The creek seemed like one thing pulled out of a wilderness designer’s catalogue. It snaked via a sweeping meadow valley, every flip revealing deep undercut banks and loads of hiding spots for trout. Rocks peppered about half the runs, giving me a mixture of swimming pools, riffles, and pocket water, through which I knew had been cutthroat desirous to smack a dry fly.
That’s what this creek is understood for, in spite of everything. It’s a bastion of pure-strain Colorado River cutthroat, positioned deep within the coronary heart of Central Utah’s wilderness. Bridger Lyons and I had hiked a lot of the morning — and dinged the hell out of his truck’s operating boards on some boulders — to get to that stretch of the creek.
I threw a forged to a pool, letting my large dry fly drift proper via the kitchen of no matter trout lurked beneath. Like clockwork, a fish rose, took my fly in a splash, and I set the hook.
It wasn’t large, so I shortly netted the trout. Kneeling barely, I stared, slack jawed, on the tiger trout squirming round within the rubber mesh.
“Bridger!” I hollered upstream, the place he’d arrange store. “I bought a tiger.”
He turned. “What?”
I held the online up for emphasis. “Yep. Tiger trout.”
He gave me an expression I’m positive mirrored my very own confused one. I let the fish go, snapping a number of footage and making a psychological notice to speak to the regional fisheries biologist as quickly as attainable. The very last thing I would like are tigers out-competing the cutts in right here, I assumed. What are tigers doing right here?
That was three years in the past. In the present day, the creek might be a 50-50 break up between tiger trout — a sterile hybrid of brook and brown trout which are created in hatchery laboratories — and cutthroat trout. The reason I acquired from the fisheries biologist was that they’d planted the tigers within the creek to supply a extra various sport fishery. Mike James, a information buddy of mine positioned in central Utah, says he’s joyful to have the tigers within the creek. Mike tells me that throughout the canine days of summer season, the cutthroat disguise out in deeper, cooler water, making them powerful to catch. Tigers, nevertheless, cooperate higher for purchasers.
I heard an analogous story from Bryan Englebert, a sport fishery biologist for Utah’s Northeast Area. We had been someplace on the North Slope of the Uinta Mountains, close to the Utah-Wyoming line, fishing a stream on which Bryan had just lately accomplished a cutthroat restoration mission. To the south, a cirque dominated the panorama, and beneath its brim are a number of lakes full of huge cutthroat.
“Had any reviews up there on the fishing?” I requested Bryan between casts, gesturing to the lakes a number of miles away.
“Yeah, they’re catching some large tigers,” Bryan stated. “4 and 5 pounders. Simply tanks.”
“I assumed it was simply cutthroat?”
“Nope. We bought ‘em each in there.”
Heading off my inevitable “why?” Bryan stated, “It’s what the general public needs, so we put ‘em in there. They don’t out-compete the cutthroat an excessive amount of, although.”
It’s what the general public needs.
I don’t have something in opposition to tiger trout. A few of my fondest fishing reminiscences over the previous 5 years embody stalking and catching large ol’ tigers. Their reputation is clear, since they develop large shortly and have a repute for smacking streamers like a freight prepare. They style nice and look even higher. Tigers are almost every little thing you desire a trout to be, in the event you ignore their mad scientist vibe.
Nevertheless, as they present up in an increasing number of excessive nation lakes and streams, I can’t assist however surprise if our collective need as anglers for giant, unique fish has gone too far. Like Bryan stated, tiger trout are stocked, partly, as a result of it’s what the general public needs. And on common, they’ll develop to higher sizes than cutthroat. A fast look at Instagram reveals that a lot of the fish featured within the grip-and-grins aren’t pan-sized cutthroat.
With the never-ending deluge of huge fish footage assaulting anglers each time they browse social media, it’s no surprise the general public largely needs easily-accessible, fast-growing, large, beautiful fish. Tiger trout verify all these containers.
However is that what we actually need dominating the angling panorama? Or, has our need for giant, unique fish gone too far, particularly right here within the Rockies? I’m wondering if the rising presence of tiger trout within the excessive nation is indicative of the bigger cultural shift inside the fly fishing neighborhood. We profess to like native fish, and actively work for conservation. However when push involves shove, how many people are prepared to surrender fishing for steelhead on the Olympic Peninsula, or king salmon on the Kenai River, to present these endangered fish even a slight edge at reestablishing themselves? At what level does the will for various fisheries dilute the distinctive, unmatched heritage that cutthroat trout symbolize?
Numerous fisheries are enjoyable — particularly within the excessive nation of the Rockies. Catching grayling at 11,000 ft above sea degree is a uncommon deal with. This number of fish offers anglers extra alternatives to catch completely different species, and gives for extra harvest. Contemporary-caught brook trout cooked over an open fireplace is certainly one of nature’s premier delicacies. However is that value dropping among the little cutthroat-only water now we have left?
I’m not advocating for cutthroat in each lake, stream, pond, and creek. That anglers can head up Utah’s Mirror Lake Freeway within the Uinta Mountains and catch a restrict of pan-sized brookies and tiger trout for dinner on any given summer season day is part of angling I’d by no means need to lose. It’s not in these locations the place I begrudge the presence of nonnative fish. It’s within the secluded ponds and creeks – just like the one Bridger and I fished three years in the past — properly off the crushed path, miles from the place 90 p.c of anglers are prepared to go, that I’m wondering if our need for Instagram-worthy fish footage has gone too far.
I’m not within the enterprise of telling somebody methods to fish. I fear, although, that our need for giant fish is overshadowing the true causes that all of us began fishing within the first place. I didn’t decide up my dad’s fly rod 20 years in the past with the intention of doing a 15-minute picture shoot with each trout I landed. That’s an all-too-common sight on quite a lot of rivers right here within the West, at the same time as we trumpet protected catch-and-release practices from each weblog and journal.
The tiger trout takeover isn’t actually about tiger trout. It’s way more than that. It’s an indictment of our present collective perspective as fly anglers — and I’m as responsible as anybody else. I make my residing from the tales I inform about fly fishing and the photographs I take to doc the adventures. I’ve held fish for photoshoots lengthy after I knew I ought to’ve allow them to swim off.
However I do know I will be higher. I do know the angling neighborhood can enhance. Maybe we simply want to recollect these phrases from Lee Wulff the subsequent time we head to the river:
“It’s you and clear, flowing water. It’s you, inquisitive, in a wild world that’s older than man, searching for higher understanding and discovering not solely an limitless curiosity however a tranquility that comes, more often than not, to all nature’s wild creatures.”