why hot water is so bad for cold-water species like trout and whitefish, and what could be done—if anything—to make the situation better.
Because if nothing changes, and the drought that’s been plaguing the western U.S. for 20 years continues, fisheries managers and anglers say this summer’s fishing restrictions on iconic rivers in the West will become the norm.

“We’re in a real seminal moment for fish,” says Kirk Deeter, editor and chief of Trout Unlimited media and editor of Angling Trade, who lives in Steamboat Springs and hasn’t fished the Yampa in the past two summers because of heat and drought.

“Somehow we need to figure out a way to work together. We have to find a roadmap for sustainable fishing, especially for trout fishing. It’s been a perfect storm with the effects of climate change, an influx of so many anglers and all the things we’ve talked about for years now. It’s all lined up, and the species cannot sustain it if we don’t get smarter.”

Hot Weather and Low Water Spells Trouble for Trout

Trout, salmon, and whitefish evolved to prefer temperatures between the low 50s and low 60s. Water temperatures higher than 70 become dangerous. Water in the high 70s and 80s, especially for more than an afternoon and evening, can be lethal. 

Warmer water carries less oxygen. It’s also harder for a cold-water species like trout to absorb oxygen from warm water, says Atkinson.

Lower, warmer water also fosters more vegetation to grow on stream bottoms. During the day, plants produce oxygen, but at night they absorb oxygen. That means trout are stressed from heat when rivers are warmest during the day, but then can’t recover as well at night when dissolved oxygen levels drop even more.

Maybe even more importantly, for every 10 degrees Celsius water increases, a trout’s metabolic rate roughly doubles, says Atkinson. That means from 50 degrees Fahrenheit to 68, a fish needs to eat even more.

“When you get into the high 70s, they’re quite uncomfortable,” Atkinson says. “In some ways, it’s analogous to people. When it’s extremely hot out, a lot of people’s appetite tends to diminish. You get 95- to 100-degree days, you want to find a cool spot and don’t feel like eating a whole lot.”

So instead of eating, they look for a cool spot to take refuge. But because water is low, those cool spots are more limited and often occupied by bigger fish. Fighting other fish takes energy and burns more calories. It also produces lactic acid.

“It’s like humans getting a leg cramp. You’re not getting enough oxygen, [like when] a runner or swimmer cramps up. You’re building up lactic acid in your muscles,” Atkinson says. “The same thing [happens] with fish. That’s when they build up lactic acid, and it can be lethal.”

Worse yet, lactic acid buildup requires high quantities of oxygen to eliminate. The result of all those factors means that fish spending several months of the year just laying low, trying to survive when they should be feeding and fattening up for winter.

Factor in an angler hooking a trout and fighting it through warm water for even a few minutes, and the fish may not stand a chance.

Hooking mortality can be as high as 68 percent in some species of fish. How many fish die depends heavily on bait type, hook type, and how long it takes to land the fish, when water temperatures reach the 70s, even the cleanest releases on barbless hooks can kill fish, Atkinson says.

A Future of Smaller—and Fewer—Fish

Will trout fishing go away in the summer in the West? No. Plenty of places will still offer opportunity. Tail waters below reservoirs where water temperatures stay more consistently cool like the famous Grey Reef section of the North Platte River in Wyoming and the Green River below Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Utah will provide healthy fish in the summer, even if they’re a bit more sluggish. High mountain streams at 10,000 or 11,000 feet will also stay cool enough to handle fishing pressure—at least for now.

But rivers like the Yampa, where it flows through places like Steamboat, won’t fare as well.

“I’m very nervous,” Atkinson says. “When you have these low water years, you’re talking about competition for food but also competition for space.”

If a fish’s energy goes to fighting hooks and staying alive, it’s not going to grow as much. If anglers on public stretches of the Yampa are used to catching 16-to 17-inch fish, those may well become 14-or 15-inch trout. (This excludes, of course, private waters stocked with bigger fish.)

“Over a long period with drought years, that’s the best you could expect in some systems,” Atkinson says. “When you start factoring in the incredible increase in anglers throughout the West, combined with tough environmental conditions, you can’t expect to have the same numbers of big fish people are used to. It’s not feasible.”

Rivers that are already marginally too warm to support trout and angling may well begin to permanently close portions of the summer, says Jon Ewert, an aquatic biologist in Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Hot Sulphur Springs region.

In Montana, where many rivers faced at least a partial if not full closure on fishing this summer, fisheries officials will continue to decide the fate of fishing on each river each year, says Eileen Ryce, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks’ chief of fisheries. At some point, either regulations will limit fishing, Deeter says, or the fish themselves will force a change.

Can We Mitigate Further Trout Loss?

Voluntary or formal closures on rivers when they’re too hot or too low isn’t new. But, Ryce says, “This year was unprecedented.”

“We were putting them on earlier in the year than other years and there were more of them. We had some on rivers that we have never had to do before.”

The first step toward closing a river and protecting the fishery is to ask anglers to stop fishing from 2 p.m. to 6 a.m. the following morning. Montana calls this daily closure a “hoot owl” restriction, a throwback to when loggers stopped working in the early afternoon because of increased fire danger. 

The next step is closing a river completely, either on a volunteer basis or a formal closure.

The city of Steamboat Springs itself sets rules for commercial users within the city limits. And the closure isn’t just for anglers, but all river users: boaters, paddlers, swimmers, and more.

