Claire Corlett

Fish Food, Fish Tanks, and More
Trout Country: Fly Fishing on a Changing Yellowstone

Trout Country: Fly Fishing on a Changing Yellowstone


(gentle music) – When I started fly fishing I
was seven years old probably, maybe six years old. I can remember catching
fish with a fly rod. But I really got into it
when I was 10 years old. My dad bought me a Russ Peak rod. And I took that rod up
to the Big Hole River and fished with my dad
on a salmon fly hatch, and from then on I was, it was something, was more than just a passion. It was something I wanted
to do all the time. I grew up fishing for cutthroat, and there’s just something special about catching a Yellowstone cutthroat. They’re beautiful, but when
you catch one in this area you feel very lucky to be here. – It’s a sport that I think if you spend some time doing
it there’s so much to learn. I mean, you can literally spend a lifetime just learning new tricks, new techniques. – Maybe you should point out the eagle that perched up in its tree still. Sometimes you can have
really unproductive fishing and you make one change of the fly, you change the kind of
water you’re fishing in, and suddenly you go
from nothing to suddenly you’re catching fish consistently. And for me that’s, even when I was 13 and really impatient, that was still a lot of the fun of it, was the fact that I think I
really figured something out of what was going on under the water. And that to me is endlessly fascinating. I’ve been doing this
for over 50 years now. – Unfortunately came last
April for the caddisfly hatch, remember what happened
with the caddisfly hatch it was zero I mean it was just, one day it was 74 degrees
the next day it was snowing. – Our summers have been getting warmer our water is not as plentiful. As a result we’ve got these rivers that are classic blue
ribbon cold water fisheries that the fish are under stress
when it comes to August. Now we find a lot of those trout fisheries transitioning into small
mouth bass fisheries. So you’ve got these warm water fish that are starting to move up the drainage because the water is just warmer. And so that’s a change, small
mouth are great fish to catch but that’s not really
what Montana’s known for, especially not Montana’s
traditionally cold water fisheries. – Other changes in terms of things that certainly I ascribe to climate change. One of the things we’ve seen is changes in the way that runoff happens. I used to manage one
of the local fly shops and handled most of the
guide bookings for the shop and I think back on what
I tried to characterize when people would say, “What’s the best time to
come to Livingston to fish?” The things that I told
those people 25 years ago would not be the same thing
I’d be telling them today. (friendly music) – The whole tourism economy is driven since the movie came out in 1993, called A River Runs Through It. it’s been a huge income
maker for the state. A lot of businesses depend on that river and Paradise Valley to make a living. – We’re sitting in
Livingston, Montana today. We’re about 54 miles
north of Yellowstone Park and Livingston along with
a couple of other towns, we consider ourselves to be
the gateway of Yellowstone. Well, this river is the
backbone of this area it doesn’t matter whether
you’re in the tourism industry or the ranching industry, or you run a small business
down in downtown Livingston. We all depend on this river because that’s what bring people here. And it’s also what sustains
us while we live here. You cannot overstate the
importance of Yellowstone River and the cold clean water to this area, regardless of what industry you’re in. – I’ve been guiding and living
in this area since 2012. Yellowstone is an area I fish a lot. It’s a national park with a lot of depth. So this is Mill Creek and
it’s a little drainage that comes out of the
Absaroka Mountains here tributary to the Yellowstone. – Fish hook! Yes! There ya go! Keep it tight! Rise above, rise above! Good, good! There ya go! Work em over. Nice job. Yeah, a little cutthroat. Not exactly a trophy fish but you can see the orange slash underneath its gill. Beautiful fish. What I like about fishing is, not necessarily catching the
most fish or the biggest fish, it’s catching them how you
want to catch them and where. And it’s soothing to the soul. As cliche and ridiculous as it is, it’s like you can get out and go and have this peaceful experience and there’s not much like it for me. So in 2016, that was an
extremely low snowpack year. Warm spring, things
melted off really quickly. We started seeing whitefish
dying off in the river. – The things we know now, certainly we don’t know all the answers but at least we know what the pathogen was that caused the fish kill. We do know that warm water temperatures are at least one of the
contributing factors that led to the outbreak, and I think we’re still
trying to figure out, a couple years later
exactly why it happened. – Low water, high temperatures they’re a function of each other. And 10.000 whitefish dead
on the side of the river is a huge deal. I mean it’s an unprecedented
thing on this river. It’s a fish kill that’s
never happened anywhere close in that capacity in this state. – You start to see some
of those fish which a lot of people may feel like may be the canary in the coal mine so to speak. It was very clear very quickly that we could be undergoing
a huge fish kill. – When you were floating down the river and you saw a number of dead
fish on one side of the boat and dead fish on the other side, you knew it wasn’t business as usual. – [Dan] So the governor, and I
was fully supportive of this, decided to close down the
entire Yellowstone River from Gardner to Laurel to
all recreational activities. – Drastic measures are being
taken in Montana tonight to stop a deadly invader that’s
killing thousands of fish. Officials have shut down nearly 200 miles of the popular Yellowstone river. As our Joe Fryer explains,
that’s a big deal for a state where recreation is a
$6,000,000,000 a year industry. – It was eye opening for sure. Put a lot of stress on the communities. Gardner is a big rafting community, nobody could put a boat in the water, so that town shut down. – [Brian] We came up with a
number trying to do surveys to figure out what the local effect was. And that the river closure of 2016 was something like half
