A Look at Bob Mallard’s “Native vs. Wild” Article

In a recent article, Bob Mallard addresses a topic of low popularity but high importance to watersheds and the future of fisheries in the United States: Native fish versus their nonnative but wild counterparts. Where is the fishing industry’s stance on having native as opposed to wild fish? “Native vs. Wild” explores the history of nonnative fish introductions and how they have changed the state of some fisheries.

A small stream brook trout from the greater Tahoe area. Wild, but not native.

This debate may provoke the question: What’s the difference? Though a native fish can be wild, and a wild fish native, there’s a distinct difference between the two.

Native: A plant or animal of indigenous origin or growth.

Wild: A plant or animal living or growing in the natural environment; not domesticated or cultivated.

Though many don’t see the introduction of nonnative species like rainbow and brown trout to the Truckee River a threat, other examples have played out differently for the original, native fish in particular watersheds.

Maine’s St. John River was historically a haven for brook trout, the river’s primary native fish. Though many found satisfaction with the smaller trout, others wanted bigger fish in the river. The St. John flows through the border of the United States and Canada, and the decision was made north of the border to introduce a bigger, more aggressive fish: muskie.

Muskie, or muskellunge, are famous to anglers, and for good reason. The big brother to northern pike, these fish are capable of growing to 60 inches in length, and are known for their vicious attacks on baitfish, ducks, or, in at least one instance, a fisherman’s leg.

Muskie were introduced to the St. John across the U.S border in Canada, but quickly spread to occupy the entire river. While fishing for the deemed “fish of 10,000 casts” was exhilarating for anglers and an advancement from the smaller brook trout they used to know, change was happening. While the muskie population soared, the brook trout population sank to the point that, now, the St. John system is “nearly devoid” of brookies, a fish that’s historically been referred to as the bunny rabbits of the trout family.

Another instance where nonnative species decimated native fish populations is the Yellowstone cutthroat of Yellowstone Lake. Lake trout were intorduced to the lake and quickly outcompeted the Yellowstone cutts. They’re bigger and more aggressive, and their main food source in Yellowstone Lake is juvenile Yellowstone cutthroat. As one might expect, the cutthroat population declined drastically while the newer fish species took over the top of the lake’s food chain.

What used to be a pristine cutthroat population in Yellowstone Lake is now in critically low numbers. The good news is that with proper action being taken, the lake trout are losing the battle to a team of humans and Yellowstone cutthroat. While this is appearing to be a near miss, the lake’s native fish population will never be what it once was.

Locally, on the Truckee River, the primary fish are brown and rainbow trout, both of which were introduced to the system after the native Lahontan cutthroat was driven within a hair’s breadth of extinction. As we begin to observe Lahontan Cutthroat returning up the Truckee, albeit in very few numbers, it triggers a pondering of the future.

Will these Cutthroat breed with rainbows? If they do, will it weaken the Cutthroat or rainbow populations to make the dominant fish in the Truckee a giant hybrid? Will the genetic difference make the cutthroats smaller? The definite way to find out would be to watch it play out. But, if poor things happen to the cutthroat and rainbow populations, would we ever get back our fishery? The odds would be extremely slim. A potential dilemma we may have to face is whether we want our current fishery, or want to take action against the rainbows and make way for a pure strain of Lahontans (brown trout are not a threat to the cutthroats as they spawn in different seasons, so the risk of hybridization is nonexistent).

Native, check. Wild… not yet.

What makes nonnative fish more damaging to an ecosystem? Are they all harmful? The answer is somewhat mixed, though science and history suggests the latter is often accurate, which provokes another question, why hasn’t this been brought to the attention of the fishing industry and conservationists?

The reason, as Mallard describes in his article, is selfishness.

“We, as anglers, and I use the term figuratively, like nonnative fish, as do many of those charged with managing our waters,” writes the executive director of the Native Fish Coalition.

If the issue did get its spot on the table, going about the eradication of nonnative fish species would be, at the very least, an uphill battle. This is because even other conservationists may use nonnative fish as a business. Guides, lodges, fishing tackle and gear companies, and everyday anglers alike would have their businesses jeopardized by the proposed disappearance of nonnatives.

State agencies like the Department of Fish and Wildlife would also be placed against the pro-native crowd, and would be the biggest enemy of the hypothetical movement. In Mallard’s article he does point out that stocking operations regulated by the state are the most profound source of nonnative introductions. While our fisheries change, there is a wide variety of outcomes we may observe. What we need to determine is if we prefer the native fish, or the wild fish, and in which watersheds. Read Mallard’s full article here.

Ryan Rintala | Social Media @mattheronflyfishing

Smoke, warm water and a Thank You(s)!

