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Massive Record Steelhead Caught and Released in Idaho

Plus HOF inductions, fisheries funds, Atlantic striper news, a Yellowstone lawsuit, data from the Big Hole and more in Fly Fisherman's News Briefs for December 1, 2023.

Massive Record Steelhead Caught and Released in Idaho

The wild steelhead measured 41-inches long, a full 1.75-inches longer than Scott Turner's previous state C&R record. (Photo courtesy Kyriacos Panayiotu/Idaho Fish & Game)

With Thanksgiving now officially in the rearview mirror and this month’s Christmas Eve sleigh ride by St. Nick currently occupying the dreams of children—and fly fishers hoping for a new fly rod under the tree—it’s time for another round of Fly Fisherman News Briefs as we begin the final month of the year.

Record Steelhead caught, released in Idaho

It was a memorable outing back in October when Idaho angler Kyriacos Panayiotu ventured to the Gem State's legendary steelhead stream, the Clearwater River. 

In fact, it was an outing that Panayiotu will never forget as he ventured onto the water using a two-handed spey rod. With the full 120-plus feet of spey line out when the fly started swinging in the water column, the end result of the cast was a state catch-and-release record wild steelhead, thanks to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game C&R program that began in 2016.

"At around 30 degrees of a swing, this beautiful wild steelhead buck boiled to the surface and grabbed the fly with authority," said Panayiotu in an IDFG news release. "The vintage Hardy Perfect reel could do nothing in slowing down this fish... it’s something that I’ll never forget." 

When taped out prior to its release back into the Clearwater, the wild steelhead measured 41 inches long, a benchmark that proved to be a full 1.75 inches longer than Scott Turner's previous C&R record for the species. 

That's certainly an impressive angling feat, and one that could stand for a while according to Clearwater Fisheries manager Joe DuPont.

"Since we have all the trapping data from Lower Granite Dam, we have a good sense of the size distribution of Idaho steelhead," he said in the IDFG news release. "In a typical year, the number of steelhead in the 40-inch range is less than 1% of the run."  

An even closer look at the data brings more impressive context for Panayiotu’s record since DuPont noted that when he looked back over the data of steelhead trapped at Lower Granite Dam, he found that of the 261,706 trapped steelhead, only four were actually 41 inches or larger.

Catskill Fly Fishing HOF Inducts New Class, Honors Carter

Back in October, the Catskill Fly Fishing Hall of Fame held its 2023 induction ceremony, honoring four with the honor this year and two with the honor a year ago.




The ceremony, which had a good crowd in attendance, was held in the Wulff Gallery of the Catskill Fly Fishing Center & Museum. According to the Sullivan County Democrat, the 2023 honorees recognized that evening include fly-fishing and fly tying artist John Atherton; outdoor writer, Esquire Magazine co-founder, and Fly Fisherman contributor Arnold Gingrich; Will Godfrey, a western legend who guided for Bud Lilly's Trout Shop in West Yellowstone while in college, and then owned three fly shops and guided on his own for years on the Henry's Fork of the Snake River; and the late Frank Mele, a professional cellist, conservationist, and fly-fishing author who penned Small in the Eye of the River several years ago. 

Arnold Gingrich standing next to his wife who is holding a large Atlantic salmon.
Arnold Gingrich (shown here with his wife Jane) was editor of Esquire magazine and author of The Well-Tempered Angler. (Photo courtesy of the American Museum of Fly Fishing)

Also honored this year was Samuel Phillippe, a 2022 HOF inductee who was honored along with his HOF son Solon, who took over the family split bamboo-rod-making business in Great Britain. 

This year’s festivities also included another honor as former President Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the United States and an avid fly angler (and Fly Fisherman contributor) through his lengthy lifetime, was honored as the recipient of the Lee Wulff Conservation Award. 

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The 99-year old Carter, a Georgia resident who has been in hospice care this year and just lost Rosalynn, his wife of 77 years and former First Lady of the United States, was able to once upon a time travel to the Catskill region and fly fish for its famed trout in the birthplace of American fly fishing. After wading those trout-rich streams in the Catskills, Carter became a big fan of the region and eventually helped establish more than 73 miles of river at a national park, the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, between Hancock and Sparrow Bush.