Their advisory reads: “We hope by removing the additional stress associated with recreation, that we can sustain the river’s health through the current adverse conditions. We will continue to monitor the river flow, temperature and dissolved oxygen levels and will lift the voluntary restrictions when conditions improve.”
Atkinson says most river users complied.

“When you have a sky full of smoke and wildfires burning around you, it should tell you something,” he says. “It doesn’t take much for people to look at what was going on in the river when it was 30 percent of average, and see it was not good.”

Permits limiting angling for public stretches of certain waters may also become a reality in the future, Atkinson says. But fisheries officials also say that fish kills, fishing restrictions, and a changing landscape aren’t necessarily foregone conclusions.

Land management agencies could plant more trees along banks where they once were. Shaded areas can be up to 45 degrees cooler than areas in the sun, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Researchers are working on ideas to restore river channels, such as allowing water to flow underground and seep in and out of banks, providing natural cooling. Lawmakers across the West are talking more and more about possible dam removals to keep water moving.

The Colorado Water Trust raised money to provide water out of a small Yampa reservoir to augment flows. The city of Steamboat and the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District also contributed. But long term across the West, even that has its limitations. Wars are fought over water. More often than not, it’s the fish who lose the battle.

A Looming Crash for Trout Town U.S.A.?

For Deeter, the answer on many of these rivers is to just stop fishing in the heat of the summer. Or perhaps go fishing but stop after catching one or two fish instead of 20 or 30. And ultimately, the climate might just decide for us.

“I am usually an optimist, but I don’t know, I really don’t know,” he says. “Fly fishing as an industry is a bull market. It boomed and now the fisheries themselves are entering a bear market. It’s boom on the commerce and participation side, but it’s a bear market for the fish themselves.”

There are plenty of Western towns that are built around summer flyfishing for trout and the tourism they attract. So what happens when summer access is limited on the most popular rivers, or when the fishing quality takes a dive? It’s impossible to know for sure how the western fishing industry—including guides, outfitters, and resorts—will adapt. One thing is clear, however: Anglers will not travel to a fly-fishing destination that doesn’t offer better fishing than they can get at home. 

Deeter sees three possibilities. One: We figure out how to work together and, to some degree, convince each other to not spend hot days catching as many fish as possible. Two: The government increases regulation and temporarily closes fisheries that are increasingly prone to hot water and low flows during the summer. Or three: We let nature take its course.

“Letting the economics of everything take its course is a sad outcome,” he says. “If it gets to a point where the fishing is so bad no one wants to fish anymore, that’s a collective loss for the industry.”

Is that going to happen? Certainly not everywhere. And most fly fishing towns in the West have multiple options for fishing, though the more rivers that decline or are closed, the more pressure that puts on fisheries that still offer good fishing and aren’t too hot.
So maybe more summer anglers turn to either tailwaters that can handle the pressure, or to warm water species that thrive in hot weather. Fly fishing for carp is becoming more popular, even in Western fishing towns. Maybe guides and anglers will adapt to catching new fish.

Or maybe we decide to work together to improve habitat, slow climate change, and take care of the resources we share.

Click HERE to read the full article by Christine Peterson on the Outdoor Life website.

Jim Stipe is featured in the The Western Voices Project

Too often, press coverage of Western conservation issues includes policy experts but not the voices of people who work, live, and play in our public lands and waterways.

To help enrich national and local media coverage of conservation policy issues, The Western Voices Project was launched to empower organizations and individuals to share their personal experiences and opinions with the media.

Western Voices staff flag opportunities for volunteer project participants to communicate with the media. Public relations services are provided pro-bono to participating organizations and individuals.

Jim Stipe is former President of the Arizona Council of Trout Unlimited, which works to protect Arizona’s trout and trout fisheries for the enjoyment of future generations.

“I grew up fishing and it became what I do. It’s what I did with my grandfather, what I do with my father, and what I’ll do with my son. But bit by bit, we’re losing what we hope our children would have, what makes the West special and different. We should be bending over backwards to protect our heritage.”

Click HERE to read the full article on the Western Conservation Foundation website.

Celebrating a Life Outdoors: Leigh H. Perkins, 1927-2021

Leigh H. Perkins, who purchased The Orvis Company in 1965 and over the next three decades transformed it into one of the country’s most respected sporting, apparel, and dog brands, passed away at the age of 93 on May 7, 2021, in Monticello, Florida.

Although he built his reputation as a shrewd businessman and marketer, Leigh was most at home wading in a trout stream or walking behind a bird dog in the field. He was a lifelong outdoorsman who hunted or fished more than 250 days a year into his 90s, and his reverence for nature was at the heart of his drive to conserve land and water resources for future generations.

Born in Cleveland in 1927, Leigh was raised by a mother, Katharine Perkins, who was a dedicated angler and hunter at a time when there were few women who engaged in the outdoors. It was she who fostered his passion for nature and the sporting pursuits, and these experiences shaped his desire to conserve woods and waters so that others could enjoy them. “She taught me to fish and hunt, and she was my principal sporting companion for the first 18 years of my life,” he wrote in his 1999 autobiography, A Sportsman’s Life: How I Built Orvis by Mixing Business and Sport. Together, they caught bluegills from farm ponds, cast to cutthroats in Montana, traveled to the Atlantic salmon rivers of the Gaspe Peninsula, and shot grouse, quail, and ducks.

