This week, I might be stepping into quicksand. If nothing else, it’ll be entertaining for the rest of you to watch.
While a good many local anglers applauded the California Fish & Game Commission’s decision at its Feb. 2, 2012 meeting to strike down proposed changes to striped bass regulations, changes that, at the very least, would degrade the quality of a fishery that supports considerable segments of the local economy, there was a curious footnote to the proceedings.
A desire to declare striped bass, introduced from the East Coast, as a ‘native’ California species.
California Fish & Game Commission’s then-Director Daniel W. Richards summed up the issue:
Another great comment that I heard today was this issue of what is native. [California Department of Fish & Game] Director Bonham and I had great conversation just yesterday about this. We are regularly, and just several months we were being challenged with a frogs and turtles matter of non-native species…it’s controversial and there’s both sides to it, and these striped bass have been here for 130 years. At what point in time do we…and some of the analogies we gave I thought were terrific, especially when you take it down to the human level, who’s a native Californian and who’s not. I thought it was really very apropos. I mean, they’ve been here 130 years, that’s, I don’t know, what is that, that’s three or four generations I think you’d probably call that. [Striped bass] starts to be fairly native to me.
After that, then-President Jim Kellogg, after pointing out that he worked on the first pump station on the Delta (1966-’69) and saw the numbers of fish those unscreened pumps dumped into the canal announced in his last act as president:
…because nobody’s got an answer as to how this is done, or who declares it or something like that, I’m going to declare the striped bass a native species in the state of California.
Central to the proponents of the new regulations painted striped bass — asking it be considered an invasive species — as largely responsible for the decline of the state’s salmon stocks. Opponents cited striped bass’ long history in the California Delta (declared a sport fish in 1935) and its coexistence with salmon and Delta smelt over that time. (The definition of ‘coexistence’ may be considered ill-defined in the absence of any hard, long-term, historical data.)
While most will agree that these proposed changes to the striper regulations was a thinly veiled water grab, it does bring to light a conflict that can arise between native and now wild populations of introduced fish, particularly without a firm scientific understanding that can overwhelm any argument from either side of the debate. And while the predation of introduced species changes ecosystems, there’s no scientific model to predict the consequences of eliminating such a long-entrenched species.
In the short span of our lives, does ‘native’ becomes anything that was here before us? Big brown trout and competitive rainbows have so well supplanted Lahontan cutthroat trout — it and the Eagle Lake Rainbow were once the only trout in the Easter Sierra — that rarely does one hear of an angler landing a decent Lahontan, expect those in Crowley Lake and the Upper Owens River. And it’ll be a shame when Lahontan cutthroat no longer exist in California, which is likely to happen.
But it’s hard to label the non-native trout that provide us so much recreation as ‘invasive.’
In any case, might these naturally reproducing fish populations better fit a status similar to that of ‘historical (living) landmark?’ Is there an appropriate measure of time before anyone can declare an introduced species to be a ‘naturalized citizen?’ And will the difference between native and naturalized fish populations eventually become indistinguishable, legally or otherwise?
Regardless of the answers, I’ll be the one overlooking the illegal immigration status of the trout that eats my fly.
If you’re interested, the video recording of the meeting can be found here; click on the link for Feb 2, 2012 and fast forward to about 1:35:00 for the start of the striper discussion.
The last few weeks have left me not thinking too deep about anything in particular except what the lack of rain and snowfall here will mean for fall conditions on my favorites Sierra streams. The vest finally got its annual washing, and the old granola bar found within tossed. A new list outlines small streams and larger rivers near the cabin but still unvisited out of laziness for lack of time. But there’ll be no piles of new gear this year. Just a few closeout flies, a new license, of course, and a few newly acquired hooks for tying as yet undetermined patterns.
It’s clear that I’ll not be doing much to support the industry, but the proliferation of fly fishing television shows suggests that the sport as a whole has become interesting, at least to cable programmers, even when one dismisses the dangerous fly fishing date on “The Bachelor.”
