Thursday, May 17, 2012

From the Great Lakes with Love

Dear Yellowstone,

I have never been to see you. Ever. Don't know if I ever will. I hear you have good fishing there. Sounds interesting. I haven't been to see you, but I've watched you on TV. And I play a fly fisherman in real life.

I hear that Yellowstone Lake has a little problem with lake trout. I feel your pain. Lake trout are native here in the Great Lakes, and we kind of like them. Especially the siscowets, a red-fleshed variety that is highly prized. Lake trout smoke up right nicely. Maybe I come from the same side/other side of the fence.  You see, we here in Great Lakes Land have had our share, no, more than our fair share of invaders. Brown trout. Rainbow trout. Lampreys. Alewives. Smelt. Salmon. Gobies. Zebra mussels.  Quagga mussels. The list goes on and on, while our native species have dwindled to a shadow of their former glory.

The Great Lakes used to have a major commercial fishery that seemed boundless, and freight cars of fish were shipped to markets in Detroit, Chicago and New York.  Then the Welland canal connected the Great Lakes to shipping traffic from the Atlantic. First came sea lampreys, which found an easy meal in the slow moving lakers, decimating them.  Then the alewives.  These bred out of control until they died en masse, windrowing the beaches with tons of rotting, stinking fish.  Salmon were introduced to control the alewives.  They did this, and the current world record coho salmon comes from Michigan, not British Columbia or Washington. They also displaced native brook trout and introduced a lot of bad behavior on the part of anglers. Smelt, introduced to Crystal Lake as a food source for trout, also decimated native fish populations, as they are a predator that feeds voraciously on fish eggs and fry. About twenty years ago ships from Asia discharged their ballast water here, releasing zebra mussels, quagga mussels, and freshwater gobies.  The zebra mussels are ubiquitous now, and they filter so much water that the lakes are much cleaner. The downside is that their tiny, razor-sharp shells litter the beaches in many areas, necessitating beach shoes, and they have done billions of dollars in damage to infra-structure.

The invasion continues. Right now, one of the biggest invasions in the natural world is underway- Asian carp, with the ability to homogenize our waters, and make boating unsafe, are on the verge of invading the Great Lakes.  Unnatural waterways connect the Great Lakes to the Mississippi basin, already infected with these pernicious species.  We're just hoping this nightmare never comes true. The Army Corps of Engineers and the current presidential administration continue to oppose closing the links that connect the Great Lakes to disaster.

Which brings me to Yellowstone.  I love cutthroat trout.  I love native fish and intact ecosystems. I want to fish there, I want to catch cutthroat, I don't want to catch Lakers.  That's what the Great Lakes are for. I feel your pain Yellowstone- to see your native fish wiped out and endangered by an introduced invader. To see your heritage plundered.  Our fish are more than just cutthroat and lakers. For instance, we had grayling. Not anymore. They were wiped out by indiscriminate fishing and logging. Our lakes hold not just whitefish, but several species of lake herring, ciscoes and pin herring, many of them seriously reduced in number, a shadow of the fishery they used to be.. Our lake trout are back, but we're happy about that, they're native, and not endangering any cutthroat here. Ironically, the introduction of Asian gobies seems to have helped the lake trout as well as the smallmouth bass, a food source that suits them. Good times.

Yellowstone- save yourself. Kill this lake trout scourge. Do whatever it takes. Trap, shoot, fish, gillnet, kill, kill, kill the lake trout. Wipe their memory from your lake.We will preserve it in our waters, our right, our responsibility. Save your precious cutthroat. I share this info about the Great Lakes as both a cautionary tale and a glimmer of hope.  First of all, no one is going to open a shipping canal to Yellowstone Lake, so that should spare you several dozen invasive species.  With only one fish species to focus on you should be able to makes some progress.  I doubt you'll ever completely eradicate lakers, but with some hard work, millions of dollars and some luck you should be able to knock them back a bit. The Great Lakes are a shadow of their natural glory, but you know what? The fishing is still pretty good here.  You should be able to exert enough pressure on the lakers to bring the cutthroat trout back to viable levels.  It will take hard work, a lot of money and an ongoing commitment, but it's doable.