Although he was born into a wealthy Midwestern family, Leigh chose to make his own way in the world after graduating from Williams College in 1950. He started as a rodman on a survey crew in the iron mines of northern Minnesota, working his way up to foreman before taking a job as a salesman for Cleveland’s Harris Calorific, which made gas welding and cutting equipment. It was during this time that he discovered the value of listening to the needs of customers, which would serve him well as he built Orvis. As Leigh once told his grandson, Simon, “You always learn more by listening than by talking.” Leigh often spent time taking phone calls and reading customer letters to ensure that he was serving their needs, a practice that continues at Orvis today.

The idea of mixing business and his sporting passions first occurred to Leigh when he began looking for a company of his own to build. He had been a customer of the Vermont-based Orvis since his college days in western Massachusetts. After a nine-month courtship with then owner Dudley “Duckie” Corkran, Leigh closed the deal on the first day of 1965. He was a hands-on owner, serving as president, merchandiser, art director, product-developer, and whatever else needed doing. His attention to detail was legendary, and he personally approved every item in the catalog.

Over the next 27 years, Leigh would grow the company—founded in 1856 by Charles F. Orvis—from a niche business with 20 employees and $500,000 in annual sales to a mail-order and retail powerhouse with more than 700 employees and sales topping $90 million. Along the way, he was a pioneer in both business and product development. Among the first to capitalize on changes in the direct-marketing world, Leigh made the Orvis catalog a household fixture from coast to coast and opened Orvis retail stores in cities around the country.

Leigh prioritized products that solved problems and enhanced a person’s time on the water or in the field. He introduced the first retractable zinger to hold fly-fishing tools and the first Gore-Tex rainwear. Orvis graphite fly rods were not the first on the market, but they were better-designed and more durable than competitors’. Leigh’s love for working dogs led to perhaps his biggest coup, the Orvis Dog Nest bed—the first of its kind sold in the U.S. in 1977—launching an entire category for the company.

In 1966, Leigh launched the world’s first fly-fishing school in Manchester, Vermont, teaching 150 students the basics. He added a wingshooting school several years later. “It was one of the first outdoor schools of its kind,” says Tom Rosenbauer, Orvis’s chief fly-fishing enthusiast and one of the sport’s best-known teachers, anglers, and authors. “Kids got that kind of stuff at summer camp, but it was groundbreaking for adults and the industry.” The company now offers free instruction to more than 15,000 would-be anglers per year. As his grandson Simon explains, “His passion for education and sharing has grown over the years into an important Orvis legacy of increasing access and participation in the fly-fishing and wingshooting communities.”

For Leigh, the importance of handing down family traditions—in life and in business—to the next generation was always on his mind. As his mother had done for him, Leigh passed on his passions to his children, who are all keen anglers, wingshooters, and conservationists. His sons—Leigh H. “Perk” Perkins, Jr. and David—made Orvis their lives’ work. When Leigh retired in 1992, Perk became president and CEO, with Dave working alongside him. Under their leadership, Orvis quadrupled in size. Today, the company is run by Perk’s son, Simon, while his brother, Charley, and his cousin, Hannah, also hold important positions in the business.

Leigh’s fervent belief that anglers and hunters must work to protect those resources that make time in the outdoors so fulfilling became a company ethos and business imperative. In the 1980s, he helped pioneer corporate conservation efforts by donating 5 percent of pre-tax profits to conserving fish and wildlife through organizations including Trout Unlimited, the Ruffed Grouse Society, the Nature Conservancy, and the Atlantic Salmon Federation. “I think this is his greatest and most lasting contribution to the outdoors and the industry,” says Rosenbauer. “It wasn’t a cynical business decision. Leigh did it because he wanted to be a steward of this world he loved. And if the company didn’t make enough profits in a year to support a project, he would reach into his own pocket, quietly, without telling a single customer or even his employees.” He also served on a variety of non-profit boards, and in 1985, he founded the Orvis-Perkins Foundation, which has donated millions of dollars to habitat and wildlife conservation efforts over the years. “It’s no exaggeration to say that Leigh Perkins was a friend to anglers everywhere,” says Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops and long-time friend of Mr. Perkins. “Leigh was a lifelong conservationist. Through his generosity and clear-headed advocacy, he was an inspiration to all of us who care about the outdoors. He was one of our heroes.”

Humble with a self-effacing sense of humor, Leigh once responded to an interviewer who asked what he’d like to be remembered for by saying, “my duck soup recipe.” However, for his dedication and impact on the outdoor world, Leigh received many accolades, including the 1992 Chevron Conservation Award. Nine years later, the University of Minnesota awarded Leigh an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, for “[helping] some of the most prominent and important conservation organizations in the world to modernize their practices, create scientific research programs and achieve their potential for service,” as well as for creating a permanent forest-wildlife research program at the university. In 2016, Bonefish and Tarpon Trust named Leigh Sportsman of Year, honoring his conservation work and dedication to the preservation of the fish and waters he so loved.

Despite all the good he did, Leigh didn’t think of himself as a do-gooder. “No one feels sorry for me,” he once said. “I’ve done exactly what I enjoy most all my life.” It is that example of pursuing the real joy in life that he will be remembered for by everyone with the good luck to have known him.

Leigh H. Perkins is survived by his wife, Anne; children Perk Perkins, David Perkins, Molly Perkins, and Melissa McAvoy; stepchildren Penny Mesic, Annie Ireland, and Jamie Ireland; grandchildren Simon Perkins, Charley Perkins, Hannah Perkins, Molly Perkins, Jake Perkins, Leigh Perkins, Spencer McAvoy, Emma McAvoy, Ralph McAvoy, Melissa Mesic Marshall, and James Mesic; three great-grandchildren; and a pack of four-legged family members.

