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Trump is attacking trout streams on multiple fronts

By Troutnut on January 24th, 2017, 1:33 pm
I would love nothing more than to be able to keep this website apolitical and stick to fishing.

Unfortunately, a sizable minority of our population voted for Donald Trump, and now those of us who care about the environment are in for the fight of our lives. All of us with a platform to reach the public now have an obligation to call attention to what he's doing and why it's wrong.

The Pebble Mine

One key battle concerns the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska. If built, it would be the world's largest open-pit gold and copper mine. I do not categorically oppose all mining, because we need materials to build things, and there are many places to extract minerals without major long-term risks to the environment. However, the Pebble Mine might be in the single worst location on the entire planet for this type of mine. Even the late Republican Senator Ted Stevens, an ardent supporter of resource development if ever there was one, called Pebble, "the wrong mine in the wrong place."

As an ore mine that would use chemical leaching processes to extract minerals, the Pebble Mine would store a massive reservoir of toxic chemicals behind the world's largest earthen tailings dam in a very seismically active area. Worse yet, it straddles the headwaters of two of the major river systems (the Kvichak and Nushagak) feeding into Bristol Bay. Bristol Bay supports the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world and an estimated $1.5 billion in annual economic activity. Of all salmon species, sockeye are especially susceptible to a major spill because so much of their reproduction depends on lakes rather than small tributaries, meaning a spill in any tributary that flows into the lake could be devastating. Leaks from the mine into the Kvichak system would flow into Lake Iliamna, the largest lake in Alaska and a major sockeye producer.

For more details on the Pebble Mine, see the efforts to stop it by Trout Unlimited, the Natural Resources Defense Council. It's also opposed by the locals, the Bristol Bay Native Corporation. Conservationists were hopeful that this long battle had been won when the Anglo American and Rio Tinto mining companies walked away from the project.

Just about the only ones who want this mine built are Northern Dynasty Minerals, the Canadian mining company that owns the mineral rights, and now Donald Trump. The CEO of Northern Dynasty said today that the Trump administration has a desire to permit the mine and they're looking for a new partner to develop it. In short, Trump is trying to fast-track a project that would endanger a priceless treasure of the natural world, and thousands of American jobs that depend on it, solely to create profits for a foreign corporation.

The Clean Water Rule

Trump is also targeting the Clean Water Rule, a set of EPA guidelines clarifying how existing law applies to water bodies such as small streams. You can view a series of fact sheets about the Clean Water Rule on the EPA website right now. (I've downloaded them all to mirror in case they get scrubbed from the site.) As a fish ecologist I can vouch for the rich scientific literature documenting the importance of headwater streams to the water quality and productivity of downstream rivers. They need protection for that reason, but they're also treasured in their own right by small-stream anglers everywhere. This one could directly affect the streams you fish. The rule also protects wetlands critical to fish and wildlife.

Just as importantly, the rule exists to close a loophole being used by developers in response to the Clean Water Act legislation. The Clean Water Act prohibited dumping toxic waste directly into major rivers, so polluters started dumping it into smaller water bodies that drain into those clearly protected rivers. The Clean Water Rule closes this loophole.

Small streams. I like them. Preferably without toxic waste.

The Trump administration is committed to eliminating the rule. From their new website:

For too long, we’ve been held back by burdensome regulations on our energy industry. President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule. Lifting these restrictions will greatly help American workers, increasing wages by more than $30 billion over the next 7 years.

They made that $30 billion number up -- it's one of those "alternative facts." An analysis by actual scientists and economists found that the rule has a positive economic impact. The protected waters contribute value to the tourism industry, and the act of protecting them creates jobs because companies have to spend money (and hire people) to do right by the environment. So the rule is good for everyone in the economy except the people at the very top who want to increase their profits by cutting environmental corners and paying fewer employees.

For more details, see coverage by Hatch Magazine.

More to come

I'm sure this is just the beginning. I will continue to speak out as much as I can when it's necessary, and I'm afraid it's going to be necessary a lot.

