Fly fishing in the Rocky Mountain West has become big business. As more and more people escape the confines of urban living, either moving to the wide-open-spaces of states like Montana, or just recreating here, crowding has become evident. Not only does this diminish the quality experiences (solitude in particular) sought by those fleeing more populated areas, but overuse of natural resources has also followed. And this includes pressure on native fish populations in trout streams. Regulatory efforts to limit the number of boats permitted on floatable rivers at any one time have become common.
Parallel with this recreational demand is the changing quality of the habitat that supports the fish and their food. Setting aside streamside habitat damage from housing development, trout need cold, unpolluted water—and lots of it. As flows naturally diminish over summer—dwindling mountain snowpack—fish experience lower stream flows, warmer water temperatures, algal blooms, increased predation, and the heaviest fishing pressure of the year.
Following up on my previous two blog posts, the planet’s warming is exacerbating all of this. So severely that in my home state of Montana, our state Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department began closing sections of streams to fishing this year in late JUNE!! They did so to protect the trout resource from the additional stress of repeatedly being caught by fishermen. The oxygen-starved conditions of stream temperatures exceeding 70 degrees left them no choice. Triple-digit daytime temperatures dictated those decisions. A foreign concept not so long ago.
But regulation of our recreational pursuits is controversial and cannot alone solve the problem of threats to our public resources. Complementary individual responsibility is needed. All who enjoy catching wild trout, and hope to do so far into the future, must be personal stewards of the streams and the wonders they support. Here’s an article that clearly makes this point Trout in Trouble
Of course, government regulations and personal decisions to give a favorite stream a rest will not remedy the long-term need to reduce our carbon footprint on the planet.