Click HERE for the full news post by Phil Monahan on Orvis.com.

Fishing nets 5 million new & returning anglers in 2020

2020 was the perfect storm for fishing participation, and consumer sentiment is prime for continued growth in 2021.

Fifty-five million Americans age 6+ went fishing in 2020 according to preliminary data from the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation’s (RBFF) 2021 Special Report on Fishing. These 5 million new and returning anglers, who are younger, more diverse and live in urban areas, represent 10% growth in fishing participation in 2020. In addition to overall participation gains, RBFF saw substantial gains in key segments for growth including youth, women and diverse audiences.

“Fishing, like all other outdoor activities, clearly benefited from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the skillful execution of marketing campaigns pre-COVID has allowed fishing and boating to rise to the top of the consideration set for consumers looking for outdoor activities,” said RBFF Senior Vice President of Marketing & Communications, Stephanie Vatalaro. “2020 was the perfect storm for fishing participation, and consumer sentiment is prime for continued growth in 2021.”

RBFF is releasing participation data early this year to help inform the industry’s efforts to engage and retain these new audiences.

2021 SPECIAL REPORT KEY FINDINGS:

  • Fishing participation rate rose to 18% of the U.S. population, the highest rate in over a decade
  • Youth participation in 2020 grew 53% to 13.5 million total participants
  • Hispanics participated at an all-time high with 4.8 million participants, a 13% increase from 2019
  • 19.7 million female participants represented a 36% of total participants, an all time high
  • Nearly 1.8 million more women went fishing than in the year prior, with a 10% increase
  • First- time participants climbed to 4.4 million (up from 3.1 million last year)
  • Reactivated participants soared at 9.0 million (compared to 6.8 million last year)
  • 88% of current fishing participants fished before the age of 12

Preliminary data also identified a troubling three-year trend among lapsed anglers. In 2020, 8.8 million anglers lapsed out of the sport. This group is primarily made up of Americans age 55+ who cite lack of time, preference for other outdoor activities, cost, loss of interest and lack of access to waterways as the primary reasons they lapsed.

“As an industry, we need to plug our leaky bucket to realize our goal of reaching 60 million anglers by the end of 2021,” added Vatalaro.

RBFF will continue to release new fishing participation data over the course of the next several weeks. The full report will be available in early Summer.

Click HERE for the full press release from the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation.

TU is keeping tabs on important bills before the Arizona Legislature

Trout Unlimited is known for its rock-rolling work where we are often found with our waders on making rivers and streams better for trout and salmon, and of course, anglers. But we also spend plenty of time in our finest attire in the halls of state and federal legislative buildings advocating for smart water policies, protecting public lands and funding allocations to continue our on-the-ground efforts.

With Arizona’s legislative session ramping up, here is a look at some of the bills we are watching and how we’ll play both offense and defense to advance our goals of conserving, protecting and restoring our coldwater fisheries and their watersheds.

HB2056 – This bill, introduced by Rep. Griffin, allows instream water rights holders to have more flexibility with their allocated water allowing for better habitat for aquatic species as well as downstream users. The concern for many water rights holders is the loss of that water right, but this bill would allow these holders to keep more water in the stream for beneficial use while maintaining their water rights.

HB2247 – Also, introduced by Rep. Griffin, this bill would offer tax incentives for companies willing to help with the massive task of removing slash/biomass from areas within the 4FRI footprint and surrounding forest area. We have coined this the “biomass bottleneck” because with thinning and creating healthier forests comes a massive amount (up to 50 tons per acre) of small timber, limbs, shrubs and smaller debris that also needs to be removed. Without this tax credit, there is little incentive for removal of this product; therefore, making forest thinning nearly impossible. Companion legislation has also been introduced in the Senate, SB1177 with Sen. Kerr as the primary sponsor.

HB2127 – The AZ Heritage Fund would give $10 million to park and trail maintenance. Introduced by Representatives Osborne: Blackman, Bowers, Chávez, Cook, Dunn, Hernandez A, Jermaine, Lieberman; and Nutt. This bill has a good chance of passing and would be a boon to anglers, hunters and recreationists across the state.

Of course, we’ll keep our readers updated on the happenings in Arizona’s legislature, and we’ll reach out if we need assistance in advocating for these and perhaps other bills. Keep an eye on TU.org and our Facebook page for the AZTU council for more.

With roadblocks comes opportunity in Arizona

With massive projects like the proposed forest and watershed restoration efforts in Arizona come massive roadblocks. But roadblocks won’t deter Arizona Trout Unlimited from accomplishing its critical goals of forest and, therefore, watershed restoration.

If you’ll recall in our first blog post in this series, AZTU has been at the table urging forest restoration initiatives through the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI) to enhance watershed health for humans as well as trout. In this next installment, we want to alert readers to some of the roadblocks that remain and what AZTU is doing to help solve them.

Across the West, the summer of 2020 saw great devastation from wildfires. While Arizona had several fires, the destruction doesn’t compare to that of West Coast states. However, the Bush Fire burned 195,000 acres in the Tonto National Forest northeast of Phoenix and threatened its water supply. While outside the 4FRI footprint, this fire caused great concern because it burned an area adjacent to a series of reservoirs comprising a major portion of the water supply for the Phoenix Metropolitan area and hosting several warmwater fisheries. Concern remains for long-term runoff impacts on those waters. Across the state fires burned more than 700,000 acres, more than 2018 and 2019 combined. The fires in Arizona highlighted the urgency needed to restore forests and watersheds to their healthiest versions.