My DVR ‘fly fishing’ wish list has picked up more shows in the last month and half than recorded during all of last year, despite a limited cable line up in which the Outdoor Channel and NBC Sports Network née Versus are the main suppliers of these shows. I’m not so certain how or why some of these shows came into existence and made it to my cable line up, but there must be some belief they are worthy of some sort of cash outlay. (I do miss “Fly Fishing the World” and Trout Unlimited’s “On the Rise,” both on Sportsman Channel, and the hard-to-find “The New Fly Fisher.”)
There are a lot of dollars being thrown at fly fishing video, from homemade DVDs to the once underground and now nearly mainstream Fly Fishing Film Tour. While instructional DVDs may be the bread and butter of this genre, it’s easier to grab the remote than insert a disc — and tell ourselves that we can easy to ignore that the gear manufacturers sponsoring these shows hope to convince us to buy stuff we don’t need.
Our efforts at resistance may be in vain. Research suggests those of us still active in the sport bought more in 2010 after a 10% drop in sales in 2009. It helps to have a captive audience; most of these shows run during the winter months when local waters aren’t available to many of us. It might be sour grapes on my part; I’m suspicious that some shows are well-thought-out tax write offs that just happen to include fly fishing in exotic places.
There’s no immediate way to determine if this explosion of fly fishing shows is good or bad† ; much of the content of these shows is fly fishing porn; beautiful shots of scenery and fish. It speaks to the already interested, generally not something watched with the girlfriend/wife or kids. These shows likely will lure into the sport some novices who will suddenly face the reality that their companions on the water will be unkempt and rather plain looking, not the well-dressed and good looking host‡ casting perfect loops to big fish.
These novices will also quickly learn that good editing always excludes those back casts that snag the tree that’s always behind us.
† Such a discussion will bring up the ever-present debate about the growth of a sport that utilizes finite resources. It’s worth noting that fishing license sales continued a two-year decline in 2011, according to a selected sampling of states by the Recreation Boating & Fishing Foundation.
‡ There are a few hosts who might be considered ‘average Joes’: Greg Heister of “Seasons on The Fly” and the goofy Curtis Fleming of “Fly Rod Chronicles.” Though a celebrity, occasional fly caster Larry Csonka comes across as that friendly guy we’d all enjoy on a fishing trip.
Word came from Pleasanton last week that a 13-year-old boy had landed a record 18-pound, 9-ounce largemouth bass at Shadow Cliffs Lake. It seemed too good to believe. Unfortunately, it was.
At Shadow Cliffs, park rangers say several people saw the boy wade into the lake and scoop up a large dead fish. Park officials said they do not acknowledge the fish as a record.
When the story first emerged, the boy said he caught the fish with a lure, that the giant bass did not fight much, and he gave it to a friend to eat. A photo of the fish I was provided showed that its eyes had turned white and its body had a layer of slime, similar to that of a fish that has been dead for some time.
This is yet more proof that, while all people are born honest, by the time they go fishing they usually get over it.
Thanks to our vigilance and hard work we’ve found THE fishing vehicle for big river and stillwater fishermen. You only have to choose between Gibbs Amphibians’ 30-foot, 500-horsepower turbo diesel powered Phibian or the 21.5-foot, 350-horsepower V8 driven Humdinga (pictured).
In all fairness, my dad didn’t see it coming. I blame it on the thin air or the simple joy of being outdoors in God’s country.
For more than a few years, my brother, my sister, and I eagerly anticipated a week or more of camping in the Tuolumne Meadows campground. These trips were filled with hiking, fishing, campfires, hiking that was sporadically interrupted by fishing, and that general freedom engendered by nature’s wide-open spaces.
Many hikes started in the campground or nearby, which meant a starting elevation of at least 8,500 feet and often closer to 9,500 feet. Many of the trails were obvious or followed rivers or streams, and were usually marked on the USGS maps dad packed with the space blankets, water, lunches, snacks and other supplies. Some hikes were long and generally flat, others shorter but a bit tougher on the shorter legs of kids. The trail to Lake Elizabeth gained about 1,000 feet in elevation over 4.5 miles. Getting to Gaylor Lakes required rising 600 feet in what seemed like the first mile of the three. (Gaylor Lakes supposedly offered great fishing, but the inhalation of swarms of mosquitoes that rose with every step on the surrounding marshes cut the trip short.)
