Rafting guides visit Yellowstone, Sept. ’09
As the current PBS TV series by Ken Burns, on our National Parks, illustrates, it all started with Yellowstone. What a place!
My first visit to Yellowstone was in the company of my parents, when I was fifteen, in 1955. That trip also included the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Glacier. And it produced, in me, the conviction that these places were where I wanted to spend the rest of my life. I spent my first summer in a National Park in 1957, when I worked at the hotel in East Glacier, next to Glacier Park. I did a lot of fishing and hiking that summer, and a pattern was set. Next was Grand Teton National Park, in 1959, where I worked at Jackson Lake Lodge and learned to climb (see earlier post on the Tetons). In that summer I also visited Yellowstone, hiking and fishing. I also worked a summer at Lassen National Park, but let’s return to Yellowstone.
On that first visit, with my folks, my Dad and I rented a skiff and fished in the vicinity of Fishing Bridge, at the outlet of Yellowstone Lake. We caught a mess of beautiful Yellowstone cutthroats, and had them cooked for us at the Lake Hotel. Later on, Fishing Bridge was closed to fishing and the skiff livery also discontinued, to remove the impact of fishing on the spawning fish. More on the Yellowstone fishery further down. Kathy and I have visited Yellowstone numerous times since. We’ve hiked into 7-Mile Hole, in the canyon of the Yellowstone River, we kayaked up the Lewis-Shoshone channel to Shoshone Lake, we skied into Witch Creek and Heart lake, and winter camped there, we hiked and fished with my brother and sister-in-law all over the park, including Slough Creek, we fished the Firehole, Madison and Yellowstone in October, when we were the last campers at Madison Junction campground.
As noted in earlier posts, this visit followed a raft trip on the Middle Fork of the Salmon and some fishing in the Henry’s Fork, both in Idaho. On this occasion, we split our time between fishing and seeing the sights. Yellowstone contains not only the world’s pre-eminent collection of thermal features – it also contains Yellowstone Lake and Yellowstone River. After exiting the lake, the latter flows first through exquisite wildlife-packed meadow stretches, then over the two Yellowstone Falls and finally through the incredibly scenic and dramatic Canyon. And the park contains many other gorgeous rivers and lakes, all of which provide spectacular fishing for wild trout. Between the thermal features, the wildlife, the lakes, rivers and streams, the fishing and the amazing diversity of scenery, you have no idea what you’re going to see next. There is just so much sensational stuff jam-packed into the place!
But not all was perfection itself, as we discovered. When we asked about the fishing at Bud Lilly’s fly shop, in West Yellowstone, we were informed that there were few Yellowstone cutthroats left in Yellowstone Lake and River. We had been aware that an unfortunate situation had developed in the lake – namely, the illegal introduction of lake trout into the lake, sometime around 1994. As soon as the event was discovered, it was also discovered that the lake trout were having a field day with the cutthroats. Lakers can grow huge, and will prey on all other fish in a body of water.This had happened progressively over a fifteen year period, and by the time of our visit, the cutthroats were all but gone. Kathy and I went fishless in the river in two hours of fishing, and the same for the lake. Then we walked up one side and down the other of the Fishing Bridge and saw one trout. What an incredible bummer! And how I would like to keel-haul the individual responsible for it. What could have been that individual’s motive? Was it resentment that some of the Park’s waters are fly-fishing only, along with strict size and limit restrictions elsewhere? Well…the Park now urges anglers to kill every lake trout they catch in the lake, even if they don’t eat them. And, what are the lakers good for, in the way of sport? Now, there are these huge fish, deep, deep down in the lake, which can be pursued only by anglers equipped with motorized boats that can troll lures at an appropriate depth with the aid of down-riggers. So, my guess is that it was such an angler, who thought to himself: “Boy, think how big lakers will grow in this lake. And I can go out in my boat and locate those fish on my sonar and troll big spinners on my down-riggers right past them, and catch those monsters.” Whoever it was, he succeeded – and deprived the rest of us of catching the beautiful Yellowstone cutthroats out of those most beautiful bodies of water, Yellowstone Lake and River. Damn! This bothered Kathy and me more than you might imagine. It’s such a crime.
Otherwise, all was extraordinary, as always, in Yellowstone, no less today than in 1955, which is one of the great attributes of Yellowstone and all the rest of the National Park system. While the environment steadily degrades everywhere else, the National Parks stay as they always were – pristine, full of life and the wonders of nature. Here are a few more photos.