Artificial Reefs

Artificial Reefs Create Homes for Sea Life
from The Fishing Wire

From tourism to marine recreation and sport fishing, reefs play an important role in local economies. They’re also essential to the health of the ocean, providing habitat for a variety of marine life and increasing coastal resilience to storms.

To support thriving coastlines and ocean ecosystems, U.S. Department of Interior employees and programs are working with local partners to build artificial reefs — creating refuge for marine life.

Rigs to Reefs

A flat plain of clay, mud and sand, the natural bottom of the Gulf of Mexico offers very little natural hard bottom and reef habitat. But Interior’s Rigs to Reefs program is changing that by turning old offshore platforms into artificial reefs.

Not long after new platforms are installed in the Gulf, marine life take up residence in and around the platform’s steel frame supports — called jackets. As the platforms age, the populations of fish and other marine organisms that live near the structure increase. A single platform can provide habitat for thousands of fish.

When platforms are no longer economically viable, instead of removing the structure (and with it, much needed marine habitat), Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement works with energy companies and the states to make the platforms into permanent artificial reefs. Instead of paying to decommission a rig, the energy company pays to have the structure reefed and donates money to the state where the rig is to assist with the management of their artificial reef program.

Since the program was created in 1985, more than 500 platforms in the Gulf of Mexico have been converted into artificial reefs with 400 additional platforms eligible to be converted to reefs.

This program is a win for ocean life, outdoor enthusiasts and states. Artificial reefs provide shelter, food and other necessary elements for biodiversity and a productive ocean. This in turn creates a rich diversity of marine life, attracting divers and anglers. And states like the program because the increased tourism and commercial fishing benefits local economies.

Lots to see on a reef


Divers can experience fascinating marine life on artificial reefs. Photo by Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Creating Living Shorelines
Back in the 17th century, oysters were abundant in the estuaries of the Atlantic Coast, but over time, development, pollution and commerce led to their decline. Now these mollusks are flourishing once again at sites in Virginia, New Jersey and Maryland, thanks to Interior.

Working with public and private partners, Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is building artificial oyster reefs and creating living shorelines. In Virginia at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, over 13,500 oyster castles were installed. These cinderblock-like structures provide a spot for young oysters (called spat) to stick to and grow. Along New Jersey’s coast at Gandy’s Beach, the Service, partners and volunteers have built more than 3,000 feet of living shorelines using oyster castles. They started in 2014 and are seeing amazing results creating a self-sustaining reef system. In Maryland, they’re placing reef balls — concrete cone-line structures — in a 287-acre stretch of the bay to promote oyster growth.

Why is a thriving oyster colony important? Healthy oysters have profound implications for the environment, water quality and the local economy. One oyster can filter 50 gallons of water each day — more oysters means cleaner water. Flourishing oyster populations are good for coastal fishing communities that depend on the species for food and to earn a living. They also provide food and habitat for other marine organisms. Not to mention, living coasts prevent erosion and act as wave breaks, making salt-marsh habitat and infrastructure more resilient in the face of future storms.

These are a few of the ways Interior is leading on ocean conservation and building artificial reefs to ensure fish and marine life populations are healthy.

Frustrating Tournament At Sinclair

Last Saturday 20 members of the Potato Creek Bassmasters fished out July tournament at Lake Sinclair. After fishing from 5:30 AM till noon, we brought in 38 12-inch keeper bass weighing about 60 pounds. There were three five-fish limits and eight members did not weigh in a keeper.

Lee Hancock won with five weighing 8.95 pounds, Raymond English was second with five weighing 8.46 pounds, Kwong Yu placed third with five at 8.04 pounds and Jack Ridgeway came in fourth with two weighing 6.80 pounds and had big fish with a 5.90 pound largemouth.

William Scott and I started on a lighted dock, usually a good plan, but did not get a bite. Our second stop was a dock where I caught my first keeper under a light the week before, but the light was not on and we got no bites there, either.

After making a short run to the cove where
I caught my best fish on topwater baits the week before, I landed my first keeper on a buzzbait. Then my second one hit a shaky head worm about 6:30 AM. William then got a keeper on a worm a few minutes later.

The next cove produced my third keeper at 7:15. We decided to go back to the cove that had produced three keepers for us, and as we started on one side we saw club member Tom Tanner fishing the opposite side. We did not get a bite, but Tom told me he caught three keepers in that cove. We had left it too soon!

We then went to some of William’s favorite places and I got a small keeper, my fourth, off a dock he said we should not bother fishing. I went to it because it was in the shade and just felt like a place to fish to me.