Lembert Dome — a 900-foot tall mass of granite — towers above the nearby Tuolumne River. From the meadows one can often see tiny people standing on top. Then, one summer, me, my dad, my brother and my sister saddled up and began an ill-fated hike that would take us to the top of the dome on a relatively easy trail, but one that grows steeper as it ascends the backside.
The trail cut through a forest and over a few streams as it traced the lower edge of the dome, then looped toward the back the dome. All the while we gained elevation, but it’s the last fourth of the 2.8 miles that asked the most of our legs. This climb started with a clear demarcation of the alpine zone. Trees became fewer and shorter, some stunted, and soon we stood on granite. Then it got a bit tricky, with some rock scrambling and careful footwork required before we reached the top.
Yes, we made it... (This is the original, unaltered photo. Scroll down for a better colorized version. And where the heck did I get that belt buckle?)
Standing on top of this massive granite dome, where the air seems just slightly thinner, the deep greens of the meadows and trees contrast with a sky of eye-straining blues and snow-capped mountains reaching 11,000 feet or more. We lingered and marveled; maybe a bit too long.
Not exactly the best boots for hiking.
The hike had taken a little bit longer than expected and dad was a tad anxious about getting back to camp dome before dark. From where we stood, the face of the dome didn’t look too steep. It also looked like a shortcut.
We didn’t know that there was a surprising amount of glacial polish and exfoliation, cracks parallel to the surface that develop with expansion and contraction‡. Our Sears Roebuck and Co. boots would have been more at home on a flat construction site and offered limited grip. (You might know these boots; versions are still sold today under the Diehard brand — the ones with white leather crepe sole with a tread best described as small rolling hills.) Baseball-sized rocks and small BBs of decomposed granite tumbled beside us as we picked our way down.
We’d also find out that the stitching and rivets in our jeans didn’t offer much traction. It wasn’t easy to walk down the steep granite, so we controlled much of our descent with the seat of our pants. Literally. We slid on our bums. I think our pants gave up their last threads that day.
We did make it down Lembert Dome that afternoon and my brother and I hiked back to camp with just a bit of bravado. Dad, no doubt, and probably my sister, were relieved.
We were too young to be appropriately terrified worried that day. Now that age has tempered my bravado, when I think about this, I’m suitably scared for that young man. But I’m always glad that he had this adventure.
...and here we are with the color slightly adjusted. (Forgot that Mark was ever so small.)
Us kids looking out from atop Lembert Dome. Not so scary...
My brother, my son, and I made it back in 2011. This time there'd be no sliding down Lembert Dome's face.
† This prompt was issued a few days ago, but nothing immediately think came to mind, which I chalk up to a lack of adventurousness the preparedness taught to me by the Boy Scouts.
‡ There is no general agreement among geologists as to the exact cause of this phenomenon.
I wouldn’t normally write something for a Monday, but I’m sitting here between Super Bowl commercials marveling at the breadth of the ‘raw honesty’ discussion resulting from a post asking if this raw honesty is needed and how it may be connected to the success, relevance, or execution of a fishing blog, fly or otherwise; or any blog for that matter.
An acceptance that there is a place for anyone’s blog, even if just an opportunity to ‘howl at the moon,’ seems to echo through every opinion and observation, and an inherent support of an interpretation that ‘raw honesty’ means writing what you want to write and letting your personality separate your blog from the herd.
The Internet is a very public place, and an increasingly accessible space in which blogs in various forms arise. According to statistics from Technorati and Blogpulse, the estimated number of blogs ballooned from 3 million in July 2004 to 164 million last year. This diversity gives voice to authors that may have never been read if not for a blog, and I think we are all the better for it. I’m happy to see that I’m not the only person who’s grateful.
There seems to be little glory in blogging, and it’s generally fleeting. But like fly fishing, much of the fun of blogging is in the doing. Hooking a fish/reader is a welcome consequence.