Yellowstone National Park vs. Lake Trout

by Rebecca on August 24, 2012

in Fly Fishing Conservation

I’ve been to Yellowstone National Park enough times over the years to lose count of how many times I’ve been there. I’ll just go ahead and consider that a good high numbers issue rather than a sign of age.

Typically when I show up, I stay in West Yellowstone, grab my park fishing licence and head straight to my comfort zones within the park.

I’ll drive up to the Yellowstone River, stalk the banks, get irritated because there’s no way I can wade out to where I want and usually head over to the Lamar or a few of the other well known fly fishing rivers to cast my day away.

However, after my recent visit to Yellowstone, I’ve realized how narrow and shortsighted my visits have been over the years. I had fly fishing blinders on…

The Trout Unlimited Blogger Tour 2012 took my napkin sized experiences of Yellowstone, folded them up, tucked them in its pocket and delivered a 2.2 million acre perspective of what I’ve been (innocently/ignorantly) oblivious about all these years.

Specifically when it comes to Yellowstone Lake and Lake trout.

I took my first fly fishing trip to Yellowstone back in the 1990′s. At that time, I had no idea what I was doing in regards to fly fishing and  never had a problem catching big beautiful Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout. Lots of them. On this trip, I caught small Yellowstone cutthroats, rainbows, hybrids and brown trout.

With the help of nets, I also caught and killed a whole lot of Lake trout. A Lot of Lake trout. Killed. And I didn’t even feel bad about it.

Back in the 1990′s I can remember seeing the signs that said if you caught a Lake trout you must not return it to the water. At that point I thought, not an issue. I don’t lake fish, especially not on a 136 square miles of surface area kind of lake. Not really my kind of concern.

But during this trip, it finally sunk in why it is my problem. Those Lake trout that I’ll never catch on a fly rod.

I learned that the illegally introduced Lake trout to Yellowstone Lake have been devastating to the ecosystem within the park and the biggest victim, the Yellowstone Cutthroat trout, is paying a serious price for the sins of our Fathers.

A number I had to wrap my mind around was this:

In the 1970′s there was over 4 million Yellowstone Cutthroat trout in Yellowstone Lake.

Today there is around 400,000…

Last year efforts removed and killed 220,000 Lake trout

During the trip I voiced this question to no one in particular, “I wonder if the people who released Lake trout into Yellowstone Lake are sitting at home right now feeling the type of guilt a not yet caught murderer feels.” The consequences of their actions are immense and far reaching.

As bleak as it felt at times during the trip when facts and sheer numbers of Lake trout stacked up against the Yellowstone Cutthroats, I realized it wasn’t a lost cause.  They are not fighting a losing battle out there. I witnessed hard work, tenacity and current measures being taken by various groups to cease the damage column and add positive numbers to the recovery side of their efforts. Headway is being made as I type this.

Groups like Trout UnlimitedSimmsYellowstone Park Foundation , volunteers and others are not only funding recovery efforts, they are putting their backs into the project with the use of commercial fisherman and Park staff to drastically reduce the Lake trout numbers. You can read about the Native Fish Conservation Plan here to get an idea of ALL the measures they are taking.

I understand that it’s hard to rally around something that isn’t in our backyard. Yellowstone has been in my backyard for a lot of years and the significance of whats been going on has just now hit me square upside the head. I get it.

I also understand that this conservation effort doesn’t have a corporate bad guy to picket against or denounce so it will be harder to get people’s hackles up about it.

But it is important… if for no other reason than someone like Marc from The Perfect Drift. The trip out there was his first and several of us were beyond excited to show him Yellowstone in all her glory. I thought to myself too many times, “I wish Marc could have experienced and fly fished here when all the rivers were full of big fat Cutthroats.”

He deserved the best of Yellowstone. Everyone does.

So where does that leave us, the fisherman who enjoy the park or even the ones that have never been there? For one thing, we all have a voice and it doesn’t cost a penny to spread the word.

Visit Trout Unlimited or Yellowstone Park Foundation and see where you can help.

This option is right up most of our rivers…become a volunteer Fly Fishing Angler for the Park.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.
Now you know.


They deserve our help considering ‘we’ are the ones that put them in danger…


{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

MattNo Gravatar August 24, 2012 at 8:45 pm

I’ve never been to Yellowstone, but its on my dream list. Whatever they are doing to help preserve the cutties, and the park has my whole support. A national park is all of our responsibility. Now I know. Thank you.


cofisherNo Gravatar August 25, 2012 at 11:07 am

Yellowstone is one of those places that we need to preserve. Thanks to all who help save the lake and thanks for writing so eloquently Rebecca.


Kirk WernerNo Gravatar August 25, 2012 at 2:32 pm

You know my affinity for the Park, however reading this reminds me that I need to break away from my routine and fish beyond the Firehole. That being said when I visit the Park, the Firehole is just about the only viable option. I need to get back there later in the year and step outside my comfort zone. Great write-up, and thanks.


Best Fishing GearNo Gravatar August 26, 2012 at 2:58 am

I would be on a mini-trip over there in few weeks. Is it true that the park requires license for fishing, what the permit cost?


Steve ZNo Gravatar August 27, 2012 at 6:48 am

I friggin hate typing on the iPad. Sentences are rendered incoherent by autocorrection. Let’s try that comment again with a few edits (and lots of proof reading). Hopefully Rebecca will delete the abomination above.

Kirk – The only river you fish is the river I’ve never fished. I get there in the dead of summer when water temps are too high in the Firehole. I’m really energized by the small stream possibilities of the park. I’d like to hike up the Nez Pearce a ways and the were numerous small streams mentioned by the biologists that are chock full of trout including one Westslope Cutthroat stronghold.

Rebecca – Excellent article. Maybe someday before we all plant our asses in rocking chairs we’ll be fishing the banks of Yellowstone Lake for cruising Cutties.


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