That was it, we fished all kinds of cover and structure till weigh-in but never caught another fish. My four weighed a whopping 3.99 pounds, not even a pound each. The weekend before I had five and four were about that size but the three pounder I landed in that tournament made the difference. We just could not get the bigger fish to bite.

Fishing will be tough on our area lakes for the next two or three months, before it gets better as water starts to cool. Most bass are feeding at night right now and it is just tough to catch them during the day. And it is hot and rough from all the pleasure boats. My preference is to fish at night this time of year, but all our tournaments are during the day.

Bluefin Tuna Fishing

Boat-Shy Bluefin Tuna Fishing Off Southern California
By Greg Stotesbury, AFTCO Tackle Sales Manager
from The Fishing Wire

Catch bluefin tuna


The past few years in Southern California we have seen epic runs of bluefin tuna as close as 3 miles off the Southern California bight. The schools of bluefin have been showing up in late spring and staying all the way to December or longer. It’s unusual for this many tuna to migrate into our waters and stay for most of the year, but these welcome visitors, in addition to our usual summer fishery for striped marlin, dorado, yellowfin tuna and yellowtail, have created a “new” and exciting opportunity not seen here since the late 1930’s. Our local Bluefin are tough to catch, but worth the effort and are the best eating of any of our local offshore species.

When the bluefin show in the California bight they can usually be located over the offshore banks and ridges, such as the 43, 182, 289 and San Clemente Island ridge in purple-blue 62 to 68-degree water. One of the keys to locating bluefin is to look for fast moving spots of terns or petrels fluttering over the surface and crashing on bait. Bluefin spend a great amount of time at the surface feeding and “breezing”. Their surface roaming, tight schooling behavior makes them particularly vulnerable to the fleets of purse seine boats from Mexico and San Pedro. By the time these fish reach local waters they have usually been harassed several times by the relentless seiners. This makes them even more boat shy and sensitive to engine noise, generators and sonar pings.

Bluefin are notoriously boat shy and difficult to hook from small private boats with smaller live bait capacities than the bigger party boats. Party boats can chum tremendous amounts of live baits and attract the bluefin to the boat, but smaller private boats must take the baits to the bluefin and use stealth tactics to get their share. This requires some modified techniques to get them to bite consistently.

After locating an area with schools of bluefin showing on top and bird schools working around them, we immediately start glassing with gyro-stabilized binoculars to find the larger spots of fish and birds. This past season you could even watch for “jumpers” (free jumping tuna) in the working bluefin schools and then target the spots with the bigger fish. Our secret to getting the bluefin to bite was to turn off all the sonar units, both up-and-down and side scanning, then position the boat above the direction the fish were working. We would then shut down the motor and wait for the bluefin to get into casting range of our fly-lined sardines and mackerel. Many times, the bluefin would shy away or go down for no apparent reason, but occasionally, the whole school would be crashing bait all around the boat in a virtual frenzy! Even when actively feeding, the super-shy bluefin would only hit a perfectly presented bait that swam as soon as it hit the surface. Bluefin tuna can be the most frustrating fish in the world, but there is nothing like the thrill of the first run of a fat Bluefin hooked on medium tackle on your own boat after a stealthy approach!

Kites have also become super popular for trolling imitation flying fish or squid through the boat shy bluefin, but we find the kite fishing to be many hours of trolling with limited bite windows. Therefore, we prefer the stealth approach with live baits. We have also had success using the kites with live baits while drifting or slow-trolling, but the conditions must be perfect and the fish willing to stay on the surface for the kites and live baits to work consistently.

Our favored Bluefin tackle is a medium-fast action, roller-guided 6.5’ to 8’ live bait rod with the best lever drag 2 speed reel available, spooled with 500 yards of 50- 80lb spectra backing, with a long 50-80lb fluorocarbon top shot. Many of the schools of Tuna run 25-75lbs, but then there are the occasional schools of 80-200-plus giants that require the lever-drag, 2-speed reels to land. You won’t land many of the 100-250lb bruiser-bluefin on the medium gear, but then you’ll never get the bite if you don’t use tackle that can fly-line a live sardine or mackerel. We had several tragedies on big tuna this past season, but we also landed a fair amount of fish to 210lbs on the medium live bait gear. We tried using 100-130lb fluorocarbon leaders, but found we got bit the best using 60-80lb pink-tinted 100% fluorocarbon with a 3/0-5/0 ringed Mutu circle hook to suit the bait size. The circle hooks reduce the bite-offs from the larger sharp-toothed Bluefin, but we still lost some of the bigger models to chewed leader after long fights on the light gear.