So, in an effort to continue moving things forward with 4FRI’s goals, the state and the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently signed a memorandum of understanding stating that they will continue collaborating on planning and implementation focused on shared stewardship in regard to land management, protection of municipalities and watersheds and restoration. Of particular interest to AZTU is the portion stating this collaboration will protect and preserve aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems and provide sustainable habitats for species of interest supporting Arizona’s robust hunting, fishing, sight-seeing, birdwatching and recreation economies. AZTU representatives and other interests are working to help define how this collaboration will work through specific working group meetings.

While this MOU and its collaborative nature is a positive step forward, there is need to look at bottlenecks holding up these efforts. First, there is the cost to implement 4FRI projects. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) will gain some help mitigating costs from state agencies such as the AZ Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) and the Department of Forestry and Fire Management (DFFM), but there is still a large funding gap. The USFS and a number of other collaborators, including TU, are also investigating conservation finance, which is an approach to leverage private and foundation-based finances to meet some of 4FRI’s goals.

Closely tied to the finance issue is the so called “biomass bottleneck.” With 50,000 acres on tap to be mitigated each year for 20 years, there comes a significant amount of biomass (limbs, shrubs, smaller debris — as much as 50 tons per acre) from forest thinning. What can be done with this biomass and who will pay for that? Because this biomass has little monetary value and can be costly to move and process, the forest thinning effort, the key component of the 4FRI effort, is highly compromised. The Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), which is the state utilities regulator, has looked into the possibility to use biomass for power generation and has mandated a pilot effort that has proven to be very effective. This has so far been the only approach shown to be reasonable to dispose of this material; it is scalable and would relatively inexpensively facilitate the critical forest and watershed protection efforts, but the ACC has so far refused to expand this effort. A lot of people, multiple organizations including AZTU, and other state and federal elected officials and the utilities are working on this frustrating refusal issue.

In addition, the USFS is running a lengthy request for proposal process with final bids expected to be selected sometime in the first quarter of 2021 to determine if any private companies can assist with this issue and to determine if 50,000 acres per year for 20 years is even realistic.

This pre-COVID meeting took place on a Rim Country EIS field trip. Participants listen to Alan Hayden of Natural Channel Design Co discuss stream restoration techniques on Canyon Creek in the Tonto National Forest. This Field Trip was organized by AZTU and AZGFD, representatives for the USFS and 4FRI Stakeholders group as part of the Rim Country EIS process.

The USFS is still conducting its Rim Country environmental impact statement (EIS), and there are many questions as to how to roll out its implementation once the NEPA effort is complete. Because AZTU is deeply involved in the 4FRI stakeholder group working on planning and implementation, this is of special interest. With 777 miles of perennial streams and over 1,000 miles of ephemeral streams effected, it is critical work for AZTU. With numerous meetings to discuss plans concerning water resources and forest vegetation treatments, this stakeholder working group will be essential to ensuring Arizona’s forest restoration initiatives are rolled out successfully.

In the meantime, AZTU and the Arizona Chapters are working on other separate but 4FRI associated projects on the East Verde River and the Black River Forest Restoration environmental assessment. In conjunction with the USFS and AZGFD, AZTU hopes that this some of this work can fit under 4FRI’s regulatory approval process, or at least be consistent with the 4FRI desired approach. The hope is that this collaboration will see additional stream restoration work on native Gila trout recovery streams Dude Creek and Chase Creek that are tributaries to the East Verde River in fall 2021. In addition, AZTU also wants to ensure the 90,000-plus acres in the Black River Forest Restoration Project, home to good habitat for Apache trout, are restored with water restoration in mind.

Within the 4FRI footprint, TU helped install these rock barbs to help reduce the impact from major floods and help secure bank structure.

Of course, more funding and project staffing is always needed, but to AZTU, it is imperative to continue working on these key, on-the-ground projects with whatever funding is available to ensure rivers and streams, and the fish, have the resiliency to stand up to climate change and catastrophic wildfires.

AZTU is working diligently to raise awareness for water issues at the forefront of management and implementation plans. By being a willing collaborator, AZTU continues to ensure water is an important piece of the 4FRI efforts for overall forest and watershed health in Arizona.

Stay tuned for more on Arizona’s 4FRI efforts on TU.org.

Click HERE for the full article by Kara Armano on tu.org.

Is fly fishing going to “implode” as a result of the pandemic?

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…” Charles Dickens, from A Tale of Two Cities.

We all saw what happened. Last March, we all wondered how the heck we might survive (literally, and in a business sense) the pandemic. Sadly, some did not. Brick-and-mortar-based shopping got hammered. Travel took it on the chin even worse. But (as AT predicted), in the absence of T-ball leagues, and malls, and movie theaters, and all that, people had fewer other recreational options to tap. And that sent a lot of folks straight to the river (or lake, or ocean), all over the nation. Some to fish, some to float, some to boat, some to swim and others to merely be there. How many? The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation just estimated somewhere around 17 million people.

The “ A River Runs Through It” phenomenon that transformed fly-fishing in 1992 is now small potatoes in comparison to what happened in 2020.

And for all the collective hand-wringing the fly industry has done over the past 20 years… “How do we get younger?” “How do we get more diverse?” “How do we keep fly fishing en vogue in an increasingly urbanizing society?” … the answer/opportunity came out of nowhere. Granted, it took the form of a shitty plague of Biblical proportion, but there are more young families, from all walks of life, from all points of the nation, that literally got their feet wet last year than ever in our lifetimes.