Catskill HOF Museum executive director Ali Abate presented the award on Carter's behalf, noting his commitment to conservation and making sure that there were public spaces created to be enjoyed by outdoors enthusiasts for years to come.

“It’s really a fitting honor,” said Abate in Alex Kielar's story in the Sullivan County Democrat. “Carter’s legacy has been honored an uncountable number of times. One of our favorites is the naming of a fish after Carter in 2012, called the Bluegrass Darter.”

Former president Jimmy Carter standing next to a fishing guide who's holding a large brown trout.
Former President Jimmy Carter with the fish of a lifetime on an Argentine dream trip.

Biden Administration Announces $20 Million for Regional Fisheries Management

With the announcement of some $20 million in funding for Regional Fishery Management Councils, President Joe Biden's administration will be supporting the councils' development and advancement of climate-related fisheries management protocols.

With climate change impacting aquatic life found throughout the world's oceans, this funding will help strengthen efforts to respond to such change in America, as well as better integrate scientific tools already in use so that better fisheries management outcomes and piscatorial resiliency can be had by the various marine fisheries found in the U.S.

According to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) news release, approximately $3 million will be equally divided among the eight existing councils. The rest of the $17 million will be awarded to councils after a proposal review process that identifies top-priority projects. 

Those forthcoming proposals will center around goals that include the development of fishery management processes or measuring capabilities that improve climate resiliency and responsiveness to climate trouble, as well as the development and advancement of management planning and goal implementation efforts for climate-impacted fisheries, including those of underserved communities.

“Changing ocean conditions are affecting the location and productivity of fish stocks, which can have significant social and economic impacts on fisheries and fishing-dependent communities,” said Janet Coit, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries, in the news release. “Working together with our fishery management council partners, we'll continue to advance our efforts to use the best available science to develop and implement fisheries management strategies in the face of climate change.”

Wilderness Group Sues USFS over Buffalo Creek

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle recently carried a red-hot story when it reported on the Missoula, Montana-based Wilderness Watch watchdog group that recently filed suit against the U.S. Forest Service. The litigation comes over the USFS’ controversial plan to remove rainbow trout from the Buffalo Creek drainage in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness area north of Yellowstone National Park.

buffcreek
Wilderness Watch considers a project on Buffalo Creek in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness a fundamental violation of the Wilderness Act and its intention to keep set aside wilderness areas free from human intrusion or management efforts. (Photo courtesy Bryan Giordono/Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks)

By using poisonous rotenone applications over five years and monitoring the results for at least three years going forward, the plan would allow for 60 days of motorized vehicle usage—including a reported 81 aircraft landings—in the wilderness area. After killing out existing rainbow trout and any other aquatic life that breathes through its gills, the 46-mile length of Buffalo Creek and some 11 acres of lakes within the wilderness would then be restocked with native Yellowstone cutthroat trout, which are indigenous to the region.

Previously, Gardiner District Ranger Mike Thom—who is now reportedly prevented from commenting on active litigation—had given the USFS’ reasoning for the effort.

“This project is crucial for the long-term viability of native fisheries,” indicated Thom earlier this year in August 2023. "Removing nonnative rainbow trout benefits not only Yellowstone cutthroat trout but also the watershed's native invertebrates and amphibians that coevolved with Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Restoring Yellowstone cutthroat trout will restore the ecological conditions that were present before the stocking of rainbow trout in the early 1900s."

But George Nickas, executive director of Wilderness Watch, noted in the group's own press release that the Buffalo Creek drainage was a naturally fishless area prior to the first stockings of rainbows and Yellowstone cutts more than a century ago in the early 1900s. He also points out that just because those Yellowstone cutts are the current desired species, that doesn't mean they are native to the area even if they are indigenous to the region and its various ecosystems.

What's more, the group considers this effort a fundamental violation of the Wilderness Act and its intention to keep set aside wilderness areas free from human intrusion or management efforts, and certainly from the usage of motorized equipment in such sensitive spots.

“The Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness is no place for the massive use of poisons or helicopters, nor is it a place for managers to play God with species and habitat manipulation,” said Nickas in a story about the issue in Isabel Hicks' story written for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. “The Wilderness Act was passed precisely to rein in the propensity of managers to want to control nature. Our lawsuit seeks to preserve the wild character of the Wilderness and to let nature continue to evolve of its own free will.”