Due to their superior quality on the table, we handle the bluefin we catch in a special way. Our AFTCO stain protection fishing shirts help to ensure don’t we ruin our clothes in the process. Ideally, we head gaff the fish to avoid any gaff holes in the precious loins or bellies. We then immediately cut a couple of the gill arches with a pair of poultry shears, then make a small cut at the base of each side of the caudle peduncle (tail) just down to the backbone. Once the gills and tails are cut, we place the tuna head down in a bleed tank of circulating sea water and let the tuna bleed out completely before gut and gilling and slipping them into an insulated fish bag full of ice and saltwater slush. This process insures all your efforts to catch the elusive and boat-shy Bluefin Tuna are rewarded with prime sushi loins and bellies at the end of the day!

Loving Lake Martin

Largemouth I caught while fishing with Michael Ward

Although I grew up on Clarks Hill, have been fishing it all my life and still have a mobile home on a lot at Raysville Boat Club, I think Lake Martin in Alabama is my favorite lake anywhere. Last week I got to spend a day on it with Michael Ward, doing “research” for an Alabama Outdoor News September Map of the Month article.

Martin is a pretty Alabama Power Company lake on the Tallapossa River about 2.5 hours from Griffin. Its clear water is full of spotted bass. I caught my first spot there in 1975 in a Sportsman Club tournament, my first trip to it. I have been going back at least twice a year every year since then.

All three clubs here in Griffin have a two-day tournament there in October each year, so I am not used to fishing it during the summer. Michael suggested we start at 3:45 AM to beat the heat and catch fish. Sounded like a good idea but after fishing lighted docks for two hours with only one bass, it was clear that didn’t work too well.

As the sun came up we tried topwater, still with no bites. But after it got bright and hot we started catching some bass from deep brush piles Michael had placed in the lake. He fishes tournaments every week on Martin and does well in them, partially because he works to create cover for the fish.

The fish hit shaky head worms and jigs during the day, a good pattern on any lake. Those spots fight hard and are fun to catch. We did catch a few largemouth, too, but spots are the dominate species in the lake.

I usually camp at Wind Creek State Park but stayed in a motel in Alexander City on this trip. I prefer camping. It is cheaper and more relaxing but when doing an article, I usually just stay in a motel on my trips since it is somewhat easier, and, after all, these trips are work trips!

Plan a trip to Martin this fall. You will enjoy the scenery even if you don’t go fishing.

St Croix Rods Are My Favorite

St. Croix Builds the Right Rod for the Job
from The Fishing Wire

Using a St. Croix rod for spybait fishing


Image by Kyle Wood, courtesy of FLW
Chad Grigsby calls on St. Croix Legend Xtreme and spybait combo for FLW Majors Win

Park Falls, WI – There are players on the bench that wait their entire careers to get called into the game. Often those players have a very specific skillset that only requires being tapped every once in a while. And when it’s their time to lace up, they better perform. Chad Grigsby has one of those players in his boat.

There’s that moment when a professional bass pro simply changes up. It doesn’t matter if they are engaged in a catching streak—they just know it’s the right time. It’s those on-the-fly decisions, along with being prepared for those change-ups, that separate the pros from the amateurs. For Grigsby, a St. Croix Rod pro, it was what led to his 2nd FLW Tour career win and a $125,000 check.

A big part of being prepared is having the right equipment in your boat. Grigsby only fishes St. Croix rods. “I’m spending the holiday with my family at our cabin in Wisconsin. St. Croix is made here – not just in the USA – but in Wisconsin. And they are a family-owned company. That means a lot to me; I can visit the factory in Park Falls and see the people making the rods I rely on every day,” he said.

Grigsby’s boat is filled with rods. He’s had people come up to his boat and ask why he carries so many rods. “Golf is the analogy I use to explain it. You don’t use a driver on the putting surface and vice-versa. Every rod I own has a purpose; it’s why I have so many rods. St. Croix designs rods with different actions, powers and lengths for each situation. On tour we go to so many different lakes with varying conditions that require the use of multiple lures and techniques. We need rods rigged and ready if the conditions change.”

The Lake St. Clair tournament was a perfect example of this. To win the tournament, Grigsby had to be ready for every change. On the final morning, it was calm before sunup. “I started out fishing a 4-inch green pumpkin and gold-colored Venom Lures Tube on a ¾ ounce jig head with a 7’6” Legend Elite (EC76MHMF) medium-heavy power moderate-fast action casting rod. I was catching fish,” said Grigsby.