And all many of them want now is to learn how to fish.

But will fly fishing benefit from the goose that laid the golden egg, or will the fly-fishing community just lay an egg itself?

Sure, some businesses sold rods, and reels, and flies, and tippet faster than they could make (or stock) them. Some guides booked more days on the water than ever before. Some media-particularly social media—saw their audiences balloon beyond expectations. And for some, yeah, the money poured in.

But all that all came at another price.

That squeaky, grinding, crunchy noise you hear in your brain when you aren’t listening to the cash register ring is the hole that’s being drilled in the bottom of the fly-fishing consumer bucket.

Many of the die-hard aficionado types, who have been devoted to fly fishing for years (e.g. “the base”… the highest-spending, most dedicated consumers who actually buy $900 fly rods and $700 waders) are absolutely mortified by the crowds, the pressure, and the overall degradation of the on-the-water experience we saw last season. Read the message boards. Look at the threads. We’re in a spot where some lovers of this sport are ready to throw their hands up and walk away, and the newbies are also having gag-reactions to their first impressions, because of the circus atmosphere. And that pressure is unlikely to dissipate—the RBFF study also indicated over 90% of the newbies on the water want to continue that connection. That’s wonderful on one hand… what opportunity! It’s very, very dangerous on the other.

It breaks my heart, as a former guide, and someone who has written about, worked with and maintains so many genuine personal connections with guides and outfitters throughout the country that guides and outfitters risk being the ones who are tarred and feathered.

Guides, outfitters, and shops have been, and in my mind will be, the gatekeepers, the shepherds, the stewards. And manufacturers who see this current situation as an opportunity to sell more direct, and boost the bottom line, without also lifting and working collaboratively with those gatekeeper shops, guides and outfitters right now are not just selling out the partners who made their brands happen in the first place… they are risking selling out the sport as a whole.

On the other hand, some outfitters are hosing the fly community by being short-sighted. For example, it’s maybe not the best idea to run a multi-boat armada to accommodate a bachelor party on a public stretch on one of the most popular floats in Colorado, on a weekend, in the middle of summer. I saw this happen as I rowed my 22-year-old aspiring-attorney niece, and 17-year-old fishing-obsessed nephew—exactly the types we need to engage for the long-term health of the sport—only to have their experience on one of the most sacred, pristine rivers in the world end up being a day of watching a bunch of drunk, foul-mouthed googans reefing on fish and peeing off the backs of dories.

And some wonder why the fingers get pointed at guides and outfitters, and why there are movements in places like the Madison, or the Colorado, or the Delaware to “control” this stuff.

I still believe fly fishing is more than a market; it’s a community, even a family. Which is to say, we’re all in this together. Always have been, and hopefully always will be.

So, let’s work together to think about solutions on how to manage the influx, the crowding concern, and keep things pointed in what might unquestionably be a huge upward path for fly fishing.

As a habit, I never raise a concern without also raising some possible solutions/things to consider. So let me offer a handful here, and if you think I’m full of beans, tell me. I’m a big boy, and I can take the criticism. I just want to find a path forward. Outfitters:

  1. Raise your prices for guide trips. Add a hundred bucks per trip, and share that with your guides. Pay guides better, and pay yourself better. The dabblers won’t notice the difference, and if they do, fine. Better to do 100 trips at $700 a day than 125 trips at $500 a day.
  2. Talk to each other. Even though you’re competitors… spread it out. Fine, your permit says you’re entitled to A.B.C… trust that that will come in the long haul. “I’m going to be here with X, you go there with X, so we’re not tripping all over each other” is a very enlightened approach.
  3. Limit the hours that guides are on the water. Sure, chase the hatches and so forth, but the average non-angler client doesn’t begin to understand that stuff. Yield a window to those who do. Give them a shot.
  4. Focus on “coaching” and “teaching” and make a new generation of do-it-yourself anglers. The people who just want boat rides and pulling on fish are not long-term prospects… in fact, they are obstacles to those who really are legitimate anglers, or might want to be.
  5. Catch fewer, better fish, as the benchmark for success. Instill that on your sports. We share the resource, and we need to share the fish. A 30-fish day might have been the gold standard on your river five years ago, but bobber fishing just to feel the tug, without any real thought, isn’t really the essence. Catch a few on nymphs, then endeavor to catch a few on dries, or streamers, whatever. Make anglers… not just photo-ops.
  6. Work together and make a plan, together, for when the DNR (or whatever it’s called in your state) comes calling. Believe me… they are going to come calling.
  7. Lastly, double down on conservation and public access. Trout Unlimited, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, American Rivers, CCA… whatever. These groups make the sport possible in the first place, and it is unconscionable to be in the business of selling fishing, these days, if you don’t also demonstrate a conscience.

This can literally be the greatest, most positively-transformative “moment” in the history of fly fishing. Or it can be the demise of the sport and your business. This should be a priority concern for the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, and all its members. It is the number-one concern of Angling Trade.

Let’s seize the moment. Let’s work together. Let’s figure this out.

Click HERE for the full article by Kirk Deeter on anglingtrade.com.

Stocking of Gila Trout in West Fork of Oak Creek

See how Arizona Game and Fish stocks Gila trout, one of the state’s native trout species, at the West Fork of Oak Creek. Lakes where Gila trout have been stocked in Prescott include Lynx Lake, Watson Lake and Goldwater Lake. They can also be found near Safford, at the Frye Mesa Reservoir.