Sorry guys, I have no clue what the glitch is with the horrible formatting issue! Like most seasons, this year started out with a bang. To say our guides were off and running this spring would be an understatement. Fishing was on fire and life was good! However, we all knew what was coming down the road, eventually the drought would catch up to us. Well, it finally did. To make a long story short and sweet, we're dealing with some pretty challenging conditions right now. Nothing like what we saw in 2015/16, but it's still been a game changer. The recap... The Little Truckee was recently closed as the CA National Forest system closed many of its forests, this of course isn't a surprise and has become common place in recent years. Reopening will be TBA. The good news about the Truckee is the water temps have been better this week than the last few months. You may even be able to fish until noon or so depending on the previous evening’s temperatures. With our Hoot Owl restrictions this year, it feels like we haven't fished till noon in months! Just remember to fish with a thermometer and be done by the time it his 68 degrees. This is IMPORTANT! The not so good news is the flows. We saw the drop coming out of Lake Tahoe from a mile away, we didn't see them turning off flows out of Boca this week. That made a substantial difference in our water situation...not for the better. We're fully planning on the Truckee not being fishable at some point down the road. Unfortunately, there's no real way to know a date. It could keep dropping, it could rain/snow (pretty please!), they could release from Boca. It's no doubt the Elephant in the Room right now. Lastly, mother nature is throwing us the ultimate curveball with the smoke this season. Air quality has been a rollercoaster this year; terrible one day, good the next. Recently it's been pretty bad with the new fire south of South Lake Tahoe. If you've braved the smoke, we can't tell you how much we appreciate you fishing with our crew in less-than-ideal conditions. If you had to cancel, Lu and I totally understand and REALLY look forward to seeing you next time around! I'd keep checking back to this post over coming weeks or the next month. I'll update you with all things flows, temps and smoke. Long story short there's still fishing to be had. At the very least shoot us a call and Lu and I will rundown all the other options with you. And yes, there are options! Again, if we can survive 2015 and 16, we'll have you covered no matter what! And by the way, our daily classes are unaffected by the drought (other than some weeds) and the fishing has been outstanding recently on our ponds! In the meantime, all guides in the west are dealing with not only Hoot Owl conditions and restrictions, but smoke. On behalf of all of us, the guide community could use your support now more than ever once conditions improve. Never have we seen so many cancelations during peak season as we have this year. Fingers crossed for this fall and thank you to everyone who's supported us during yet another crazy year! -Matt and Lu PS- If you enjoyed your season with us, check out https://www.findyourcast.com/ or snag our free 30 min Mini Class on Matt’s Top 5 Indicator Fishing Mistakes https://www.findyourcast.com/offers/PAX9iXc2/checkout  

An amazing class fish last week with instructor Dan LeCount!

 

Truckee River/Lake Tahoe Area Fly Fishing Report, 07.01.2021

Well, warm weather arrived in the Tahoe Basin and most of the northwest with some serious aggressiveness. Extreme heat and temperature records are being shattered all along the west coast, and our local salmonids are feeling these temperatures too. The Hoot Owl closure is in effect, so carry a water thermometer on the river with you.

Quite a few of these little guys around right now. Photo by Matt Heron.

When water temperatures reach 67 degrees or above, most salmonids are unable to de-stress after a fight. Meaning, although they may have swam off strong when released, they most likely are to die in the next couple days, the result of a condition called delayed mortality. Read more about drought, delayed mortality and this summer’s low water here.

Flows: (cfs)

Tahoe City to Truckee: 377

Truckee to Boca: 392

Boca to Farad: 450

Farad to Stateline: 492

In the cooler mornings, our guides have been finding fish on a variety of summer flies including caddis in sizes 14-20, yellow sallies and some golden stoneflies, some PMD’s, and some green drakes. Crayfish are also producing and will for the entire summer.

Remember if you happen to find some bugs on top there may be fish rising there too! The opportunity to land a fish on a dry fly on the Truckee is one that shouldn’t be missed out on. Dry droppers or hopper droppers are also working well in the mornings given their more subtle appearance, plus you can fish nymphs without giving up the chance at a dry fly eat!

Speaking of dry flies, this gorgeous ‘bow was sipping them! Photo by Matt Heron.

With the warmer water temps, fish are moving into their faster, more oxygenated water. Don’t be afraid to fish riffles, and fish any bubble lines you come across. You never know where that Truckee trout is hiding. With the high temps and increased risk of delayed mortality, limit the fishes exposure out of the water. If you can’t hold your breath the entire time the fish is out of the water, you can be sure the fish is having an equally difficult time. Realistically, you only need a few seconds for a picture anyways.