a million dollar hit to the local economy. – Kind of emotional about because it was a big deal closing the water. Never in my life time of fishing, that’s a first. It was like, “uh oh”. It was a big wake-up call. – When we had the fish kill and everybody was sitting in the town hall and pointing fingers and
yelling and screaming. Just sitting there going, No one’s really bringing
any data to the table so that we can maybe stop pointing fingers where fingers don’t deserve to be pointed, and start looking at the data and go, “what does this mean?” We are at Reedfly Farm, right on the banks of
the Yellowstone River in southwest Montana, maybe 30 miles north of
Yellowstone National Park. I fly fish religiously. I probably fish 100
days a year right here. I just walk down in the evening, I watch for the hatch and then I fish this stretch
of the river constantly. From the evidence I’ve seen
on climate change in Montana, in this particular area, there’s this trend for same amount of precipitation
but less snowpack. So in the hotter portion of the season when you have lower flows
and hotter temperatures, of course you’re going to have
a change to the river system. If you think of a river as a water budget, or a water shed as a water budget: you’ve got money coming
in and money going out. You’ve got water coming
in and water going out. The water comes in through precipitation: it could be rainfall, and it could be snowpack that’s melting, it can also be groundwater release, that’s the inputs. Then it gets used, right? It either flows through the system or it goes down into the
ground water and into the table or plants are using it
or people are using it. As you get hotter summers, if you have the same
amount of precipitation; rain plus snowpack. and that snowpack melts sooner you don’t have as much base-flow of water later in the season. What it’s gonna create we don’t know. We didn’t think it was going
to create an algae bloom that resulted in parasites
that then killed fish. I mean everybody was
just waiting around for low-flow and hot water to kill the fish. That’s what’s kinda scary about it is the complexity of what
this climate change can do at a micro level. – That is something we should
be paying attention to. When 10,000 dead whitefish
that need cold water, that need abundant water, when they’re dying like that. It’s like wake-up man. We gotta make some changes. Hey, man. – Hey, good morning, Jeff. – Mornin’. – All right here. That’s the sonde with the
multi parameter sensor. – So this is the one we’re
putting right down here in the river. – That’s right. – Well, you can’t expect
the government to hire a bunch of people to
monitor a whole water shed. So we’re like, Let’s get the community. Let’s get the fly-fishing guys. Let’s get the local land owners. Let’s get the schools involved. We gather the data within 24
hours we publish it online and people can go look at it. That’s the concept of RiverNET. – We like to call it community
science because it does take a village (laughs) to raise a trout. – RiverNET is stemming from a call from local folks here in the
valley for better information about the things that are
going on in their river. And so we became involved
as kind of the scientists to provide that scientific background. So this is one of our
in-stream data loggers. It’s looking at temperature
and also stream depth. And then Rick, right now, he’s able to download
the data via Bluetooth right on to his phone. – Water temperature is very
important for bug hatches and time of day to be out on the water. So I can get a sensor like this, come and take a reading from time to time and really have an idea of what the water temperature
is doing at what time of day. – The product of this data set, as people are anticipating
the effects of climate change and trying to find a way to
respond to it themselves, having high quality, long term, high resolution data will benefit that decision
making by letting them not only know what changes have occurred but also be able to predict
what changes might occur. – The unknown of how the
climate’s gonna change and the unknown of how that
change is gonna impact Montana, that’s harder to prepare for but that doesn’t mean
we can somehow ignore the fact that it’s happening. If we get too caught up on fighting about why climate change is happening, we lose valuable years to figure out how we go about mitigating
the impact of climate change. And that’s something I
think we really need to do. – I think a lot of people my age when we sort of saw the
issue of climate change come on the horizon, I think a lot of us thought, well our kids and grandkids
will have to deal with that but that’s something
that’s way down the road, we don’t need to worry about it. And it’s been pretty
shocking to a lot of us to just take stock and look around and realize that things
have changed a lot. So certainly, as an outfitter and guide, one thing’s that’s important
for us to be able to do is to adapt to the changes
that are coming along. – Trout are reliant upon a
certain water temperature. So if we rise beyond a certain point, imagine 70 degrees, we better start liking small mouth bass, ’cause trout will go away. And that would be in my opinion, criminal. Because it’s one of the prettiest fish that you can catch in fresh water. – Just look around. There isn’t anything about
this that speaks of bass. I don’t know where in
the world you have bass and elk, bear, even wolves. This is a trout environment. This is a mountainous trout environment that we all need to work on protecting to ensure future generations
have the same opportunity to enjoy what I enjoy. (gentle music)

3 comments on “Trout Country: Fly Fishing on a Changing Yellowstone

  1. This is a great story of collaboration, educating, and citizen action on monitoring. I would love to know if the communities around the Yellowstone River are taking action to mitigate greenhouse gases. It is all good to monitor, assess, and adapt, but could they have an impact on a changing climate through collaboration? Would love to know if they are doing anything…advocacy, renewable energy, recycling, composting, driving less.

  2. Great video.  I love it up there. But, I believe to really assess climate change one has to go back 100 -200 years and study recorded weather patterns. last year I fished the Yellowstone no problem as well as other small streams.  Firehole was closed due to warm water, but the geysers add to it as well.

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