During an active bite, the sun popped out. It was at that moment that Grigsby’s instincts made him switch-up. “My photographer gave me a strange look when I set the rod down and picked up a Legend Xtreme (LXS76MLXF) 7’6” medium-light power extra fast-action spinning rod rigged with a spybait. Call me crazy but the change in conditions told me to switch,” he said. On his second cast, Grigsby’s premonition was validated when he caught a six-pounder and sealed the deal for the tournament.

“The smallmouth on that lake are old and smart. You need to throw the bait a long way to get them to bite. When the conditions are sunny and calm, the spybait is the best choice. Because you’re casting a long distance, you’re in for a long fight and you’ve got to keep the fish hooked.

I picked this rod because of the bait. The Legend Xtreme helped me 1000%. This rod has a really soft tip that allows me to throw a 4” bait into the wind a long way. The rod tip is so soft that they can’t pull the hooks out. Also, this rod is super sensitive, making bite detection easier. It’s the key to landing these fish. If people miss fish throwing spybaits, they are using the wrong rod,” added Grigsby.

“I fish Legend Elite and Legend Xtreme in every tournament but this was the only time I used that specific rod this year. Every tournament is different and it’s hard to know exactly when you’ll need a certain rod. That’s why I always carry it– it’s why I have it in my arsenal.”

Only time and conditions will determine if Grigsby calls on that combo again. Regardless, it will always find a home in his rod locker, hoping to be called into the game.

#stcroixrods

About St. Croix Rod

Now in its 70th year, Park Falls, Wisconsin based St. Croix Rod remains a family-owned and managed manufacturer of high-performance fishing rods with a heritage of USA manufacturing. Utilizing proprietary technologies, St. Croix controls every step of the rod-making process, from conception and design to manufacturing and inspection, in two company-owned facilities. The company offers a complete line of premium, American-made fly, spinning and casting rods under their Legend Elite®, Legend® Xtreme, Legend Tournament®, Avid Series®, Premier®, Wild River®, Tidemaster®, Imperial® and other trademarks through a global distribution network of full-service fishing tackle dealers. The company’s mid-priced Triumph®, Mojo Bass/Musky/Inshore/Surf, Eyecon® and Rio Santo series rods are designed and engineered in Park Falls, Wisconsin and built in a new, state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Fresnillo, Mexico. Founded in 1948 to manufacture jointed bamboo fishing poles for a Minneapolis hardware store chain, St. Croix has grown to become the largest manufacturer of fishing rods in North America.

Felons with Guns

Headlines in the Tuesday Griffin Daily News: “Five arrested in two SWAT raids.” If you read the article, you saw the five were arrested for drug dealing. And two of the five were charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

It is against federal and state laws for felons to possess firearms, and those laws have been on the books for years. But in many arrest felons have illegal firearms. Yet gun banners want more laws that affect only law-abiding citizens, since criminals ignore laws.

If convicted felons can easily get guns, how stupid is it to call for more gun laws. They do not work and only those that follow laws are affected.

Why Use A Wading Staff?

Stick It to Dangerous Currents With a Wading Staff
By Lee McClellan, Kentucky DFW
from The Fishing Wire

Use a wading staff when fishing rivers and streams


FRANKFORT, Ky. – Those of us who wade rocky streams for smallmouth or tailwaters for trout sometimes bite off more than we can chew.

An eddy on the other side of the stream looks inviting and the more you stare at it, the more you want to cast there. The only problem is a waist-deep run with strong current lies between you and the enticing water.

You begin crossing the stream, but about half way, the current begins to push hard against your legs. You barely lift your foot and the current pushes it out from your body, nearly causing a fall. You look back and realize it will be just as hard to get back to where you started, as it will be to get to the other side of the stream.

You are stuck.

A wading staff will save your bacon in this situation. Made from aluminum, carbon fiber, crafted wood or a hickory stick, a wading staff gives anglers an extra balance point that can prevent a fall in sticky situations.

“I use my wading staff for balance whenever I wade,” said Dr. Larry Kelley of Richmond, retired assistant chair of nursing at Eastern Kentucky University. “It’s kept me from falling many times.”

Kelley also uses his wading staff, made from a cedar branch, to probe the water in front of him for depth. Clear water often looks shallower than it actually is and misjudgment can lead to a hat-floating, wader-filling mishap.

“This is another area where my wading staff is invaluable,” Kelley said. “It keeps me from making mistakes concerning the depth of a hole.”

This safety feature proves handy when wading cold tailwaters, like the Cumberland River below Wolf Creek Dam. The water temperatures in the Lake Cumberland tailwater run cold enough to induce hypothermia. Stepping off a shelf into water over your head quickly fills a set of waders. Waders filled with water become a dangerous weight in moving, cold water.