Once water temperatures reach that 67 degree mark, that doesn’t mean you have to stop being outside. The Truckee-Tahoe area has lots of outdoor summer activities to offer, so once the water gets too hot you can try climbing, golf, mountain biking, disc golf, the list goes on. We also have some good fishing for warmwater species that aren’t as sensitive to these water temperatures.

Remember that the purpose of the Hoot Owl closure isn’t to limit fishing pressure; it’s to protect our fish. I encourage you to keep this in mind when you’re fishing, and to educate other anglers you meet out on the water about this as well. Tight lines everyone!

Ryan Rintala | Social Media @mattheronflyfishing

Klamath Dam Removal Operation Reaches Major Step

Those of you who have been reading our blog posts for a while may remember an update on the removal deal of the four lower Klamath River dams. While things on this front have been somewhat quiet in the past few months, a big step towards completion has just been reached with the official transfer of ownership of the dams from Pacificorp to the Klamath River Renewal Corporation.

Klamath River Dam Removal Update: An Urgent Need for Action! |  International Rivers
A stagnant river. Photo by internationalrivers.org

Just a few days ago, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the transfer of the four lower dams to KRRC, one of the first big steps in the long process of these dams coming down for the sake of salmon and a healthy river. While the removal is to begin in 2023, seeing the steps made along the way are reassuring that the project is on track for completion.

Ryan Rintala | Social Media @mattheronflyfishing

Truckee River/Lake Tahoe Area Fly Fishing Report, 05.16.2021

The Truckee River has been putting out high flows, plenty of bugs, and excellent opportunities for anglers! The weather has been warm and the nights has been staying close to freezing. There is a possibility of a small snowstorm later this week, so keep those warm layers with you just in case the weather turns while you’re on the water.

A client high sticks a run on the Truckee. Photo by Matt Heron

Flows: (cfs)

Tahoe City to Truckee: 514

Truckee to Boca: 732

Boca to Farad: 766

Farad to Stateline: 875

The water is high, but still pretty clear for the time of year. While the bump in flows has allowed us to get away with some bigger, flashier bugs, we are still seeing the most success with smaller sizes. Baetis and March Browns have been some of the most consistent nymphs, and are hatching often along the river. And some of our seasonal big bugs are starting to appear as well. Our first carpenter ant eat of the summer came one of last week’s guided trips! As of late, we’ve been seeing a different, smaller skwala than those typical of late spring fishing. Although they’re somewhat sparse along the river, it’s worth carrying a few nymphs or dries that can match these.

With the water warming up, crayfish are beginning to show themselves too! These are a favorite on the Truckee trout’s menu, and one of the main sources of calories for them during the summer months. These are worth a shot fishing now, and will only heat up from here on out! Streamers are also heating up as fish become more aggressive and are willing to move further to eat. Now is the time to get out on the river with some variety in your flybox!

Another gorgeous Truckee specimen. Photo by Matt Heron.
Photo by Matt Heron.

Ryan Rintala | Social Media @mattheronflyfishing

New Long Term Plan for Atlantic Striped Bass Recovery

Striped bass can be targeted by anglers anywhere from the northern Gulf of Mexico to as far north as the St. Lawrence River in Canada. They hold a special place in the angler’s heart for those who have interacted with them. Their ridiculous aggressiveness and hard-molded attitudes have landed them at or near the top of many angler’s target species lists.

striped bass Archives - Flylords Mag
Photo from the Flylords striper archives.

In the 1970s and 80s, the millions of “stripers” around Chesapeake Bay had declined to a fraction of what it once was, mainly due to overfishing. In response, Congress passed the Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act in 1984, and several states introduced striped bass fishing bans for as much as five years. These preventative measures allowed the striped bass population to rebound to the point of being classified as a recovered species.

Now, Atlantic striped bass populations are at the lowest they have been in the last quarter century since the species was considered recovered. Again, overharvesting appeared to be the main culprit, though habitat loss, lack of oxygen and food, and pollution also played a role.

Luckily, the Striped Bass Board of the Atlantic states has been developing a new long term recovery plan for stripers. The plan has support from the American Saltwater Guides Association, and after a public hearing last week, the draft is moving forward. With input from public comment, this plan is more conservation-based than originally proposed. Learn more about the new plan for striped bass at the Flylords website.

Ryan Rintala | Social Media @mattheronflyfishing

Truckee River/Lake Tahoe Area Fly Fishing Report, 05.03.2021

Summer is creeping! A few of the past days have been in the mid-70s (in April too!), and the foreseeable future is warm and dry with average daytime temps fluctuating between the high 50s and high 60s. The Tahoe Basin seems to have received all the snow it’s going to get for the season, with a final storm delivering 3-6 inches a couple weeks ago.