One day I will hike the back country of Yellowstone and catch native cutthroats. I've done everything else I've wanted to do, so why not this?  Lakers won't picture in this. Running streams, mountains, high country dotted by coyote crap, the mountain flowers fertilized inadvertantly by digested voles. Bison grunting contentedly, or perhaps menacingly. Maybe I'll get eaten by a grizzly bear, excreted into a stream, devoured by stoneflies and fed upon by cutthroat trout rising to the salmon fly hatch. This would make me happy, a happy end to all my vagabonding, my own circus ride through a multitude of digestive tracts.  Hopefully I'll live, catch some fish, and lay down on the banks for a nap, smelling the sweet grass and flowers in that rarefied air of America's first National Park, my hands smelling of cutthroat.

Sincerely

Jason Tucker
The Great Lakes

This is my submission for the Trout UnlimitedSimms, the Yellowstone Park Foundation and the Outdoor Blogger Network – Blogger Tour 2012 contest.

25 comments:

  1. great entry! I hope you get to see this magnificent landscape,
    Tight LInes,
    Koz

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  2. Yeah, they do seem to have a chance to unwind what we'll never be able to unwind here in the east. Excellent entry, Jason.

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    1. Thanks Steve. I hope they put a serious dent in them, and that the misguided locals who brought this on learn their lesson.

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  3. Loved this - I'm from Southern IL where the carp have decimated our fisheries and ecosystems - I hope for your sake they never ever get to the Great Lakes.. close the damn canals already - because those sneaky carp will get through any man made barrier they can throw at them. Trust me on this one.

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    1. I hope they put an end to this nonsense. I hate to see what happened in your waters down there.

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  4. Exceptional letter to Yellowstone, JT. I hope she's listening.

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    1. Me too Kirk, and thank you. I like reading your Firehole Rangers episodes.

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  5. Great post! I feel your pain regarding the invasive's. I grew up in the Hudson Valley of New York and really wish I could have been around before most of the area was settled to witness first hand brook trout swimming in virtually every stream and river in the valley and not the smattering of head waters that might still hold a couple here and there. Many people are so used to what's around them that they don't realize the environment they find themselves in is drastically different and ecologically poorer than it once was.

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    1. People accept brown trout as native now, when nothing could be further from the truth. All of America has been so vastly altered, it's difficult to imagine what it was like. We don't need our few intact wild places being ruined by misguided people.

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  6. Very nice.
    I think my favorite part would have to be the visual I got from "coyote crap, the mountain flowers fertilized inadvertently by digested voles."
    Best of luck in the contest.

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  7. Thanks Jay, I'm just hoping I place. They're giving away too much cool stuff not to enter.

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  8. I'm about to publish my entry for this contest so I've taken the time to read some of the others. Your post is, by far, the best I've read. If I don't win, I hope you do :-)

    Good luck!

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  9. Francesca- thank you so much. Please enter- I was just hoping to place, I don't think I can afford to go to Yellowstone this year. Good luck and cheers!

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  10. FR ~ Another great visual story. I can't imagine being devoured by stoneflies though! That just would not be good... But, laying on the bank with the smell of fishy hands would be! Good luck in the contest!

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    1. Ah, live a little- or is that die a little? I think we all prefer the bank-side siesta.

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  11. A fine visual you left us with...a rising cutthroat to an unidentifiable JT :-) Not bad my friend...not bad at all.

    Great piece as always, like Kirk said, I hope Yellowstone is listening.

    Cheers!

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    1. Thanks Sanders. I wish they would have let everyone qualify. Looking at the number of entries so far they shouldn't have limited the field, and it would have been nice to fish with you if we won. I see you wrote one, I'll check it out today.

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  12. The fact that Lake Trout are native and so prevalent in the Finger Lakes (home)...and valued - I was totally right there with you. Invasive species come in so many forms...

    Great post, Jason. Good luck.

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    1. Thanks Matt, and I came at this from the perspective of the Great Lakes as the cross-roads for invasives. Lake trout are welcome here, not in Yellowstone.

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  13. I'm shocked that you didn't even place! Yours was one of the best entries in the contest, in my opinion.

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  14. Thank you Francesca. I'm not crying in my beer or anything, though I had hoped to place. I have some pretty good consolation prizes.

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  15. Great article, I live near the Salmon River and our town depends on the revenues generated by fishermen who come to town every weekend for Salmon. It's scary to think what Asian Carp could do to change the landscape of the fishing industry. I'm with you on doing everything in our power to stop the invasive species.

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  16. Great article, I live near the Salmon River and our town depends on the revenues generated by fishermen who come to town every weekend for Salmon. It's scary to think what Asian Carp could do to change the landscape of the fishing industry. I'm with you on doing everything in our power to stop the invasive species.

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    1. Grace- glad you liked it. Yeah, let's stop the carp, and while you're at it, send me your number. Grin.

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