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“You think it’s worth a go?”
My buddy Ryan and I were standing over his kitchen table looking down at a map of Black Canyon of the Gunnison Wilderness Area. The stretch of the Gunnison River that we were eyeballing had the potential to produce some nice trout, and we had heard rumors that the salmon fly hatch might be on. What that means, for anyone who might not be a fluent trout junkie, is that the fish would be feeding on giant bugs with reckless abandon.
But there were other factors to consider.
“I dunno, that’s a hell of a drive down there… and then there’s the hike in,” I responded.
Judging from the map, the route from the rim of the canyon down to the river looked impassable without a parachute. It descended 2,722 feet in two miles. With our fully loaded packs, it would be brutal.
The previous three days fishing the Yampa River near Ryan’s home in Steamboat Springs, Colo., had produced some nice rainbows, but overall things were tough. We were looking to change up our strategy, and the Gunnison seemed like a good bet.
We put in a couple of calls to the National Park Service (the wilderness area is surrounded by Gunnison National Park) and a handful of fly shops that confirmed…well they didn’t confirm anything. Our guts told us that the salmon fly hatch could still be on. We didn’t have a lot to go on, but so what? We loaded up the truck, cranked some bluegrass and were on our way.
The hike down into Black Canyon was just as challenging as it had looked on paper. There was no marked trail and the terrain was made up of boulders, loose rock and sand that left us constantly on tenuous footing.
Feeling a bit haggard about half way down to the river, we crossed paths with a couple from Denver who were on their way back out after a three-day fishing trip.
“It’s on!” they said, beaming with excitement.
They relayed a few stories while we stood there wide-eyed and grinning ear-to-ear, and went on their way. The good news was refreshing, and it fueled us as we made our way down the final, sketchy descent.
When we reached the river, we were greeted by salmon flies the size of B-52 bombers buzzing awkwardly around the canyon and the sweet sound of trout plucking their fallen comrades out of the surface film. They say that trout can take in 70 percent of their yearly protein during the salmon fly hatch. After spending five minutes taking in the scene next to the river, there was no doubt in my mind that this was an accurate statement.
The two days that we spent in the canyon were unforgettable. Big, healthy Gunnison River browns were hitting salmon fly imitations so big and ugly that I would be reluctant to throw them at the scrappy smallies on my home waters of the tidal Potomac. I don’t remember how many fish we caught before a dam release upstream put a damper on the hatch. What I do know is that there were plenty of big fish to keep us both entertained, and to solidify this trip as one of the most unique fishing experiences that I have had to date.
Recently TRCP’s western outreach director, Neil Thagard presented the Wyoming Game & Fish Department $10,000 for the Private Lands Public Wildlife Access Program, which benefits all sportsmen who hunt and fish in the Cowboy State.
During the presentation, Neil expressed concerns surrounding the recent mandated budget cuts and what those cuts mean for fish and wildlife management, businesses and sportsmen. In the last budget session, the Wyoming Legislature demanded the Department cut $4.6 million from its FY14 budget. Such cuts will adversely impact fish and wildlife resources and hunting and angling opportunities.
Watch the video of Neil’s presentation below.
Post the correct answer to win a copy of “Last Stand Ted Turner’s Quest to Save a Troubled Planet” by Todd Wilkinson.
Theodore Roosevelt kept which exotic African mammal as a pet?
Talking about fishing is great but it doesn’t hold a candle to actually getting on the water and catching fish.
After a month spent traveling to each of the five Gulf states and asking fishermen to recommend the kinds of habitat enhancement projects and scientific data needed to make our fishing better, it was nice to jump aboard my buddy Capt. Peace Marvel’s new 31-foot catamaran along with a handful of other fishing junkies and head down river out of Venice, La.
The crew and I had three goals. The first was to catch a lot of red snapper with a variety of baits on light tackle. The second was to get as much incredible footage as possible to make for a good episode of Louisiana Sportsman TV to air later in the summer. The third was to discuss TRCP’s work with its sportfishing partners to improve recreational fishing habitat and opportunities in the Gulf and beyond. We succeeded on all fronts.
Exchanging fishing stories along the way and eyeing a couple of stray thunderstorms lingering right off the mouth of the river, the 25-minute trek out of South Pass passed in a blink. Ten minutes after clearing the last channel marker, we had lines in the water and were reeling in beautiful eight to 15 pound red snapper.
We were fishing a ledge in about 90 feet. The water on the surface was dirtied by the spring rains from the Midwest pushing their way down the river but the massive school of snapper could be clearly seen on the sonar about 20 feet under the boat. More than 25 red snapper came to the boat after eating everything from cut bait to butterfly jigs and soft plastic grubs.
Capt. Peace then pointed the boat east in search of mangrove snapper and bigger red snapper at the South Pass 70 Block, a set of oil and gas platforms in 300 feet of water famous for holding a variety of reef fish as well as big blackfin tuna and wahoo at certain times of the year.
Free-lining chunks of cut menhaden, we quickly hooked into several sizeable mangrove snapper including an impressive 10.6 pounder as well as the rest of our 14 red snapper limit. Mixed in were a couple of 40-50 pound amberjack, two slightly-too-small cobia and a bruising 40-pound gag grouper. The AJ’s, cobia and gag all went back to swim another day. The snapper were destined for the grill.
Clearly, red snapper are abundant in the northern Gulf, something all researchers and fishermen alike agreed upon. Still, there is so much uncertainty in the data regarding stock sizes, catch-and-release mortality and actual angler effort that red snapper seasons have become ever shorter over the last several years.
This year, Gulf anglers get just 28 days to harvest red snapper. Without a judge’s ruling that forced a uniform season for all Gulf States, Louisiana fishermen would have had just nine days from NOAA to catch and keep the highly-prized, hard-fighting, crimson delicacies in federal waters.
Lack of data and improving survival rates:
The same lack of data restricting red snapper harvest forced the release of the two amberjack that wore me out that day. The one that hit the free-lined chunk on the surface swam away with little effort after a bruising 15 –minute light tackle fight. The one that came from 200 feet down had to be vented and revived to be able to return to depth.
Reducing the impact of reeling reef fish up from the depths, technically called barotrauma, was discussed at length at the workshops. Finding the best methods to improve survival rates of fish brought up from the deep and getting more anglers involved can hopefully increase the access recreational anglers have to harvesting more reef fish.
Catching abundant red snapper and other reef denizens on both natural and man-made structures illustrated well the role that both play for the fish and the fishermen. Anglers across the northern Gulf fish rigs and artificial reefs extensively but much is still unknown about what materials make the best reefs and where it’s best to locate the structures. Meanwhile, federal energy policies are forcing the rapid removal of oil and gas platforms with little regard for the fish or their habitat.
The TRCP is working with its partners to try and find solutions to all of these issues. And, it’s very rewarding to be working with federal and state agencies to ensure wise investments of oil spill recovery dollars coming to the Gulf in order to find those solutions and make sportfishing sustainable well into the future.
The chance to experience what we’re all working to sustain has its rewards as well.
In the last two years, policymakers have committed to significant investments in conservation, infrastructure, and reversing climate change. Hunters and anglers continue to be vocal about the opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations. Support solutions now.Learn More