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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

National Trout Center

The National Trout Center in Preston, Minnesota, has just opened its doors to the public for the 2013 season. Now in its fourth year of operation, the National Trout Center is embarking upon its first major attempts to secure funding for its permanent home and operations as an environmental learning center focussed upon trout, trout habitat, and the rĂ´le that trout fishing has played in the arts and literature of our culture since the time of Izaac Walton.

The mission of the National Trout Center (NTC) is to conserve our natural and cultural heritage of trout and their cold-water environments by engaging the public through education, practice and awareness. A public well-informed about cold-water streams and trout habitat, appreciative of the intrinsic beauty of trout, and the importance of the trout fishery to our culture, will develop strong motivation for conservation and responsible stewardship of these resources.

To fulfill this mission, the NTC provides an experiential education and outreach program for people of all ages and abilities that engages them in the ecosystems that support healthy trout populations. By increasing public awareness of the rich diversity of life in trout waters, and by promoting the arts, cultural heritage and experience of trout fishing and angling in cold-water streams and rivers, the NTC will instill in its visitors a life-long respect and admiration for trout and their environments.

The temporary home of the National Trout Center currently provides exhibits, research, and experiential programs focused on trout biology and behavior, trout habitat and cold-water streams.  A permanent home for the NTC, planned for Preston, Minnesota, in the Root River valley, will provide an anchor for on-site activities in the science of aquatic ecology, angling experience, fishery management, and a window into a living stream characteristic of trout habitat in the region. From its permanent home in the heart of the unglaciated region of the upper midwest, the Trout Center will eventually provide our visitors with a "virtual engagement" to trout fisheries at home, and, ultimately, all over the world.  The website for the NTC will become a portal of information for "All Things Trout".

Life-long learning opportunities of the kind promoted by the National Trout Center will continue to improve the lives and experiences of our citizens, leading to an ethic and appreciation for cold-water environments embraced by Aldo Leopold in his promulgation of a “Land Ethic”.

You can support the conservation vision of the National Trout Center by volunteering your time or skills, items of interest for the permanent collection, or, by cash donations. Simply go to the NTC support webpage, and follow the instructions there. 

We wish the National Trout Center every success in their endeavors to make the public aware of the need for responsible land use and stewardship of the magnificent trout resources of the upper midwest.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Minnesota Trout Stamp for 2013

Congratulations to Mike Zillgitt, southeastern Minnesota artist, for winning the 2013 Minnesota Trout Stamp contest. The winning design, a brown trout about to strike a lure, was announced August 9 by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

A life-long artist, Mike is no stranger to the charms of outdoor life in southeastern Minnesota. A youth spent sketching, drawing, hunting and fishing in the headwaters of the Root River, lends strong authority to Mike's current gallery  of artistic creations. In addition to Mike's winning entry in the Minnesota 2013 Trout Stamp contest, was tied for first place in 2012 (and runner-up in the tie-breaker competition) with his turkey stamp contest entry. In winning the Trout Stamp contest, Mike joins the ranks of other distinguished Minnesota artists in bringing their perspectives of the outdoors to the attention of the public at large, and outdoor enthusiasts, in particular.

The Minnesota Trout Stamp is one of five "habitat stamps" that the Minnesota DNR makes available to hunters, fishers, and collectors. Some of these serve as extra cost "validation" for a license to hunt and fish for persons 16-64 years of age. Others are vehicles for donations to the DNR in support of management projects to restore or create new habitat for fish and wildlife. Statistics on the number of stamps sold provide important economic and management information, enabling resource management agencies to understand the specific interests of their hunting and fishing clientele.

Once again, our heartiest congratulations go out to Mike for his creativity and generosity in sharing his view of one our most precious natural resoures. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year with Gusto

Welcome back to Trout Tyme in 2012! Dawn breaks over the driftless area of the upper midwest with high winds and gusts above 40 mph this New Year's Day.

The winter trout stream fishery opens today on a snowless landscape, thanks to above-normal temperatures throughout the final month of 2011. In Minnesota, your 2011 fishing license (with trout stamp) will be good until March 31, 2012.  Check the regulations to insure that you know the rules!  Minnesota streams require barbless hooks and catch-and-release fishing. Iowa offers year-round fishing in its trout streams, but some are listed as catch-and-release only. Check the Iowa DNR website for locations and regulations.

You may want to start the year with a proven favorite pattern, such as a pink squirrel in size 14 or 16. If midges are hatching, you might go to a smaller copper john or zebra midge. Don't expect towering clouds of insects, but a few caddis, blue-wing olives and midges will be winter emergers, especially when temperatures are close to freezing.

Bead-heads, double beads or weighted-body nymphs are good producers as this snow-angel brown trout attests.The double-bead patterns in larger sizes may be productive. If you haven't tied these, have a look at "fishingbobnelson's" instructions over at the Fly Tying Forum.