Beautiful day on the Kenai River with Corsetti's Guide Service

By Troutnut on June 28th, 2016
I mentioned in a previous post that my friend and coworker Sierra's father started a guide service on the Kenai River this summer. Lena and I were down in the area in late June and took them up on an offer to go out fishing.

Following a winter of heavy snowpack and a recent spell of hot weather, the middle Kenai River was about three feet higher than normal, well up into the streambank trees.

Fishing from the bank was out of the question anywhere along the river, as all the gravel bars were inundated, but it was very comfortable fishing from Perry's new power drift boat using a mix of spin and fly gear.

Despite the really high water and starting--at our request--later in the day than would have been ideal for the fishing, everybody still caught trout.

Even if we hadn't caught fish, the scenery and company alone would have made for a great day on the water.

Thanks for a great trip, Perry and Sierra!

Photos by Troutnut from the Kenai River in Alaska

Putting the 'nut' back in Troutnut, Part II

By Troutnut on June 24th, 2016
This post is a continuation from Part I.

Using the same techniques I figured out the previous night, the action in the morning was even hotter. Pools that seemed fishless when nymphing the previous evening came alive.

Swinging the streamer through the calmer spots amidst the whitewater brought violent strikes in which big rainbows, flashing silver and red and gold sides, rocketed into the air and cartwheeled back into the river with a big splash. For a brief, beautiful hour, almost every cast drew one of these spectacular strikes.

Hooking fish was the easy part. These were strong, wild, fast-water fish that see a lot of pressure, and they knew what to do when hooked. Every fish I hooked over 20 inches tore off downstream into the maelstrom while I desperately tried to keep up, clamoring over the boulders on the edge of the stream, blocked in by brush on the bank side and whitewater on the other. The drag on my Hardy large arbor reel screamed as these big fish turned their sides to the raging current and shot off toward the ocean. The first few fish wrapped my line up in the rocks or got so far downstream they could easily turn back upstream and spit the hook. I lost the first few big ones.

Finally, one of these fights went my way, and I landed this 21-incher:

A pretty 18-incher soon followed:

Josh was seeing some action on rainbows, too. But it was hard to communicate over the roar of the whitewater.

He had never caught a really big trout on the fly, and a main goal of the trip was to get him into one. He had hooked and lost a nice one the night before. Out of pure good luck, I was nearby with the camera when he hooked into a 20-incher in the morning. I wasn't quite close enough to help with the landing net (his was lost to a tree during the hike in), but he skillfully landed it without one:

As we reached midday, the action slowed. But there was one spot I knew there were fish I hadn't caught. Earlier I had somehow dropped a fly into the dark water behind the far boulder in the picture below, and a rainbow immediately chased it, but the whitewater in the middle grabbed my line and yanked the fly away.

It was about a 75-foot cast, and I've never had much practice casting long distances -- let alone throwing a streamer and split shot with my 5-weight, and obstacles to the backcast. But this would be as good a time as any to learn. I stood atop the rock for probably an hour, working on my technique.

At first, maybe one in every ten or fifteen casts found its mark, and the fly swam through the target zone for a second or two before being ripped out by the current in between. Almost every time it did, the trout chased, and every time they did, they missed, often by the narrowest of margins. The first trout I'd seen in that spot was just a small one, 14 inches or so, but one of the first good repeat attempts drew out a monster. It made multiple follows and even aerial acrobatic attacks on my fly that never quite connected.

Eventually I improved my casting to 1 in 5 or so finding its mark, and I hooked the 14-incher. It fought like a fish twice its weight in the current, and was the most rewarding fish of that size I'd ever landed. Eschewing any chance at easier fish in other pools, I returned to trying for the big one.

After an hour or so, half my casts were landing, and half of those were drawing missed strikes. Finally, I connected! The big rainbow leaped into the air and then shot off into the same fast water that kept me from hooking it for an hour. The few remaining feet of fly line peeled off my reel into the backing, and I jumped down off the boulder to pursue. But I never had a chance. It was a fitting end to this trip that the big fish won the day. But I've never had so much fun losing a fish in my life.