Yet another stunner Truckee ‘bow. Photo by Matt Heron.

Flows on the Truckee are still pretty high, but down slightly from last month. The water is still clear, and as always the fish are still biting!

Flows:

Tahoe City to Truckee: 397

Truckee to Boca: 592

Boca to Farad: 648

Farad to Stateline: 740

Our guides have been finding fish mostly on indicator nymphing rigs. Fish are in the slow to medium paced runs and as the weather warms up they’ll move more into the faster water. Skwalas are pretty much over and the net big bug is on the menu: March Browns! These popular mayflies are all over the place and currently a priority for our Truckee trout’s diet.

Stoneflies have been producing well recently, as well as worms and typical mayfly nymphs in sizes 14-18 (patterns like pheasant tails or copper johns produce well). With all the sunny weather, baetis hatches are few and far between. However, baetis nymphs have been producing! Caddis are also certainly on the menu. For March Brown’s, make sure you have some larger mayfly patterns in sizes 10-12 ready to go with you.

While most of our success is on indicator nymphing setups, the sightline nymphing is picking up as water temperatures start reaching the 50’s. Dry dropper rigs have also been getting some love as of late. Terrestrials are just around the corner, so keep a few bigger foam dries with you for those dry dropper rigs.

Our guides have been putting clients on some quality fish lately! Photo by Matt Heron.
Matt Heron photo.

Ryan Rintala | Social Media @mattheronflyfishing

This Summer’s Drought Conditions

When it comes to water levels, the most significant factor is snowpack, which determines our water levels in lakes and reservoirs the beginning of each spring. Bigger winters mean higher water levels and cooler water temperatures for the rest of the summer and into fall, when daytime temperatures drop into the 60’s and the nights begin to freeze. For trout, a big winter means an easier summer, with healthier living conditions for them. With healthier river conditions come healthier fish populations.

To say that the winter of 2020-2021 was small would be an understatement. The classic springtime high water is running more low and clear than usual, and our snowpack, which historically has been skied on into late June and even July, is nearly diminished below 7,000 vertical feet.

For a Truckee River fish, the low snowpack is bad news. Drought conditions affect everything in the ecosystem; birds, plants, insects, wildlife, and fish depend on water. With less than average, we are looking at a long, dry summer.

Those who visit Truckee often come for the fishing. If you stopped in at our local shop Trout Creek Outfitters last summer, you may have been given a warning not to fish later than noon, or even 10:00 am because of high water temperatures. Trout are cold water species. When water temperatures rise above a certain point, their mechanism for staying cool vanishes, like somebody took the cooling system out of your vehicle while you drive it around in the hot sun.

A rule that fly fishers have followed for decades is to stop fishing when water temps hit 67 degrees or higher. Multiple studies have shown this temperature to be lethal to a stressed or tired out trout. Anglers who ignore the guidelines of the water temperature end up hurting and often killing fish.

A fishes gills filter dissolved oxygen (commonly referred to as DO) from the water around it and use that dissolved oxygen to breathe. With high water temperatures come less DO. Trout that are targeted in high water temps get worked up during the fight, and with less DO in the water, cannot get themselves back under control. It would be like if you had just ran the fastest mile run of your life while breathing through a wet cotton shirt.

The cotton shirt analogy often leads to delayed mortality, a condition that deprives a trout of its needed oxygen to return to normal. After being overheated, overtired, and stressed for days after begin caught and released, the fish eventually dies, in desperate need of cool, oxygenated water. This defeats the purpose of catch and release fishing.

In response to these high water temperatures, anglers have come up with and tried to enforce what is referred to as a Hoot-Owl Closure. It’s a voluntary river closure that begins whenever water temperatures reach that dreaded 67 degree mark.

Northern Sierra local John Baiocchi recommends the following for Hoot-Owl Closures:

  1. Carry a thermometer and take water temp readings each hour.
  2. Fish first light until 11:00am.
  3. Use heavier tippet for a quicker fight to ensure a safer release.
  4. Stop fishing when water temps reach 67 degrees and up.
  5. Educate other anglers on water temperature etiquette.

Baiocchi recently passed away, these tips are from a dated blog post on his website.

This year will likely be a drought year, and high river temperatures are expected to occur much earlier than usual this year. Do your part by carrying a water temperature thermometer and taking care of our most precious resource. You can also swing by Trout Creek Outfitters or check out our bimonthly fishing report for details on average water temperatures on the Truckee and its surrounding local rivers.

Ryan Rintala | Social Media @mattheronflyfishing

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