I'm a nut for native fish. Warmwater, coldwater, it doesn't matter. I love catching native fish in their native range. As far as trout goes, around here that means cutthroats (and rainbows if you go farther west). As such, I've developed a bit of an obsession with cutts. One of my fishing goals is to catch all of the subspecies of cutthroat that exist. Depending on who you talk to, there are somewhere between 12 and 15 different subspecies of cutthroat. The difference in number lies in whether certain populations are considered part of another subspecies, or their own. For instance, some biologist consider Humboldt cutthroats (o. clarki humboldtensis) to fall under Lahontan cutthroats (o. clarki heshawi), while others obviously consider them to be their own subspecies. I fall into the category of those who prefer to differentiate them, rather than simply considering them a unique population of the same species.
Of those 15 subspecies, two are considered extinct. Yellowfin cutthroats were native to the Twin Lakes in Colorado, but were hybridized out of existence. Likewise, Alvord cutthroat trout were native to the streams feeding the now mostly dry Alvord Basin in SE Oregon and northern Nevada. Rainbows were stocked into these streams in the 1920's, and the Alvords were bred out of existence as well. By the early 90's, they were considered extinct.
In 2006, however, a small remnant population was found in another SE Oregon stream, outside their native range. Records show that this stream, which was historically fishless, was stocked with Lahontan cutthroats and redbands in the 1950's, but there was indication that fish existed in this creek before then. It appears that at the same time that the Alvord's native range was being stocked with rainbows, Alvords too were stocked into this stream. To this date, a small remnant population has survived in the headwaters, along with Lahontan cutthroats as well. The rainbows that were stocked here did not appear to survive.
I found out about this discovery a couple of years ago, and the itch to go see them for myself has been tugging at me ever since. Fortunately, I had a built in excuse to go to Oregon to fish for an extinct trout. My wife has family in western Oregon, so we just scheduled a little family vacation to the coast. We spent a few days at the coast, then I took off for the desert and reunited with the family a couple of days later.
The Alvord cutthroats are now relegated to a few hundred yards of stream, so that wasn't going to take up a whole lot of time to find them (hopefully). So I decided to chase down a few more new species/subspecies/minor subspecies (one of my life goals is to catch 200 different types of fish on a fly rod) while I was out there.
At the coast, the goal was to catch coastal cutthroat trout (o. clarki clarki) and coastal rainbow trout (o. mykiss irideus). I scouted out a stream that I wanted to try by looking at aerial photos, and one afternoon while the kids were napping, I took off. According to the map there was a bridge across this creek, deep in the forest. So I thought I would be able to just drive right down to it. Well, a few miles back into the National Forest, the road was closed. No big deal, it was only a couple mile hike down to the river, and I could just follow the roadbed so it would be easy walking...
Yeah, real easy walking.
The slugs were out though!
I finally made it down to the stream, and in the second pool I caught a pretty little coastal cutthroat.
I also managed to pick up several coastal rainbows, but unfortunately my camera was acting pretty fritzy, so I didn't get any photos.
Anyway, I spent a couple more days watching whales and seals and sea lions with the family, then I took off for the desert. I passed Summer Lake on the way. Anybody up for a swim?
Anyway, after spending the night in the local hotel, the first stop was for Warner Lakes redbands. Warner Lakes redbands are a population of Great Basin redbands (o. mykiss newberri). The interesting thing about all of these redband populations is that they're now totally isolated from other populations of o. mykiss newberri. Even though they're technically considered part of the Great Basin, each of these populations exists in a drainage that is now totally isolated from any other, in many cases living in completely dessicated streams.
I pulled up to the stream and it was 24°. The trout weren't really feeling the cold weather, and the action was slow until the sun popped over the canyon rim and things began to warm up. I missed three or four fish, before finally landing a nice Warner Valley redband.
But that wasn't why I was in the desert. It was time to go try to catch an extinct fish. It took a few wrong turns, but I finally made it to the Alvord stream. With the dry conditions this year, the stream was extremely low. And being late August, the grass was already really grown up around the stream. Combine that with a 20+ mph wind, and it wasn't easy fishing conditions. The hardest part, though, wasn't putting the fly down into a 6" window in a 20 mph wind, it was trying to get a good hook set in the fish without jerking them out of the water and off into who-knows where. With only 2-3' of tippet out the end of my rod, and catching fish in less than a foot of water, it would be easy to do. Since I was trying to avoid that, I missed a fair share of fish.
The first fish of the stream was a pretty obvious Lahontan cutthroat.
I picked up another Lahontan, before coming to a bend in the creek and seeing a small fish sitting in a feeding lane. I switched over to a little caddis fly and crawled into position. I dropped the fly down, but I couldn't see it, and with the wind, I couldn't hear if the fish rose to take it. So after a couple of seconds I just picked up, and there was a fish on the other end. Unfortunately, this one did go flying into the grass! I quickly scooped him up and he turned out to be a perfect representation of an Alvord cutthroat!
Notice his spotting pattern (i.e. almost none) compared to the Lahontan. As I continued on, I picked up a couple more that looked to be somewhere in between a Lahontan and an Alvord. I also hooked into another very good looking Alvord specimen, but he came off before I could land him. Here's one of the 'tweeners:
Unfortunately, if the powers that be don't do something soon, the Lahontans may once again hybridize the Alvords out of existence. Fortunately, the USFWS has started to take notice and is considering some action (finally!).
Anyway, it was time to move on and try to catch a Catlow Valley redband. These fish, like the rest of the desert trout, are amazingly adept at living under harsh conditions. They can tolerate very warm water and highly unstable flows. When I showed up to the stretch of stream I was hoping to find them in, I found... nothing. Not just no fish, but no water. So I moved up to the head of the stream and finally found a little water in it. Seeing the stream, I wasn't holding out much hope of finding trout.
But this high up, the water was still somewhat cool, and every little hole with 6" of water in it was teeming with trout.
Again, sorry for the lousy picture, but my camera was acting up again. (more to come in the next post)