First Data in on Jefferson Basin Fisheries Studies

One of the biggest stories of 2023 here at Fly Fisherman was word of trout troubles in Montana’s well-known Jefferson Basin fisheries, including such stalwart streams as the Big Hole, the Beaverhead, and the Ruby rivers among others.

With ongoing steep declines in resident wild trout populations, the worsening situation brought news of the lowest recorded numbers of brown trout and rainbows in the Jefferson Basin since the late 1960s. The troubling trends have brought about great public outcry from concerned anglers, guides and conservation groups with efforts now being underway to reverse those downward slides.

A man wading knee-deep in Montana's Big Hole River.
With steep declines in resident wild trout populations, the worsening situation brought news of the lowest recorded numbers of brown trout and rainbows in the Jefferson Basin since the late 1960s. (Photo courtesy of Save Wild Trout)

That includes mandatory fishery closures that began in October on several river sections in southwestern Montana, an effort spearheaded by the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission in an effort to help protect spawning brown trout and curtail angling pressure when river flows are generally at their lowest during the autumn months.

Another effort to try and reverse the downward spiral noted above has been from the Save Wild Trout conservation group, which began baseline monitoring efforts in the late summertime of this year. According to a news release, some of that work has included such things as diurnal measurement of water temperature, dissolved oxygen (DO), hydrogen ion concentration (pH), specific conductance (SC), and turbidity.

As you might expect, many of those things are stressors, contributing to fungal infections in salmonids, and are a part of the problems faced in these world-class fisheries across southwestern Montana. Now, armed with some of the preliminary data gleaned from these observations, there's at least a better understanding of the problems being faced by trout in the region. 

What does all of this mean? According to SWT, "Based on 2023 observations, thermal, nutrient, and sediment-related water-quality impacts are potentially occurring within the Jefferson Basin. The extent to which the fishery is impacted is not well understood...".

That ensures more work ahead in 2024, including efforts by a Jefferson Basin scientific panel that will include stakeholders and scientists, who will work together to form a collaborative and complimentary framework based on hypotheses about what's going on and what can be done about it all to help restore wild trout numbers in the region. 

Stay tuned here at Fly Fisherman, because there's undoubtedly more to come from SWT, MFW&P and Montana State University as the final weeks of 2023 roll on and New Year’s Day ushers in another run towards primetime spring and summer fishing seasons.

Striped Bass Board Approves Draft Addendum II

With recent news of another failed striped bass spawn in the Chesapeake Bay region fueling interest and work to try and help the striper fishery to recover by 2029 along the Atlantic Seaboard, there was a wealth of news coming out of the recent Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's annual meeting recently in Beaufort, North Carolina.

But as the saying goes out on the prairie’s high plains of Texas, a lot of it was all hat and no cattle as there wasn’t much positive traction coming out of the meeting according to the American Saltwater Guides Association.

"All in all, it was an OK meeting—the Striped Bass Board fulfilled its primary objective of approving Draft Addendum II and even meaningfully pared the document down, streamlining public engagement," stated an ASGA news release. "However, we fear that even in its best possible final-form Addendum II will not be enough to get the striped bass stock back on track, given five consecutive years of poor (cough, cough failed) recruitment in Chesapeake Bay."

The ASGA said that the main takeaways from the recent meeting was approval of the Draft Addendum II for public comment; a couple of new options in the Ocean Recreational Options category (which are dealing with slot length numbers); Chesapeake Bay Recreational Options being trimmed considerably; and Commercial Options being reduced, although all of that is quite complicated and includes the removing of maximum size limit options and associated spawning potential ration analyses.

In short, stripers continue to be in trouble along the East Coast, and there doesn't appear to be much of a bright light shining at the end of the long tunnel just yet. 

We can hope that changes will come about in the near future, measures to help bring back one of the Atlantic Ocean's most iconic species and an annual hit with fly rodders who thrill at New England’s blitzes as the surf pounds spots like Montauk Point during the autumn migration. 

Because when the striper run is good back East, it's fly fishing at its finest, and pure outdoor recreational fun that is about as good as it can get.


Lynn Burkhead is a Senior Digital Editor with Outdoor Sportsman Group.

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