This is the reason wading anglers must always use a snug wading belt when wearing waders. The belt prevents the legs of the waders from quickly filling with water in the event of a fall.

You can use a wading staff to test the bottom composition before venturing into a hole. Muddy areas of the stream bottom often look like hard-packed sand, but are actually a gooey muck that can pull off your wading boots. Wading staffs are also invaluable in negotiating steep stream banks.

Some debate exists on whether wood, carbon fiber or aluminum make the best wading staff.

“I prefer a wooden staff because it floats behind me and out of the way when fishing,” Kelley said. “I can also quickly get the staff in my hand when I need it.”

You can make a wooden wading staff cheaply by finding a dense hickory or cedar branch stick about shoulder height. Rub in several coats of tung oil and let it cure.

Slide a piece of hypalon foam replacement handle for walking canes over the thickest end of the stick and glue if necessary. Drill a hole through the stick just above the handle. Work a large key ring though the hole to attach a lanyard system. Kelley uses a magnetic net release used by fly anglers to attach his wading staff to his vest via a carabiner.

Epoxy a rubber cane tip on the other end and you are in business. Some anglers epoxy a wrap of lead tape used on golf clubs just above the rubber protector to help weigh down the wooden staff in current.

Wood does not make fish spooking noises when contacting the stream bottom and possesses character that manufactured wading staffs lack.

However, a wooden staff does not collapse. Some anglers use collapsible ski poles or hiking staffs for wading staffs, but their thin bottom ends vibrate wildly in current.

The collapsible hiking staffs that use a twisting lock mechanism often freeze up after getting wet several times. The parts inside these staffs oxidize and all of the king’s money and all of the king’s men can’t get it separated again. This is incredibly frustrating if they lock up during a wading trip.

If you decide to use one of these for a wading staff, find one with a lever to lock and unlock the collapsible parts.

Some wading staffs use a piece of elastic cord in the middle to hold the pieces together, similar to a collapsible tent pole. These staffs fold up into a sheath for convenience. If these staffs get stuck in rocks on the bottom, they separate when pulled on, rendering them useless.

Higher-end trekking poles used for hiking have the elastic cord, but also a locking mechanism to keep them together during use. These make good wading staffs, but start at about $100.

Predictable water levels and hungry fish make late summer through late fall the best time to wade a stream. A wading staff makes wade fishing safer and more efficient.

Author Lee McClellan is a nationally award-winning associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a life-long hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing.

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife news releases are available online at fw.ky.gov

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources manages, regulates, enforces and promotes responsible use of all fish and wildlife species, their habitats, public wildlife areas and waterways for the benefit of those resources and for public enjoyment. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife is an agency of the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet. For more information on the department, visit our website at fw.ky.gov

Rare Trout Species

Fishingenuity “Backs Up the Data” on Rare Trout Species
Editor’s Note: Here’s an interesting feature from Craig Springer of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on a program designed to assure the continued existence of a unique strain of trout.

By Craig Springer, USFWS
from The Fishing Wire

The biological clock never ceases ticking, and all living things die. But that clock can be frozen, and decay ceased indefinitely. The implications to fish conservation are large.

Rare trout


Apache trout – photo Jennifer Johnson USFWS
Williams Creek National Fish Hatchery, situated amid the ponderosa pine-studded hills of the White Mountains of eastern Arizona, harbors gold: the only captive Apache trout brood stock in existence.

This hatchery, one of 70 other national fish hatcheries, turns 80 years old this year. It’s a product of the New Deal era—a hatchery built on Apache lands under the auspices of the White Mountain Apache Tribe for the express purpose of raising trout for fishing. Trout fishing, then as now, helps fuel a rural and tourism-based economy in the White Mountains.

The Apache trout, as odd as it may seem, is a fairly recent arrival to the hatchery given that it sits so closely juxtaposed to native trout’s habitats. Recognizing the trout swimming in their streams as something special, the tribe closed off reservation waters to fishing approximately 30 years before the Endangered Species Act became law in 1973. The tribe was the first conservator of Apache trout.

Though this rare trout wasn’t described for science until 1972, hatchery biologists made early attempts at creating an Apache trout brood stock. Getting wild fish accustomed to captivity is difficult. Those attempts fell flat until 1983, by which time commercial fish food had become more refined such that captive wild fish take to it easier. The existing Apache trout brood stock turns 35 year old this year. Those captive fish descend from the original fish brought on station more than three decades ago.

Apache trout sperm for freezing


Apache Trout sperm label indicates to be frozen at Warm Springs Fish Tech Center in GA Jennifer Johnson USFWS
To bolster the brood stock, the biologists have turned to what sounds like science-fiction: “cryopreservation.” It’s a big word for this: they collected sperm from wild Apache trout and froze it.

