I have stayed away on opening day in the past, to avoid the crowds, but I decided I had waited long enough to get back to Trout Lake. It was crowded, for a lake if not for a city street, but I found solitude and trout enough to make me glad I was there. The first fish of the season came to a scud under an indicator. So did the second. After that I was content to paddle around and troll and take in the sights, including a rushing inlet busy filling the lake. I caught three more fish before finally calling it a day. When I was packed up and on the road again it was already 9 pm. It's official: Winter is completely and irrevocably over.
I generally don't use this blog to flag the many environmental issues threatening our world and our sport. Like you, I hope, I know of many sources that are keeping tabs on these issues, and I try to stay informed. But this report from Northwest Public Radio grabbed my attention. Maybe it's because I just flew over a portion of the West, and from 30,000 feet the signs of human presence too often look like a blight on the land. This open wound of a mine somewhere in Nevada is just one example.
As we stand on the verge of another opening day it seems good to be reminded that there are Pebble Mines in our own back yards, and that there are things we need to be attending to if we expect to be able to look forward to a long future of trout seasons.
And--call me a traditionalist--I'd prefer it if the trout had only one head.
Here is the report in its entirety.
Marv Hoyt stands near Sage Creek in a baseball cap he normally doesn’t like to wear out here. It says Greater Yellowstone Coalition, his employer. The environmental group hasn’t won many friends in Idaho’s phosphate mining district. Hoyt’s been arguing for years that mine pollution might be hurting fish. Then, last year a study made that prospect more than just “might be.”
Hoyt: “I sort of held my breath as I read that executive summary on the first page. And once I had gotten through that first page, it was like 'Wow. We were right. This is a disaster in the making.’”
The study he’s talking about was a federal review of another study on native Yellowstone cutthroat trout and brown trout. Phosphate mining exposes selenium, an element that’s toxic in large amounts. That research paper held the first photographic evidence of what selenium does to the fish here.
Hoyt: “There were thousands, literally thousands and thousands of deformed fish that are the progeny of fish that came from this stream right here. And the most striking of course and the one that seems to grab everyone’s attention is photos of two-headed trout. Really extreme deformities.”
The report uses the term “unusual.”
Hoyt: “I would say they would be unusual.”
Especially when you consider the source. The two-headed fish photos were in the back of a report commissioned by the J.R. Simplot company, which mines phosphate for making fertilizers. The report is meant to bolster the company’s application to continue to allow higher levels of selenium in the water. And the researchers concluded that selenium levels above the national standards would not significantly impact the fish.
The J.R. Simplot company declined to be interviewed for this story. But company spokesman David Cuoio told the Associated Press in February that Simplot is aware of the contamination and is working with state and federal agencies to address it. In fact, the study was reviewed by a number of those agencies. In comments on the report, the EPA said it was of “outstanding quality.” The agency is even using the study to help develop its national standard for selenium.
Justin Hayes is with the Idaho Conservation League, the state’s largest environmental organization. As far as the two-headed fish go, he says he’s waiting for more science.
Hayes: “The two-headed fish doesn’t necessarily prove they’re right or prove they’re wrong. It just proves that ultimately, if you put enough selenium in water, awful things will happen to fish. And you need to avoid that.”
But there’s another study. One that takes issue with how the researchers hired by Simplot interpreted their data. Remember the report that made Marv Hoyt hold his breath? This second study was written by a biologist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The biologist says the earlier Simplot study undercounted deformity rates. Instead of 20 percent, the new review suggested the rate may be closer to 70 percent. In other words, the norm.
That’s not surprising to someone who researched pollution from Idaho’s phosphate mines back in 1999.
Lemly: “That’s essentially something I would have expected to happen in that area. So this is basically almost an I told you so.”
Dennis Lemly is a research biologist with the U.S. Forest Service and a professor at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. He says the EPA is revisiting its decades-old selenium standards. And the dueling studies in southeast Idaho could have an impact on how strict those standards will ultimately be.
Lemly: “The smoking gun of course is the two-headed trout. Because once you see that condition, you know you’ve got a serious problem. So there’s no basis -- no credible basis -- for changing the standard at that site, nor for letting it become something that could be expanded to other locations.”
The closest town in Idaho to Simplot’s mine is Soda Springs, about 23 miles to the west. Since the 1950s, this former frontier outpost has depended on jobs at the local mines.
Linda Anderson owns the furniture shop downtown. She’s sold a lot of furniture to families of workers from the phosphate mines and processing plants over the years.
Anderson: “It’s our bread and butter. It means a lot to have this industry here. We’ve had times when other areas have been hit bad by unemployment and there’s usually a job for somebody here.”
Anderson says she’s heard about the contamination -- even bought a water purifier for her tap. But she shrugs it off. Every town has its problems, she says.
The end is near. Saturday is the day that fishermen all over the state will be raptured up and out of sight, never to be seen again. Until the end of October. It's kind of sad about all those non-fishermen who will be left behind, but then we'll be in heaven, so there you go. You reap what you sow.
I'm ready. This spell of warm weather--high 80's on Monday--got me to the early season lake on Sunday and Monday both. Sunday was a good day. I caught trout and only trout. The lake was as it should be. Monday was a beautiful day, but a change had taken place in just 24 hours. The lake had, well, gone to hell.
The problem? I caught more of these...
Than I did these. And this poor beat up trout seemed like the Ghost of Early Season Past.
