Monday, September 16, 2019

All the Gold in the World

"For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" Mark 8:36

It is much to my chagrin to see that the Pebble Mine is back from the dead. The Trump administration seems bent on fast-tracking the permitting process. After all the public input, the social media campaigns, and the efforts of the prior administration to put an end to it, the specter of a massive gold and copper mine in the headwaters of the greatest salmon fishery on earth again rears its ugly head.

Regardless of your political bent I think it's safe to say that the Pebble Mine won't benefit you. That gold and copper won't end up in your vault. It will provide a few jobs for a few decades, but nothing in comparison to the vast profits it will provide for its owners and investors. Meanwhile the $1.5 billion salmon fishery benefits commercial and recreational fishing industries, natives and residents on an annual, sustainable basis. Without the Pebble Mine it can continue to provide food and jobs and a way of life to people in perpetuity and long after Pebble has shuttered its doors and left a lake of waste waiting for the chance to escape and wreak havoc.

The mine will also provide decades, if not centuries, of risk to the Bristol Bay region. Acid mine waste is not pretty, and its devastation on the region would be terrible, and incredibly difficult or impossible to clean up and restore. They plan to contain the acid mine runoff in huge reservoirs in a seismically active region. Sure, they say they have it all engineered, but mining has a terrible track record of accidents and low compliance with regulation, and once you let that genie out of the bottle it's awfully hard to stuff it back in. Those dams only have to fail once. Pebble Mine is not progress. It is not even civilization. It is just ugly destruction in one of the most beautiful places on earth to enrich a greedy few.

But there's an even better reason to stop the Pebble Mine. The world is not vast anymore. Its abundance is not boundless. Its wonders are tarnished. Everywhere the natural world is hemmed in by agriculture, fences, cattle, dams, roads, development, pollution, garbage, defacement, climate change, and a myriad other cuts inflicted by man. The few natural spectacles left on earth only exist because they have been preserved by us, as if stuck in amber and displayed on a shelf. There are no unmanaged wild ecosystems that exist on their own apart from man. All of the ocean is over-fished, except for a few carefully managed systems like Bristol Bay. The time for trade-offs is over- there is no wildness left to barter over, an oil well for a coral reef here, this salmon run for that mine there, these orangutans for another palm oil plantation. We are down to the last examples of everything- the last rhino, the last intact salmon run, the last migrating antelope herds in Asia, the last intact rain forest. These are the last conservation hills left to die on, there are no others. When those are wiped out there is nothing, and nothing will bring them back.

Recent headlines announced that now over a million species are in peril of extinction in the next few decades from human activity. Ninety-seven percent of animal biomass on land consists of humans and their livestock. Are we shooting for 100%?

In the past we made those choices. We dammed the Columbia (and every other western US river worth damming) because there were salmon in British Columbia and Alaska. Salmon runs on the West Coast are just a memory, a dim shadow of their former selves. Now salmon and steelhead in British Columbia are under increasing pressure. Chinook salmon in the Yukon system are in trouble and no one knows why.

There are a scant handful of natural spectacles left on earth- parts of the Amazon rainforest, which must remain vast to be a spectacle, and the Brazilians and others are steadily chipping away at it. The animal spectacles of Africa- the charismatic megafauna are there but dwindling; the great migrations of wildebeest and plains game for now seem to be intact. The Great Barrier Reef is there but suffering greatly due to bleaching events caused by high temperatures. There are still some large caribou herds in the north, but the vast Labrador and Quebec herds have crashed due to natural cycles. Yellowstone is wonderful, but is a highly managed system hemmed in on all sides by agriculture, and a local populace uneasy with bears and wolves in their backyards.

So Bristol Bay and its salmon runs is one of the last natural spectacles left on earth. Its fisheries are heavily managed to maintain that abundance, but it's one of the last places you can go and witness an entire ecosystem, complete with mass migrations, and dependent megafauna like bears, seals, salmon sharks and orcas, due to the fact that it is not under threat from development like the Pebble Mine. We shot all the passenger pigeons; we killed the bison and turned their prairie into cornfields, or fenced it off for cattle. We dammed the Columbia and Snake rivers and throttled their salmon and steelhead runs for cheap energy and water for agriculture. Florida fisheries are being choked and whittled away for Big Sugar. We don't need to do the same to Bristol Bay. We are in danger of having all the gold in the world, and nothing to spend it on.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Micropterus Rising

I am a devotee of native species. In Michigan I'll take native brook trout over imported steelhead. The native smallmouth and largemouth bass are more captivating for that matter. I love steelhead, but their presence in the Great Lakes feels artificial and managed. I feel like I'm buying a fake Gucci bag on Canal Street. Steelhead Alley feels like you're surrounded by guys trying to sell you $20 Rolexes. Don't get me wrong, I love fishing for steelhead. Back in the day I also enjoyed haggling over fake Rolexes in Manhattan.

Here in the South it's all about Centrachids- the sunfishes including bass, brim, bluegills, sunfish, shellcrackers, crappie, warmouth, red-spots, orange-spots, redear, pumpkinseeds, and more.

The basses are most fascinating. There are local native basses here not heard of much outside of the region. Up north it's simple. Not simple, but of the larger basses there are largemouth and smallmouth bass. There are also rock bass, warmouth, and the sunfishes (also not as diverse as the south).