It’s science-fact. Hatchery biologists along with staff from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) Arizona Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office and White Mountain Apache Tribe collected sperm from wild Apache trout from the East Fork White River. Under the guidance of Service biologist Dr. William Wayman at the Warm Springs Fish Technology Center in Georgia, the team of biologists collected and froze sperm from several individual Apache trout this past spring.

Gathered and stored in clear straws the approximate size of a coffee stirrer, the sperm now reside in vats of liquid nitrogen at -321 degrees Fahrenheit in Georgia in permanent storage, locked in time. And there it will be stored until it’s needed for spawning at the hatchery in November.

“We expect cryopreservation to boost our brood stock,” said hatchery manager, Bruce Thompson. “Cryopreservation reduces the likelihood of spreading disease that comes with having live fish brought in from the wild, not to mention the savings—a savings in space, in time and in money—by not having to keep wild male trout alive on the hatchery.”

The hatchery stock originated from the East Fork White River—it’s a rare lineage of a rare trout, says Service geneticist, Dr. Wade Wilson. He’s stationed at the Southwestern Native Aquatic Resources and Recovery Center in Dexter, New Mexico. Wilson has expert knowledge of trout, having worked with two other species native to the American Southwest, the Rio Grande cutthroat trout and Gila trout.

“Cryopreservation at least preserves the genetic diversity of the males, and the main advantage is that we can infuse wild genetics into the captive fish with great ease,” said Wilson. And the approach will be disciplined, as Wilson has developed a plan for the hatchery staff to ensure that each pairing yields genetically robust Apache trout offspring that exemplify the East Fork lineage. Having collected the genetics from the wild male fish and the captive female Apache trout, data from Wilson’s shop will steer captive spawning this autumn. Those offspring will be future brood stock.

Caught a large Apache trout


Bradley Clarkson Alchesay-Williams Creek National Fish Hatchery biologist and White Mountain Apache Tribe member handles a large Apache trout – photo Craig Springer USFWS

The whole idea of freezing and thawing a living organism gives flight to the imagination, even if it is a single cell. Cryopreservation hasn’t been use yet for Apache trout brood stock management, but the concept isn’t new. The method is common in the livestock industry and has been used for decades.

For rare, native trout, “it’s like backing up your data” says Thompson. “You store off-site what’s precious, and we’re confident that this is good for Apache trout conservation.”

Craig Springer, External Affairs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Southwest Region

How Much Fishing Equipment Is Too Much?

Someone walking into Berry’s Sporting Goods who does not bass fish will be amazed at the vast array of lures on display. There are soft plastics, crankbaits and wire contraptions in every color of the rainbow, and many other colors never seen anywhere else other than maybe an artist’s dreams.

Everything comes in an amazing number of shapes and sizes, and many things look like something from a science fiction movie. All of them have a purpose – to catch fishermen’s dollars! But they will probably all catch fish, too.

That being said, my “tackle box” is a 20-foot-long bass boat with four compartments filled with all kinds of lures. I could get in and hide in a couple of those compartments they are so big. And the walls of my garage are lined with big boxes of lures and sacks of plastic worms that I no longer use but won’t throw away. I use many of them as prizes in our kid’s tournaments.

They will all catch fish, but I have settled on a couple of colors of plastic worms I always use, and a few crankbait in favorite colors. I carry some other colors in my boat just in case, but there are not enough hours in a day to try them all. I have confidence in certain baits, so I tend to fish them all day.

Some people constantly change baits and colors trying to find the magic one for that day and conditions. And it probably works, for them, but I am confident in one or two colors based on water color and time of year. That simplifies things and makes it easier but may not be the best thing every trip.

On the deck of my boat I usually have 14 rods up front, seven on each side. And if fishing alone there are usually six or seven more at the back deck. I say one side is the rods I plan to use, the other side is just in case I want to try something different, and the ones in back are my desperation rods.

There is another dozen in my rod locker. Most fishermen put their rods up after fishing but there is no room in my locker for all of mine, so they just stay strapped down on the deck all the time.

There is a good reason for having so many rods. I not have to stop and tie on a new bait to try if I want to, I simply pick up a different rod and start casting. And rods come in a wide variety of lengths, actions and taper. Some are better for certain baits.

For example, a stiff rod with a light tip, or fast action, is best for baits like a Texas rigged worm or jig and pig. But for a crankbait those rods are too stiff, you need a longer rod with medium action. A stiff rod will often pull the hooks out of the fish while fighting it on a crankbait.

