May 27, 2011
It was almost exactly one year ago to the day that they found the sneaky little bugger cowering under a marina dock down at Sand Hollow Reservoir in southern Utah a few miles outside Hurricane. A known member of the AIS gang (aquatic invasive species), the quagga mussel (Dreissena rostriformis bugensis) and, most importantly, its discovery in Utah, caused quite a stir.
For a two-centimeter-long organism, the fact that just one had set up shop in our state proved to be a pretty big deal. Hullabaloo ensued. Alarms were issued. Warnings were sent out. Roadblocks were set up at the state line.
The most recent of these occurred the weekend before last at the port of entry south of St. George where two boats attempting to enter the state were deemed non grata in a surprise inspection conducted by the Division of Transportation and the Division of Wildlife Resources. Once they underwent the mandated 140-degree pressure-washing decontamination procedure, however, the boats were allowed to proceed.
During the year following the initial discovery, this aggressive campaign of inspection and decontamination of any boats entering Utah perceived to have been used in quagga-infested out-of-state waters has resulted in no further quagga mussels being found in Utah.
Sensing that we were somehow missing out on this unfolding saga, a four-person, two-boat, quick-response bass-angling team from Heber Valley was put together for a somewhat-covert five-day operation at Sand Hollow last week. Off we sailed for the murky waters down south.
With two-days set aside for travel, operational planning, and debriefing, the three remaining days were to be turned over to the pursuit of the elusive largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides). The overriding goal, although to some it seemed like wishful thinking, was to sit down to a dinner of fresh fish each evening.
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One intervening variable that was seen as an impediment to the desired menu entrée centered on a change in "creel limits" put in place last September by the state Wildlife Board. While anglers would be allowed to keep six bass of any length at the vast majority of Utah fisheries in 2011, at a few of them, including Jordanelle and Sand Hollow, only one of the six could be longer than 12 inches.
This would mean, with most of the allowed "kept" bass being under 12 inches a highly-unlikely scenario due to an angler’s habit of releasing smaller fish that each member of the team would need to average at least one large "keeper" bass hook-up each day. Work, work, work!
Although most state-instituted changes in the creel limit are implemented with the hope of sustaining the fishery in question, there are those who spend their time on these specifically-singled-out bass waters who fail to see the upside to this particular one. That being said, however, this particular group of undercover fisher-folk and campers flat out ate like three kings and a queen.
Which is pretty cool for an undertrained covert team of quagga obsessives slicked-up in bass-o-phile duds and camped out within the subtle boundaries of the primitive area on the undeveloped side of Sand Hollow.
Of course, we weren’t alone by any stretch. There were the hooting mourning doves, for instance, and a flock of some kind of merganser-looking ducks that incessantly practiced take-offs without ever leaving the water. And the "grandfather sagebrush" with its fine silvery whiskers and the evening primrose and the shrubby cinquefoil and narrowleaf yucca and such.
It wasn’t like the weather cooperated totally, as one would wish when heading south during the spring, but considering how wet the West has been of late, it certainly could have been worse. Which isn’t to say that shorts and sandals didn’t get their time in the sun, as it were, on what proved to be, overall, a quite magical getaway.
There’s something about the sound of raindrops tapping out an almost melodic percussion as you lounge inside your tent that stays with you even after you’ve returned home. And the way that clouds are reflected off barely rippling water as a soft onshore breeze plays its whispering theme in counterpoint.
Not to mention the nurturing liquids that are often part and parcel to such scientific safaris. Or the camaraderie of the early morning coffee ritual when the day is mapped out between gulps and grins and yawns and the talk turns from quagga mussels to the current stash of bass filets.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for the past 40 years.