The pristine, cold-water early season lake full of trout was gone. It had warmed up enough to become what it really is, a multi-species lake, with bass (they aren't supposed to be in there, but somebody keeps dumping them in) and bluegill more than holding their own against the stocked trout. And the boats and motors have been having their impact, with the water murkier and littered with churned up weeds. And three weeks of fishing by people out to catch and kill their five fish limit each time they're there has had an impact on the trout.
Some trout are still there, and pods were still cruising and rising. But there seem to be more schools of bluegill, also cruising, rising, and even jumping out of the water, just like the trout. There were times on Monday when a compact school of bluegill would boil up to the surface and rise all at once, and it looked like someone had shot the water with double ought buckshot. I caught them in the shallows, where I caught only Rainbows on Sunday. When I moved out to deeper water I still caught them. I even caught them when I tried trolling. And there was no sign of that satisfying pop bluegill make when they take a bug off the top. If there had been, maybe I could have distinguished between bluegill and trout rises. But no, when they took my dry they were porpoising on it, for crying out loud.
So I'm ready. Ready to be raptured up to that high place I call Trout Lake. No homes or resorts. No highway. No motors. No bass or bluegill. Just high country and trout.
It's time to let the sun set on the early season lake. I won't be back, except with Jeremiah and his friends, who love to catch bass and bluegill.
Come next week, if you want me, I'll be in heaven.
Indiana was warm and sunny while I was there. I tried to bring the warm weather back home with me, and it looks like I succeeded. Eager to get back to the lake after a wonderful time being gone.
79° | 52°
82° | 48°
79° | 45°
HYDROLOGIC OUTLOOK NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE SPOKANE WA 1205 PM PST SAT APR 21 2012
...SEVERAL DAYS OF WARM TEMPERATURES STARTING SUNDAY WILL MELT SNOW AND CREATE SIGNIFICANT RISES ON AREA RIVERS AND LAKES. MINOR FLOODING IS POSSIBLE IN THE IDAHO PANHANDLE AS EARLY AS TUESDAY...
RIVERS AND LAKES THROUGHOUT THE REGION WILL SEE SIGNIFICANT RISES BEGINNING SUNDAY AND CONTINUING INTO THE MIDDLE OF THE WORK WEEK. AT THIS TIME THE IDAHO PANHANDLE HAS THE GREATEST POTENTIAL TO EXPERIENCE FLOODING ON MAINSTEM RIVERS. SEVERAL DAYS OF WARM TEMPERATURES...COMBINED WITH SEVERAL NIGHTS OF ABOVE FREEZING TEMPERATURES IN THE MOUNTAINS...WILL SEND A SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF SNOWMELT INTO RIVERS AND STREAMS. THERE IS ALSO THE POTENTIAL FOR SOME LOCALIZED HEAVY RAIN IN THE IDAHO PANHANDLE TUESDAY THAT MAY INCREASE THE FLOODING CONCERNS IN THAT AREA.
...FAR EASTERN WASHINGTON AND NORTHERN IDAHO... TODAYS RIVER FORECASTS SHOW THE COEUR D`ALENE RIVER AT CATALDO AND THE ST JOE RIVER AT ST MARIES EXCEEDING FLOOD STAGE BY TONIGHT. THE MOYIE RIVER AT EASTPORT...THE KOOTENAI RIVER AT BONNERS FERRY...THE ST JOE RIVER AT CALDER...LAKE COEUR D`ALENE...THE SPOKANE RIVER AT SPOKANE AND THE GRANDE RONDE RIVER AT TROY ARE ALL FORECAST TO REACH OR EXCEED BANKFULL THIS WEEK. SMALL STREAMS DRAINING HIGH ELEVATION SNOWPACK WILL LIKELY BE AT BANKFULL OR EXPERIENCE SOME MINOR FLOODING. IF THE RAINFALL AMOUNTS IN THE IDAHO PANHANDLE NEXT WEEK ARE SIGNIFICANTLY LESS THAN CURRENTLY FORECAST...THE ST JOE RIVER AT ST MARIES IS THE ONLY RIVER EXPECTED TO EXCEED FLOOD STAGE FROM SNOWMELT ALONE.
...EAST CASCADES AND NORTH CENTRAL WASHINGTON... TODAYS RIVER FORECAST SHOWS RISES ON ALL THE MAINSTEM RIVERS DRAINING THE EAST CASCADES AND OKANOGAN HIGHLANDS BUT AT THIS TIME THE ONLY RIVER FORECAST TO REACH BANKFULL NEXT WEEK IS THE STEHEKIN RIVER AT STEHEKIN. SMALL STREAMS DRAINING HIGH ELEVATION SNOWPACK MAY REACH BANKFULL OR EXPERIENCE SOME MINOR FLOODING FROM SNOWMELT. THERE IS A CONSIDERABLE SNOWPACK REMAINING IN THESE MOUNTAINS SO THERE WILL CONTINUE TO BE POTENTIAL FOR FLOODING ON THESE RIVERS AND STREAMS THROUGHOUT THE SPRING RUNOFF SEASON.
THIS IS AN EVOLVING SITUATION. THOSE WITH INTERESTS NEAR AREA RIVERS AND STREAMS SHOULD REMAIN VIGILANT FOR RISING WATER AND BE AWARE OF FUTURE OUTLOOKS...WATCHES...OR WARNINGS FROM THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE.