Fish with the Bish
June 30, 2007
For many anglers, catching a native trout species in cold, clear water is one of the finest rewards.
There’s something pure about it, like a connection to billions of evolutionary years.
It’s especially gratifying now since it’s also becoming a rarity, even more so after what happened this week in Parley’s Creek when roughly 500 trout were found dead.
It can sadden or even anger a fisherman when that opportunity to connect with something natural is threatened.
Fishing is about more than catching fish, more than bringing home a filet or snapping a picture of the big one. It’s about the outdoors and one’s connection with it. It’s our way of paying homage to Mother Nature. At times it seems spiritual. Without native fish, a river is like a church without a congregation, scriptures, crosses, sacraments and prayer, only a shell of what it could be. If the rivers, streams and lakes are void of life, especially the gilled kind, so is part of the angler’s soul.
Brown, rainbow and brook trout fill most of the coldwater lakes and rivers, but they are all implants here. They’re fine, but the Bonneville Cutthroat trout is what used to reign as the kings of Utah’s freshwater system.
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In the last 100 years or so, they’ve been carelessly dethroned.
Now, they are a threatened species and are seen thriving in only a few waters.
"Ten years ago, they figured there were Bonnevilles in 5 percent of their historical range," said Brock Richardson of Trout Unlimited.
They were an important food source for the early settlers. The area was once so full of them they were considered a nuisance. But mass harvesting, pollution and the introduction of other species brought them to the brink of extinction.
It’s a species Trout Unlimited, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) and other organizations have been trying to keep from the Federal Endangered Species List by re-establishing their population.
To this point they’ve done an excellent job.
"To some extent, now they are back in 35 percent of their range," Richardson said.
A large population remains in Parley’s Canyon, East Canyon and Little Dell reservoirs. It’s a stronghold that the DWR uses as a "brood stock" to gather eggs, raise them in a hatchery and then plant the juveniles in other waters.
That "stronghold" was attacked by something. Around 500 Bonneville Cutthroat trout were found belly-up in Parley’s Creek in the stretch from the mouth of Parley’s Canyon to Sugarhouse Park on Monday as reported by the Salt Lake Tribune.
Richardson walked up and down the stream counting the dead fish.
"My opinion is, there was a complete kill through Tanner Park, they were killed all the way through Sugarhouse," he said.
Richardson immediately thought the culprit was silt pollution that may have prevented the fish from absorbing enough oxygen through their gills. Now, he said he’s convinced some chemical, like chlorine killed the fish.
"Unfortunately, the ones that did get killed, that was a wild population," Richardson said. "That will knock them back for a few years, but they’ll come back naturally."
It’s too bad. It was an established wild population that Trout Unlimited and the DWR could brag about. Now they have to start over on a once thriving ecosystem. It may not be a black eye to Trout Unlimited or DWR, but it is one to humanity, if it indeed was some sort of chemical spill.
"We haven’t done a ton of work on Parley’s because there hasn’t been a need," Richardson said. "The fish were sustaining their need. It’s not bad in there so we’ve been doing work in other places."
Parley’s is currently included as one of those "other places" Richardson talked about. In one day, it went from cutthroat playground to cutthroat graveyard.
Re-establishing its population in other places will be put on hold to a certain extent. Richardson said the DWR will likely use more than 100,000 eggs, grow them in a hatchery before releasing them into the lower section of Parley’s in the fall. This means they won’t go into a different river, which surely they would prefer.
There is also a slight concern about contaminants in Little Dell, which has become a fairly decent catch and release, artificial fly- or lure-only fishery for Bonneville Cutthroat. The trout are starting to make people think about the settlers’ reports of giant cutthroat trout that used to swim through Utah Lake.
"The fish that get into Little Dell Reservoir, they get pretty big," Richardson said.
Richardson suspects whatever killed the fish probably didn’t go above the dam, but he’s not sure how far the contaminant spread, or where it started.
But, something happened that killed the fish. And as recent history goes, it’s nothing new to the Bonneville Cutthroat.
Funny thing is, the aquatic insect life doesn’t seem to be affected by whatever killed the fish. Maybe the Cutthroats have given up. Maybe after years of struggle, they finally said, "Let’s quit."
As things seem to be going, regardless of the help from Trout Unlimited and the DWR, the fate of the trout is in jeopardy. They can’t compete with other trout species and they can’t compete with human influence.