Photos by Troutnut from the Gulkana River in Alaska

On-stream insect photos by Troutnut from the Gulkana River in Alaska

I'm not positive on the ID on this one -- I can't see the defining characteristics well enough to confirm.
This is a female. Males of the same species in the area had very short wings. From the Gulkana River in Alaska.
I'm not positive on the ID on this one -- I can't see the defining characteristics well enough to confirm.
This is a female. Males of the same species in the area had very short wings.
Date TakenJun 24, 2016
Date AddedOct 26, 2016
CameraNIKON 1 AW1

Putting the 'nut' back in Troutnut

By Troutnut on June 23rd, 2016
Last month I realized it had been too long since I did something ridiculous to catch some trout. So I recruited my friend and summer fieldwork crew member Josh to go chase big rainbows in a well-known spot on the Gulkana River. However, this well-known spot is really accessible only to people doing the 4- to 5-day float trip from Paxson Lake to Sourdough Landing, and we only had time for an overnight trip and no boat.

Various government brochures speak of a six-mile trail, the Haggard Creek Trail, leading from the Richardson Highway to this spot on the river, Canyon Rapids, a half-mile of raging Class III-IV whitewater that most floaters have to portage, or at least portage their gear and run with empty boats. One online source warned that the trail can be "a bit swampy," so I warned Josh with that caveat -- "It might be a bit swampy."

This video of the trip shows what they meant by that (and the fishing afterward):

Yeah, just a bit swampy.

To be fair, the lakes were actually to the side of the trail. This was the actual trail:

This, too:

The mosquitoes were as bad as I've ever seen them anywhere in Alaska except the North Slope. This was typical:

Most of the trail was hard to even find, let alone follow. It's really a winter trail. In the summer it's mostly untracked bog, with the "trail" frequently opening up into larger boggy meadows in which the trail's exit is unclear and no walkable route is apparent. I relied on coarse aerial imagery on my GPS to let me know when we'd wandered too far from the supposed trail in one direction or another. It reminded me of the scene below, but with trout at the end instead of Mordor. And my guide kept quiet instead of coughing out, "Garmin! Garmin!"

After five hours in the swamp, the sound of running water was a great relief, followed by this view:

We set up camp at one of the nice campsites used by the heavy raft traffic ("heavy" means at least a few parties per day here):

Then got to fishing the whitewater:

When we began fishing mid-evening, fishing nymphs under indicators, we mostly just caught small 10-15" grayling. Dozens of them. Fish on every cast at times. But there was little sign of the big rainbows we came for. The nymphs just picked up some little ones, like this:

There were a lot of seagulls around, and I watched them as I fished, curious about why they were here. There were salmon in the river, both reds and kings, but we didn't see many, and no dead ones yet for the seagulls to peck at. What drew them to this spot?

After a while I figured out the gulls, and with them, the rainbows. Finger-length sockeye salmon smolts were outmigrating from Paxson Lake upstream. When they hit the roiling whitewater of the canyon, some of them got momentarily disoriented and boiled up to the surface. That's when the gulls would swoop down and grab them. I figured the rainbows, which had been largely ignoring our nymphs, might be doing something similar. So I put on a silvery streamer and the real fun began.

We fished until close to midnight. But the action was only getting started -- see Part II.

Photos by Troutnut from the Gulkana River in Alaska

Friend's family starting a Kenai River fishing guide service

By Troutnut on May 5th, 2016, 2:52 pm
My friend and fieldwork crew member Sierra comes from a rural Alaskan family with a strong angling tradition, and they've been spending summers on the Kenai River for a long time. Several times last summer she returned from the long breaks between our research trips describing what fun she had fishing the Kenai for trout and salmon with her family. This year, her dad is starting up a new guiding business: Corsetti's Kenai River Guide Service.

I'm hoping to get down there myself summer. If any Troutnut readers are thinking of heading to Alaska anytime soon, give him a call -- I think you'll have a great experience. His rates are better than what I've paid in the past on the Kenai River, and you'll be fishing with the head guide who has lived in the area and built up many years of experience on the river.
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