Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Lessons Learned in Time

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Lessons Learned in Time

Article excerpt


What the profession can learn from the cutthroat trout of Yellowstone Lake

BOB AUKERMAN, a parks and recreation resources professor at Colorado State University, was a competitive fisherman. He and his son, Rob, went fishing with me in the wilderness of Yellowstone Lake in 1999. While I was setting up camp on the shore, he hollered to me from our canoe in a bay, "We're catching a lot of cutthroats. Do you want to keep any for dinner?"

"No," I said.

"I thought were going to eat in 30 minutes," Bob responded.

"We are, but I want my trout fresh." I said.

That's something that couldn't happen in 2010, as you will see.

From 1957 through 1960, I was a fishing guide on Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone National Park while in college. I typically took three parties fishing daily, six days a week. The cutthroat trout literally put me through college.

Some parties would look me in the eye and say, "I want to be out an hour and catch our limit of trout," which during the 1950s was three per person. We guides would figure it would take 20 minutes to reach the fishing spot, 20 to get back, and 20 to catch our limit of 15 18-inch cutthroat trout. Then we would do it. How many lakes with natural reproduction of trout can you name that could produce fishing of that kind? None

My book, Yellowstone, Cutthroats and Me: A Fishing Guide's Autobiography, describes in greater detail just how unique Yellowstone Lake and the native cutthroat trout are-and how important they are to our profession. The trout had a profound effect on my life and profession as a park ranger in Yellowstone, a recreation resource specialist for the defunct Bureau of Outdoor Recreation; an environmental specialist, and supervisory outdoor recreation planner for the Bureau of Reclamation. I was also a guest lecture at various colleges and universities and had an affiliate faculty position with Colorado State University. All were a lot of fun and enabled me to develop a closer relationship with the park and its lake between 1966 and 2006. Yellowstone was within a one-day drive and most of my time was spent in the wilderness areas of the lake. At times, you would feel a part of the food chain with the wolves and grizzly bears at the end. The cutthroats were a part of the diet of 42 species, exclusive of humans.

It all changed.

During the mid 1980s, someone introduced lake trout into Yellowstone Lake. Lake trout have a voracious appetite and eat cutthroat trout, small animals, and cannibalize their own species. They hang out and reproduce in lower depths of water, making them virtually inaccessible to other species of prey and difficult for fisherman to catch. The last time I fished in the wilderness areas of Yellowstone Lake was 2003. …

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