One small compartment is filled with spools of line. I have everything from six to 20-pound test line in monofilament and fluorocarbon, and there are also a couple of spools of braided line for special conditions.

Worms and jigs call for heavy line, and I like fluorocarbon since it is almost invisible in the water. Crankbaits are better on lighter line since it allows them to run deeper. And topwater needs monofilament since fluorocarbon sinks and hurts the action of the bait.

Braid is used when fishing around grass. It will cut through it when fighting a fish and has no stretch, so you can pull fish from cover quickly. But it is very visible in the water and I think it spooks fish when fishing clear water, so it is not good under all conditions.

Electronics are a whole nother story! When I got a new boat two years ago, it came with for big Humminbird depthfinders. The are capable of showing a sonar image, a down and side scan image and include a GPS map. The sonar shows a quick glance at anything under the boat. The down scan shows a detailed image of anything under the boat, to the point of showing every limb on a brush pile and even fish holding in it.

The side scan can be set to show things out to either side of the boat. You can ride slowly by a dock and see the post on it and fish holding under it. And going around a point looking for cover, you can find rocks, brush, drop offs and fish without going right over them. I keep mine set to show 60 feet out on either side of the boat, so I cover a 120-foot-wide strip on every pass.

One thing that came on my new/used boat is the 360 scan. I had never had one but will never be without one in the future. On the screen it shows what looks like a radar with rotating dial. Anything anywhere around the boat shows up. You don’t have to go right over something to fish it.

I have been amazed how many times I would be fishing around a point I have fished for 40 years, casting toward the bank. I would see a rock or brush pile or drop off out from the boat, cast to it and catch a fish. I never knew that cover was there and would never have found it unless idling around looking at down and side scan.

All these things may seem to give me an unfair advantage over the bass, and they help, but it is amazing how often bass with a brain the size of a marble outsmart me and all my equipment!

Cutthroat Trout

Artifacts of Epochs Past: Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout Benefit From Private Lands Conservation
—Craig Springer
from The Fishing Wire

One might say that the past is dead and gone—but that notion doesn’t fly on the Vermejo Park Ranch, near Raton, New Mexico.

Managers of this private land seek to restore long reaches of mountain streams for the benefit of native Rio Grande cutthroat trout—not to mention the guided anglers who seek to catch the rare fish.

Crucial to the endeavor is a private-public partnership fostered through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service). Ranch employee Lief Ahlm has been involved with native fish conservation for decades, and his interest in this present project comes only natural.

If you didn’t know better, one would think that a cartographer laid a turkey’s foot on paper, traced it, and made it into a map of a northern New Mexico watershed. The headwaters of the Vermejo River trickle over the Colorado state line into New Mexico and the storied Vermejo Park Ranch at the heart of the historic Maxwell Land Grant where the southern Rockies meet the prairie.

Three rivulets, the “toes” of the turkey foot, converge in an open vega—a big meadow—hemmed in close on one side by a steep, craggy high-wall of stone the color of a pronghorn’s pelt. Adventurous ponderosa pine trees cling against gravity, their roots veining into rock crevices. It is steep, impressive and imposing.

On the other side, the slope fans westward, gently, then precipitously to 11,000-foot purplish peaks that typify the southern Rockies. The remains of last winter’s snows tip the peaks like dollops of thick cream. That snow, what little of it that exists, is future trout habitat when it spills off the mountainsides and soaks wetlands or percolates over gravelly riffles and purls through dark pools.

At the base of the high-wall flows the North Fork of the Vermejo River. By eastern standards, it’s a little rill—and not a river at all. It adjoins the Little Vermejo Creek which is slightly larger in volume. Mere feet away, the two, now one, converge with the third toe, Ricardo Creek. The turkey foot’s spur is a two-mile-long spring run that joins the Vermejo proper another mile downstream.

Their cold, clear waters all possess another quality worth caring about, according to Ahlm, a fish biologist for Vermejo Park Ranch. “The Vermejo River and its tribs hold an aboriginal population of Rio Grande cutthroat trout, unique to the headwaters of Canadian River drainage in New Mexico,” Ahlm said. “The cutthroat trout in these streams are holdovers from another time—and they have survived an onslaught of habitat loss and competition with introduced brook trout native to Appalachia.”

Water pouring off the east face of these mountains will eventually flow through Texas’s northern panhandle then through Oklahoma and onto the Mississippi. There’s nothing unusual about that necessarily, but the fish that swims here have immeasurable intrinsic value, an artifact of an epoch past.