This video was produced by the Marketing branch of the Arizona Game & Fish Department. Producer: Bryce Sutter

Scouts, anglers join forces to improve conditions for native trout at Christopher Creek

PAYSON — Intermittent drops of water trickle out of a suspended pipe bridging two banks of Christopher Creek. The water rings from the leak are the only disturbance to the sedimented surface. Beneath it, few native fish still survive.

Drier seasons, hotter temperatures, steady erosion and a lack of maintenance has led to warmer waters and an increase in soil in the waterbody. This had made portions of the creek unsustainable to some native wildlife.

Now, organizations like the Boy Scouts of America and Trout Unlimited are investing in the creek’s restoration. Their work will address affected areas by improving cold-water flow, supporting soil banks and reintroducing native fish. By cooling temperatures and keeping soil from eroding into the water, a fishery in Christopher Creek has a better chance of survival.

“To keep our wildlife flourishing, our reconstructed habitats to have features that allow for it to both survive with really small flows and withstand really large flows,” said Allen Haden, an aquatic ecologist for Natural Channel Design Engineering. “That’s the challenge of the Southwest.”

Arizona’s ecology itself is a unique challenge to the engineers and ecologists studying the science behind the restoration. If changes to Christopher Creek are to be successful in the long term, the waterway must be able to support the survival of native fish through dry summers and post-wildfire flooding.

Service for the scouts

Greg Harmon, director of support services for the scouts’ Grand Canyon Council, sees the restoration project as the perfect opportunity to introduce youth to conservation.

“Kids now live surrounded by concrete. We want them to reconnect to the outdoors by going outdoors and learning to love it. If you don’t love something, you won’t want to learn how to protect it,” Harmon said. “We want them to know part of being a good citizen is giving back to others and we want them to do that through the environment.”

The restoration focuses on parts of the creek near the Roosevelt Council Scout Ranch, about 20 miles northeast of Payson. A key element to the project is the involvement of the scouts in the restoration work.

“Arizona struggles in a lot of ways with water and climate change. There are a lot of things going on so we want to expose kids to those challenges,” Harmon said. “One of the best ways to do that is through service projects because they get to go out there and exert some manual labor. They sweat and at the end of it they get to say: ‘I did this.’”

Service for the scouts will most likely begin next year, after the initial assessment of Christopher Creek is completed this November.

Over the last few months a similar project has been taking place at Camp Geronimo, another scout camp around 40 miles northwest of the R-C Scout Ranch. Scouts have logged over 9,000 hours of work in the implementation of the master erosion plan at the camp.

“If we don’t expose kids to nature and tell them why it’s significant and how they can connect to it, then they won’t see any value in it,” Harmon said. “Then as future adults, they won’t vote to protect it and they don’t do what is necessary to make sure it’s there for their children.”

Angling and reintroduction

Earlier this month, the Arizona Council of Trout Unlimited received a $2,500 grant through the national organization’s Embrace A Stream program. This money is being put toward the Christopher Creek restoration at the ranch.

One of the key elements will be the reintroduction of native fish, such as roundtail chub, longfin dace and Gila trout.

Gila trout are one of only two native trout species in Arizona; the other is the Apache trout, the state fish. These species are native only to southeastern and central Arizona, as well as southwestern New Mexico.

“They’re a big part of our legacy and heritage here in Arizona. They’re one of the coolest parts of the diversity of fish species that we have in the Southwest,” said Zach Beard, the native trout and chub coordinator for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “Reintroduction of Gila trout and all those native species is great because having more biological diversity is a really great thing for the environment.”

Habitat degradation, overharvesting, introduction of nonnative fish and both water loss and overuse, pushed native trout close to extinction, Beard said. In 2017, the department conducted a fish survey at Christopher Creek and found that longfin dace were the only native fish in the stream.

Through specific reintroductions and stricter regulations, native trout populations have slowly recovered.

There are currently seven creeks in Arizona — Chase, Coleman, Dude, Frye, Grapevine, Marijilda and Raspberry — that are considered recovery streams for Gila trout, meaning the harvesting of these fish is prohibited.

“Those fish populations are more focused on trying to get Gila trout to a point where they can be delisted from the Endangered Species Act,” Beard said. “But there are other places, recreational streams, to fish for native trout.”

Once Gila trout is reintroduced to Christopher Creek it will be added to the list of recreational water bodies where anglers can fish for the trout.

The list of current recreational water bodies includes the East Verde River, Frye Mesa Reservoir, Goldwater Lake, Lynx Lake, Oak Creek, Watson Lake and West Fork Oak Creek.

“What better thing for a young person to be able to come down to a nature center and one, fish for roundtail chub, two, be able to see dace dancing in the water, and three, be able to find Chiricahua leopard frogs and also fish for Gila trout in adjoining steams,” said Alan Davis, the Christopher Creek project chair and the president of the Zane Grey Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

Alongside improving cold-water flow and reintroducing native fish, Davis and Harmon also plan to repair the youth fishing pond at the R-C Scout Ranch.

“Scouts, especially cub scouts, are usually new to fishing and they don’t have a lot of skill yet, so by stocking a small pond we can increase their chances of catching,” Harmon said. “To watch their faces light up the first time they get something on the line or the first time they touch the sliminess of a fish is a really neat organic experience. The pond allows us to do that.”

