01 May 2007

Big Hole River Brook Trout: Go To The Fountains

Salvenlinus fontinalis, the Eastern brook trout; from the Latin salveo, to heal or save, which somehow became a traditional name for Char (the general family to which brookies belong)
+ fontinalis, of the fountains. The waters heal us, and so we drink from the fountains (as the Indigo Girls sing) and we also catch the brook trout there--drinking pure water and eating the vital essence of the waters.

I grew up on brookies in the Allegheny mountain creeks of my childhood. In that place, they are a treasure--part of the native inheritance of the land, and being living in the natural habitat where it evolved evokes the spirit of that place. Here in the Rockies, brookies were transplanted from the East in the great stocking programs of the late 19th/early 20th centuries. Though they are commonly regarded as something of a weed, I still treasure them. And can kill & eat them without guilt. 20 fish or 10 pounds per day, whichever comes first.

Here's a mess of brook trout from last evening's foray to a favorite spot. They are for our friend Gloria's birthday supper:

How sad, though, to pull up to a "secret" fishing spot only to find a For Sale sign hanging on the fence. Montana for sale. Let's hope some son-of-a-bitch doesn't build a trophy house on this wet meadow and ruin everyone's view:

And what a view it is. That is a special thing about trout -- brookies included -- they almost invariably live in beautiful places. Framed by mountains, and the creek thick with willows, stacked with beaver dams, lots of woody debris, cold water gurgling down through the meadow:

Along with their Oncorhynchus mykiss (hooked-snout + Kamchatka native name) cousins, the rainbow trout. They, too, are an introduced or exotic fish (from California, like some of the people who move in and build the trophy houses). Both brookies and 'bows have largely displaced the native Salmonids, such as fluvial Arctic grayling and westslope cutthroat trout. But while it's brookie season all year long (because of their competition with and displacement of grayling), the 'bows must be released now. And that's OK, because it's their spawning season and they tend to be pretty flavorless and snaky (skinny), having put all that energy into eggs and sperm and building redds etc. Along with the brookies, I caught half a dozen 'bows yesterday; the brookies were taking beadheads or San Juan worms on the bottom, whereas the 'bows were rising to caddis flies:

Thankfully, there are a few remnants of our native heritage in the waters, such as the western pearlshell mussel (Margaritifera falcata). Like the westslope cutthroat trout, they are evolved in westslope (Pacific) watersheds, but somehow crossed the Continental Divide (probably in the past 20,000 years or so). These mussels are scarce and seem to be in decline; like grayling, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and the other agencies that ought to be restoring them will probably simply document their steady decline and eventual extinction. My God, the purple nacre of the shells is beautiful:

RTD likes to swim, and gets especially enthused about it when I am catching lots of fish. She wants to be one with them, and occasionally even dives for one after it rises to a fly:

I stayed until dusk, when the elk began to come out into the meadows to feed. They are back on summer range now, filling their bellies on the new green grass in preparation for calving in late May. Most of them stay a few hundred yards off, but this one young cow was a bit bolder or perhaps just foolish:

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