A new twist for winter trout in North America is the importation of tenkara fishing, a long-time tradition in high-mountain Japanese trout streams.  Tenkara fishing uses a "telescoping" 11 to 19-foot rod, a light level line of the same length, and a 3 to 4-foot leader.  The line is knotted to the tip of the rod and cast with a single overhead motion for a reach of up to 30 feet. With no reel or line guides to freeze, the simplicity of tenkara fishing, together with the low cost of equipment, brings a new dimension to winter trout fishing.

One final note is to use special care in moving streamside when winter trout fishing. Approaching the stream in winter is hazardous because of shore ice, and ice-covered gravel bars.  Use footwear that provides secure footing in snow and ice, and you may find a wading staff useful, not only in the stream, but also for probing the snow ashore to avoid going out over open water on snowdrifts that may be weakly supported by overhanging vegetation.  Approach the stream from the weak current side at river-bends, rather than from the high-bank, strong-current side. This will decrease the likelihood of an avalanche that might carry the fisher into water deeper than her/his waders. Do not venture out onto shelf ice extending over the stream. The thickness of such ice is unpredictable and changing daily with variations in air temperature and subsurface flows. Wear clothing that breathes well, and plan to fish within a short distance of your car or a warm shelter. Be especially alert to signs of hypothermia such as shivering, loss of coordination (noticeable in knot-tying) and shallow breathing. Fish with a buddy and arrange to meet or communicate frequently so that help is nearby in the event of a mishap.

Wishing all of our readers the very best for the New Year.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Savagery of Ignorance

The full depth of this story has yet to be revealed. When it is, we will all be astonished at the extent to which our ecological futures still depend upon the individual and collective actions of people who are unable or completely unwilling to see human beings as an integral part of the biotic community of the earth, rather than something alien and independent of all other biota.

The tale surfaces with the belated discovery of a white pelican rookery destroyed at a southern Minnesota lake. As investigators moved along the swath of destruction,
...they began finding smashed and dead chicks. They found a total 1,458 nests and 2,400 eggs and chicks had been destroyed. Only one chick was still alive.
The farmer who admitted committing this outrageous act, attempted to excuse his actions by claiming financial loss to his crops (including "potential earnings") over several years, and by stating that  "their droppings had ruined the soil."  

Here is a man, professing to be a "farmer", who imagines that pelican droppings did more to ruin the soil than his own practices on the land. What does he know of the effects of the drain tiles under his land, of ammonia injections into his soil, of the hardpan accreting beneath his equipment? How much marsh was destroyed to enable his plantings of corn and soybeans? Where is the nutrient processing occurring for the excess nitrogen and phosphorus deposited on his land by the pelicans and his own equipment, or that of his tenants? How does his imagined $20,000 loss compare to the loss of livelihoods among fishermen created by the "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico?

Trout fishers will recognize the parallels between the practices and knowledge of environmental effects exhibited by one ignorant farmer in Faribault County, Minnesota, and others who plant corn and soybeans on the thinnest of topsoils in the karst region of the upper midwest. Who will accept responsibility for what humans do to the soil, water, atmosphere and biota of the earth?

If anyone in your presence expresses doubt about the possible global effects of human activity, as has been common during the past decade in regard to global warming, you have an opportunity to help him/her to abate their own ignorance. Simply send them to a well-researched article on "global dimming", or, point out the increase in seismic disturbance frequently recorded near recently filled reservoirs, or the desertification of the Aral Sea in mid-continental Asia.

Not all the barbarians are at the gate. Some are living amongst us.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

I Followed My Dream

The passing of Steve Jobs yesterday revived my interest in understanding the importance of what we choose to do for a living. I think Steve said it very well in his address to the Stanford graduating class in 2005. Entitled "You've Got to Find What You Love", he implored the class,  on the occasion of their commencement into their working lives, " find what you love."
You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.
I was sixteen and already knew that I loved to fish. I knew there were game wardens and fish hatcheries, but until I met Tom Richardson, I didn't know that there was a profession of fisheries biology.

My buddy and I discovered Tom tending a fish trap in Chico Creek following an effort by the California Dept. of Fish and Game to rehabilitate the steelhead run. Over the next few weeks, Tom put up with a couple of teenagers following him relentlessly to find out more about fisheries biology.  Two years later, my buddy and I enrolled in Humboldt State College to pursue bachelor's degrees in fisheries.

It didn't take two years to make this decision. I doubt that it took more than two weeks. If this looks like "love at first sight" it certainly was. It would provide the basis twenty years later for advising academically frustrated students to follow their hearts in selecting a major course of study at the university.

Steve Jobs was right. If you haven't found what you want to do, keep looking. Don't settle. Don't settle.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Swallow This!

The hunter is the "alert man" according to Jose Ortega y Gasset, author-philosopher whose "Meditations on Hunting" has become the de facto standard to explain the intrinsic human instinct to hunt. This applies, of course, to the aquatic hunter, or fisher, who is constantly seeking cues to the activity and whereabouts of her/his quarry. 