Following the restoration of both the pond and creek, Harmon hopes to continue the relationship between the scouts and Trout Unlimited. Scouts usually partner with other groups to teach skill sets for specific merit badges, like fishing.

“As an organization, we can’t be the experts in everything. We need to look to outside groups who are experts and we need to bring in that expertise. By partnering with these groups, we are getting a whole new source of adults to expose our youth to,” Harmon said.

“One of the great things about doing this, especially with Trout Unlimited, is that we’re connecting youth with fantastic role models,” Harmon said. “Alan (Davis) is a great example. He is a professional guy and the lovable grandfather every kid wants in their lives.”

WHAT CAN BE DONE? As climate change fuels heat, fires, drought, Republic panel examines threats, solutions

Restoring waterways

Data collection and surveying is the first step to the Christopher Creek restoration. This work won’t be done by scouts, but by Natural Channel Design Engineering.

“We will be looking at the habitat there and how we can make it better. We haven’t done the assessment yet, but one of the things we do look for is what the potential for the site is going to be,” Haden said.

There is a high demand for fishing and camping in the Christopher Creek area, according to Haden. The amount of human activity is being compounded by the effects of climate change, which Haden says inevitably affects the environment.

“All of those things have an impact. They are all resources we are trying to take out,” Haden said. “We are in this drought period, so we have less water and as things warm up, so does the water. This leads to more erosion, putting more sediment into the stream. All of these different impacts coming together.”

Haden hopes to have the initial assessment of the creek completed by November. The process is complicated and made more difficult because of the unique environmental challenges of Arizona’s climate.

The restorations to Christopher Creek must allow for the wildlife to survive both the lack of water during the summers and the intense flooding that commonly follows wildfire season.

“This is really unique to the Southwest and it’s challenging to restore a waterbody that needs to withstand both really small flows and really large flows,” Haden said.

Over the years Haden has worked for Natural Channel Design, he has seen the type of work the firm does adapt to climate change.

“It used to be that we were mostly asked to look at stream stability (and) while that’s still a portion of what we do, in the last couple years a lot of projects have been focusing on how we make a pond or a creek work with less water and also how do we improve the temperature of a stream if it’s getting warmer,” Haden said.

“All those issues have come to the forefront,” he said, “and I don’t think the demand for the kind of work we are now doing is going to drop off.”

Click HERE for the full article by Anton L. Delgado at The Arizona Republic/AZCentral.

Army Corps says no to massive gold mine proposed near Bristol Bay in Alaska

The Trump administration denied a key permit on Wednesday for a massive gold and copper mine in Alaska striking a devastating blow to a project opposed by an unusual coalition that includes the president’s son as well as conservationists and Alaska Natives.

In a statement, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Alaska Commander Col. Damon Delarosa said the agency would block Pebble Mine because it determined that the plan the Pebble Limited Partnership submitted to deal with the project’s waste “does not comply with Clean Water Act guidelines and concluded that the proposed project is contrary to the public interest.”

While the Trump administration has pressed ahead to weaken environmental protections and expand energy development before the president’s term ends in January, the upcoming mine decision represents a major win for environmentalists, fishing enthusiasts and tribal rights.

Trump officials had allowed the Pebble Limited Partnership, a subsidiary of a Canadian firm, to apply for a permit even though the Obama administration had concluded in 2014 the firm could not seek federal approval because it could have “significant” and potentially “catastrophic” impacts on the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery in nearby Bristol Bay. As recently as July, the Corps concluded that the mine would have “no measurable effect” on area fish populations.

But a slew of Alaskan and federal agencies warned that the project would inflict permanent damage on the region, destroying more than 2,800 acres of wetlands, 130 miles of streams and more than 130 acres of open water within Alaska’s Koktuli River Watershed. The proposed site lies at the river’s headwaters.

And an unlikely coalition of opponents formed when Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Vice President Pence’s former chief of staff, Nick Ayers – who all have enjoyed fishing or hunting around Bristol Bay – joined with traditional environmental groups and the region’s tribes in opposition to the project.

Opponents received a major boost in September when the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) released recordings of secretly-taped Zoom calls in which the project’s top executives boasted of their influence inside the White House and to Alaska lawmakers to win a federal permit. Alaska’s two GOP senators, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, issued statements saying they opposed the plan and within days Pebble’s CEO, Tom Collier, resigned.

Pebble issued a plan to the Corps this fall outlining how it would compensate for any damage inflicted by the project, which would span more than 13 miles and require the construction of a 270-megawatt power plant, natural gas pipeline, 82-mile double-lane road, elaborate storage facilities and the dredging of a port at Iliamna Bay.

While the company applied for just a 20 -year permit, Northern Dynasty Minerals CEO Ronald Thiessen said in secretly-recorded conversations that he expected the operation could extract valuable minerals for decades longer than that.

Federal officials concluded that the plan the company outlined for curbing the operation’s environmental impact was not sufficient, the two officials briefed on the decision said.

President-elect Joe Biden has already said he would not allow the mine to be built.

“It is no place for a mine,” Biden said in a statement in August. “The Obama-Biden Administration reached that conclusion when we ran a rigorous, science-based process in 2014, and it is still true today.”

Trout Unlimited President Chris Wood, whose anglers’ group had campaigned against the project, said that a decision to deny it a permit would be “a victory for common sense. Bristol Bay is the wrong place for industrial-scale mining, and we look forward to working with the state and other partners to protect Bristol Bay and its world-class fisheries permanently.”

Click HERE for the full article by Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.