Category Archives: Fishing Trips

Last Best Streams: 2.0

leopolds

I had a perfectly good plan last year: winnow down all the streams in the US to the last best ones, the ones science say are least disturbed, their annual pattern of flow today most similar to the historic record.  Add in the nation’s system of Wild and Scenic Rivers, and spend the rest of my life focusing on those…

But there’s better data out there, more exhaustive- not just the great streams, the nice streams, the ones which are protected.  There’s data on the streams that should be protected, if only we had the will- political, social, or otherwise- to do so.  I’m anal about these sorts of things, so I dumped them into the existing list: something like 2,110 streams across the nation, notable for their ecological, fisheries, or cultural significance.  It’s a couple lifetimes worth of work, but I’m happy to try.  You can check out my progress on the Last Best Streams page.

Monday Video: Catch me if you can.

Catch Me If You Can – Taimen Fishing in Monogolia ( Official Trailer ) from Catch me if you can on Vimeo.

 

Red dot blues.

RedDotBlues

There’s a little local blue-line trout stream I won’t fish because it’s so low- not the typical mid-winter seasonal low, but 40% below average for this time of year.  It’s the same story for a tentative August trip out west, looking at SNOTEL, with much of the Rockies well below average.

SNOTEL

Here’s hoping things pick up….and soon.

 

 

Lurching into the new year.

There’s nothing motivating about six degrees Fahrenheit, especially after spending the week between Christmas and New Years down with the flu.  Maybe it’s a metaphor for 2017 as a whole: an exercise in irrational optimism, in refusing to let the bastards get you down.

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This stream will never look the way it did in my lifetime; record-shattering floods slicked off every tree thirty feet up the bank.  Most of the local streams are fundamentally altered from the places I know.  Elsewhere rivers became more vulnerable to human alteration, access became tougher, watersheds burned.

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It’s easy to be cynical.  It’s easy to say there was better fishing, easier access, and fewer assholes a generation or two ago, and maybe even some of it is true.  But none of it is useful.  It’s a sentiment which justifies poor treatment of our natural resources, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned in 2017 it’s that our last best streams aren’t accidental.  People worked to protect them for every subsequent generation.  As the people who use those outdoor resources we should be more conscientious of that, more willing to practice that sort of forward-thinking in our everyday life.  Disinclined to squander the opportunities our parents afforded us.

I’ve thought a bit about this space in the past couple weeks, about its direction and the expressive opportunities it affords.  I have every intent of being more proactive in its management during the upcoming year, and have been cooking up new content and features which will hopefully be of interest.  Best of luck with your endeavors during 2018, and take care.

Tom

upstream

Last Best Streams: #200.

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This one’s tough because it’s home.  I fished this river first, it maintained my sanity during the Recession, just out of college and underemployed.  A friend in similar circumstances would tag along, two or three times a week, sometimes, paying five bucks to stay in a nearly abandoned campground across the gravel road from the access.  Folks with full-time gigs weren’t going to risk losing them and the ones retired or underwater had bigger things on their plate; most days we had the place to ourselves.

A hundred years ago the watershed was a moonscape. Between 1888 and 1903 timber companies cut 375,000 acres of white oak and shortleaf pine, rafting logs downstream where industrial sawmills turned 800 trees a day into the beams and boards building midwestern metropolises.  By 1920 the roughest hollows and bottoms were the only timber left. After failed attempts to grow corn and wheat, locals who didn’t or couldn’t sell turned out hogs and cattle to forage what they could.  Thousands of acres burned annually, or nearly so, to rejuvenate meager pasture.

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With the Depression came federal buyouts, state parks, and national forest.  The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) projects replanted native pine, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) built roads, bridges, fire towers, park offices, picnic shelters, and campgrounds.  When the war was over, everyone from Aldo Leopold to the artist Thomas Hart Benton clamored to protect the natural beauty of this landscape, and in the 1960s those protections were codified in federal law.

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A third of the watershed is now publicly owned. Mixed hardwood forests are again the dominant landcover, although fire suppression makes the forest more closed than historical conditions.  Imperiled bats and birds call the rivers home, rare flowers and ferns carpet dolomite bluffs, and hundreds of species of fish and aquatic invertebrates- some found nowhere else on the planet- call the river home.

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In a century threats to the river shifted one-hundred eighty degrees.  The river is no longer threatened by logging and livestock, but by ATVs, illegal roads, and poorly maintained horse trails.  Canoers, kayakers, and jet boats rove the river throughout the warm season, dotting gravel bars with black pocks from bonfires and leaving litter in their wake.  It’s a diverse crowd- there’s not many places you’re as liable to run across a baptismal as you are a yoga retreat.  But there’s just too many for the river and the infrastructure to support, and it’s the number of visitors and their diversity which confounds management.  Open houses and public forums are met with protests and counter-protests, one recreation group pitted against another, resentment welling up along the urban-rural divide.

It’s still pretty.  And there’s still good fishing- stocked browns and a few wild rainbows up at the top end, smallmouth bass and rock bass plus panfish, pickerel, and the occasional walleye downstream.  There’s a reason people still visit.

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Last Best Streams: #759.

The road splits a square mile of wet green meadow frosted with flowers of pink milkweed.

 

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We pat our own shoulders splitting the world into binaries without fretting the shades of gray.  It shows in our legislation.  Land that’s dry year-round doesn’t fall under jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act, land that’s always under water does.  In between are the places saturated six or eight months of the year, unassumingly gathering the energy in nutrients driving the permanent lakes and rivers they feed.  These temporary waters buffer downstream rivers and estuaries, filtering nutrients and contaminants.  A chemical or fertilizer spill on this highway may kill wetland vegetation, but it’ll stay put.

This river’s adjacent wetlands function as a colossal sponge, meting snowmelt and rainwater out over the growing season.  The cool groundwater augments surface flow, providing conditions for smallmouth bass, muskellunge, and walleye fisheries.  Temporary streams are important habitat for species and communities evolved to exploit annual extremes in water availability, from insects and frogs to fish to waterfowl and migratory birds.  It’s not that these places serve no important function, they just don’t fit our definition of waters worth protecting.

And so, they’re not.

Rivers are trees; the trunk can’t be supported without healthy limbs and leaves.  It took more than forty years of careful research for scientists to convince policymakers of the intrinsic link between permanent rivers and lakes and their seasonal streams and wetlands.  The effort culminated with revision of the “Waters of the United States” rule in 2015, stating waters with a measurable impact on permanent lakes and streams (the legalese term is “significant nexus”) fall under jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.  Developers, industrial agriculture, and a handful of presidential candidates predictably cried foul, mis-characterizing the rule as an assault against private property rights designed to regulate the most inconsequential “puddles” on the landscape.

Perhaps the most literal consequence of the new administration’s “Drain the Swamp” mantra was in repealing the rule earlier this year, ignoring scientific consensus to further political ideology.  Replacing the rule requires public comment, and you can convey your concerns here.

I know it sometimes feels like we’re shouting into the void, but after August 28th, you won’t get another chance.