In the South you have sunfishes not found up north, but its the variety of bass that stand out. Largemouth and smallmouth are here in various places and numbers, but then there are all the local, more obscure species that are basically localized to specific river drainages and sub-regions of the south, and so you have shoal bass, redeye bass, Chattahoochee bass, Choctaw bass, spotted bass, Guadalupe bass (proud Texan), Suwannee bass, and Bartram's bass. Some are closely related to largemouth, some to smallmouth. They can hybridize, and I think some can hybridize with both as well as with each other. This is problematic, because the bucket brigades have been active here, moving these species around, and they have changed entire regimes in various watersheds. Where spotted bass have been introduced they tend to take over and either out-compete, or hybridize out the local fish. (There's a problem with locals moving flathead catfish around too, with bad results for fish species not adapted to these aggressive predators.)

To my knowledge, so far out of the local species I have caught redeye bass, shoal bass, Bartram's bass,  and spotted bass. Some of the identifications have come from locals commenting on my social media pics. The Bartram's bass is native only to the Broad River system, and maybe one or two other streams in South Carolina. I think Cameron Mortenson caught some on a guided trip there. From my reading, the Bartram's, which most resembles a smallmouth to my eye, is believed to be a unique species, but it has yet to be properly described scientifically.

Bartram's? Broad River bass

These species of bass and some sunfishes fill the ecological niches that trout fill in colder streams. If you go to the Chattooga River in midsummer you can fish crystal clear riffles with small poppers and terrestrials, and catch redeye and shoal bass all day long. It is very reminiscent of fishing brook trout on hoppers up north, from the clarity of the water to the behavior of the fish, and the flies you use. It is an absolute blast, but for me the satisfaction comes in catching wild, native fish not found outside the region. It's the difference between seeing a lion pacing in a zoo, and seeing a lion on the African savanna lying under an acacia tree, supine and panting, with blood drying on its snout, it's yellow eyes sizing you up through the shimmer of the heat.

Fishing the Chattooga for bass is perhaps my favorite. It's a big system so I'm not giving up a secret spot here. It's the kind of place you can go and catch bass all day on topwater flies, stalking them like brook trout, catching fish until you're tired of it, or until the sun and heat beat you down into surrender. Most of the fish will be brook trout sized, but they can run three or four pounds. It's great fun on four weight glass.

I certainly still enjoy chasing trout in the mountains, especially the native brook trout, but the bass epitomize fishing in the South. I thought bass fishing here to be fishing warm, green, weedy ponds and lakes, or zipping around massive reservoirs in a metallic flake bass boat. Instead it is far more varied, interesting, and accessible than I could have imagined.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Monday Morning Coffee- SCOF Edition. Gink Too

Uuuuurrrrppphhhhhtttt!!! Yawn, stretch, scratch, repeat- let's have some coffee!

It's been awhile so I thought I'd, you know, share some coffee with you. Ahem.

It's springtime everywhere now, so if you're not out fishing you're probably in traction.  Here in Georgia the daily temps are in the 80's. In another month I'll just wish that was the case. This week some of my buddies are doing a combined turkey/trout/mushroom camp in Michigan. I was there last spring but need to save my time for a hunting trip in fall, so pour one out for me guys and hopefully I'll join you next spring.

our Abbey Road
There's a lot of great fishing to do here in Georgia as well this time of year. The bass and panfish are looking up, and there are some hatches on the trout streams. I've spent most of my spring redoing the landscaping at home, and now it seems to want to storm on the weekends again. I did get out with my friend Jeremy a couple weeks ago for some farm pond bass and panfish and had a lot of fun. (you can find Jeremy on Instagram as @lostinwydaho). It was great fun and I'm hoping to fish with him again soon.

farm pond shellcracker. hope i got the name right

I've been doing quite a bit of writing lately, but my betrayal of this site continues. I wrote a brief piece for Gink and Gasoline about small stream fishing. It was such a disservice to the subject that we decided to turn it into a series. I've written about 10,000 words so far and have hardly scratched the surface, so those should be up on Gink every week or two.

As the title above indicates, a new issue of Southern Culture on the Fly comes out today (ish) and I have another piece in it. It's more tongue-in-cheek musings, in particular on the miserable weather we had this winter. It rained almost every weekend from November on, and I believe the winter rains set records in the Tennessee River valley which includes some of the waters I fish. Anyhow, it's a fun piece I wrote for SCOF so be sure and check it out. Watch for it in your social media.

some streamer research for the SCOF piece

I've gotten back into oil painting in the last year. I don't know that I'm the next DeYoung or Schlaff, but I really enjoy it. It's a non-verbal way for me to express creativity without the agony of writing. Right now I'm just painting brown trout in profile while I try to learn proportion and how to blend colors. Brown trout are pretty forgiving. Just when you think you've mangled it you'll see a picture of some grotty brown who looks just like your painting. You can do a really bad job on the proportions and anatomy, paint some spots on it and voila!, it looks great. So for now I'm enjoying that as another creative outlet. These two have already found homes with friends of mine.

how do you rotate these things?

That's all I have for now. Keep tuning in to Gink and Gasoline for the small stream series, and Dave Grossman says he wants a piece for every issue of SCOF, so keep an eye out for those. My apologies to Dave for the rough condition I sent the last one in. Editing- it's like plastic surgery for writing.

My coffee is gone and it's time to go to work- Let's get after it.