The question arises, alert to what? Alert to anything;  especially, able to think clearly; intellectually active. And so, when I emerged from the house one mid-May morning and saw the swallows swarming over the river, I suspected that a hatch was on.
While the swallows were visible enough, their prey was not. Nor was there a conspicuous cloud or swarm of insects over the river. I concluded that the swallows were feeding on very small insects, perhaps midge-sizes, certainly not mayflies larger than tricos.  

I seldom carry an insect net afield when I am fishing, but I often swipe my hat at nearby flying insects, to see first-hand what they are, or, at least, how big and what color they are.  Skittering insects on the surface of the water frequently indicate egg-laying is in progress. Empty shucks (exoskeletons) of insects attached to plant stems at riverside are further indicators of what kind of trout food is present, or, recently risen.

Just as the hunter is attuned to the squawk of crows or ravens, sometimes heralding the approach of ground-roving creatures, so too does the fisher remain alert to the actions of birds and other riparian indicators of trout food in the making.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Lampreys Suck; and, so does the Budget

We seldom have better evidence of the perils of eating the seed corn than appears in the continuing resolution budget. Last March, in the congressional frenzy to appease the 'baggers while trying to appear responsible in allowing the gov'mint to stay open for business, both the White House and congressional "leaders" recommended spending cuts of 15-20 per cent for the Great Lakes lamprey control program. A reduced lamprey control budget penalizes the scientists and fisheries managers of the international control agencies for one of the most cost-effective, ingenious and diverse integrated pest control programs anywhere in the world, and it threatens to set back by decades the rehabilitation of lake trout, whitefish and the coldwater fish community of the upper Great Lakes. Not to mention reneging on an international agreement with Canada.
The unparalleled effectiveness of the lamprey control program hinges upon control strategies that exploit the unique life history of sea lampreys. These exotic invaders gained access to the upper Great Lakes following the 1935 expansion of the Welland Canal, enlarged to allow maritime shipping to bypass Niagara Falls in eastern Lake Erie.

Ammocoete larva, bottom; transformer, middle;
car keys for size comparison, top.
A female lamprey will spawn with an individual male by depositing eggs in gravel nests in large and small streams tributary to the Great Lakes. Like Pacific Salmon, sea lampreys spawn only once in their lifetime, and then die. The eggs hatch into larvae known as ammocoetes which form burrows in the fine sediments in the bottom of the stream. There, they filter water through their gills, extracting fine particles of detritus and algae, and grow, over a period of several years, to a size of about 120mm. Soon after attaining this size threshold, the ammocoetes undergo a morphological transformation in which they form a true "camera" eye, develop a sucking mouth with a rasp-like tongue, and dorsal fin and tail. The transformed larvae now migrate downstream and begin a parasitic life in which they attach to fish, rasp a hole in the skin and suck the bodily fluids out of the fish.

Fresh lamprey mark on Great Lakes coho salmon.
Parasitologists have known lampreys for years as "parasites", because they don't often kill their host fish in their natural marine environment. But, in the Great Lakes, the lampreys frequently do kill their host if the fish they attach to is small relative to the rate at which lampreys suck out their fluids. Great Lakes sea lampreys are easily capable of killing a 2-pound trout, burbot, or whitefish during a single feeding attack. After feeding for 14-18 months, the lampreys migrate to a stream to spawn and die. A single lamprey will kill an estimated 40-50 lbs. of fish during its "parasitic" stage.

The life history segment when ammocoete larvae are living in streams is their "Achilles heel" ably exploited by the lamprey control program. Because it usually takes at least 3 years to grow to a size large enough to "transform" into a parasitic stage lamprey, the streams occupied by ammocoetes need to be treated to kill these larval lampreys only once every 3 years, or even less frequently if the larvae are growing more slowly. A single treatment with a selective toxicant, TFM, can then remove several year-classes of lampreys at once, making the control program one of the most effective fishery management programs anywhere in North America. In combination with low-head barrier dams, sterile-male release programs, selective-release toxicants for lake bottom application, and pheromone attractants to lure mature lampreys into fish traps, the sea lamprey control program has gradually allowed the restoration of the cold-water fisheries of the upper Great Lakes.

It took more than 30 years of intensive stocking and lamprey control to begin to see the rehabilitation of naturally self-sustaining stocks of lake trout in Lake Superior. Lake Huron is only just beginning to show lake trout year-classes produced by natural spawning, and Lake Michigan is still lagging behind in natural reproduction of lake trout. Meanwhile, the steelhead, salmon and whitefish have also benefitted greatly from the lamprey control program. A cut-back in funding now will have very far-reaching consequences in continuing to restore these lakes to fishable self-reproducing populations.

The upper lakes fishery is estimated to be worth from 8-12 billion dollars in annual economic activity. At current budget levels of about $20 million, the sea lamprey control activity generates a $200 return for every dollar spent. That's approximately the cost of one Apache attack helicopter, as used in last Sunday's raid against Osama Bin Laden's compound in Pakistan.
There is no reason not to invest just a little more in higher taxes rather than accept long-term damage to one of the nation's greatest fishery resources.
Cross-posted to the Renaissance Post