The Rio Grande cutthroat trout was the first trout documented in the New World, in 1541. A chronicler of the Coronado entrada noted truchas swimming about in a tributary to the Pecos River as the explorers made their way onward to Kansas. The Rio Grande cutthroat trout is one of 13 existing cutthroat subspecies that occur from coastal Alaska and over the spine of the Rockies southward to New Mexico. The Rio Grande is the southernmost cutthroat and is one of only three cutthroat subspecies that live in waters flowing eastward off the Rockies. All other western native trout live in waters that drain to the Pacific. The Rio Grande cutthroat persists in the upper Rio Grande basin, the upper Pecos and here in the furthest reaches of small Canadian River tributaries. The pretty trout resides in only 10 percent of its natural range. Rio Grande cutthroat trout retreated to small headwater streams due to habitat lost to overgrazing and a century of competition with nonnative trout species.

Vermejo Park Ranch was the first site to re-introduce elk into New Mexico following its extirpation resulting from unregulated subsistence harvest more than a century ago. In keeping with that spirit, the past lives large here as expressed in how this private land is managed. It’s owned by Turner Enterprises, which has endeavored to restore the land toward natural conditions and native wildlife. Buffalo roam where overstocked cattle herds once loafed. They eventually make their way to market.

The past matters to Ahlm. He holds a personal affinity for New Mexico history; he’s conversant in some of the most arcane texts on the subject. He originates from the northwest corner of the state, got educated in fisheries science at New Mexico State University. He followed that with a long and fruitful career with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, and still holds a personal affection to the agency he once worked for.

“I had a front-row view of some of the greatest conservation work in New Mexico,” said Ahlm, speaking toward the many projects that he worked on through the decades: big horn sheep and pronghorn transplants, and law enforcement. But his heart’s desires lay with fish conservation. Ahlm managed the famous San Juan River trout fishery for a time and was involved in native fish conservation endeavors in all corners of the state.

And his heart is still in it, and thus his involvement with the Service’s Partners of Fish and Wildlife Program—a partnership with the express purpose of improving habitat for the rare trout on the ranch—that in the end can help keep the fish off the endangered species list.

Les Dhaseleer, Natural Resources Division Manager at Vermejo, and Carter Kruse, Director of Natural Resources for Turner Enterprises, consulted with Service biologist Angel Montoya, to set aside stream sections to exclude deer, elk, and bison. The intent was to rest select areas of streamside vegetation from forage by wildlife and allow nature to heal trout habitat. Since 2014, 10 half-mile-long blocks of stream have been rested by tall fencing over a dozen collective stream miles. The outcome has been impressive to witness.

“The fenced areas have seen a profusion of willow growth, shading and cooling the water and stabilizing the stream banks. That’s good for trout,” Ahlm said. “The stream channel narrows and the forces of the water dig deeper pools and moves sediment along making more space from cutthroat trout and habitat for bugs they eat. Cottonwood pole plantings help stabilize banks and add shade and structure, and bird habitat.”

Dhaseleer says that project involves long-term monitoring of water quality and aquatic insect composition along the length of the Vermejo River through the ranch. Once these half-mile sections heal, the intent is to move fence materials to the next blocks to rest and restore adjacent stream sections. It’s a long-term affair, and in the end should yield quality habitat for Rio Grande cutthroat trout and other species, such as the endangered New Mexico meadow jumping mouse.

Surveys have yet to turn up the mouse, but the habitat could exist now and certainly into the future. Subsurface water spreads laterally from the streams as a result of the exclosures, broadening the breadth the stream’s influence on adjacent vegetation. Soppy soils and associated vegetation could be a future abode for the rare mouse. The new exclosures have invited beavers to take up housekeeping as well.

Montoya is impressed with the resiliency of the streamside vegetation and wildlife.

“It’s visually stunning to witness the differences, then and now—and so soon. A beaver dam is a measure of success; it’s interesting to see how quickly the dam was built after we erected the exclosures,” Montoya said. “The magnitude of the overall project and the landowner’s commitment to conservation will benefit cutthroat trout and other wildlife for decades.”

Kruse says that the Partners Program has been a tremendous benefit to the conservation work on the ranch. “Teaming up with the Fish and Wildlife Service allowed us to do the work faster and bigger with expanded intellectual power,” said Kruse. “By ourselves, we’d still be on exclosure number-three.”

So with Ahlm, he’s technically on career number two, but it must have been a seamless transition. That was probably so with another former New Mexico Game and Fish employee, Elliot Barker.

The two men intersect in spirit.

The late Barker is a legendary figure in conservation and his presence is felt at Vermejo and beyond. Aldo Leopold was his Forest Service supervisor in the 1910s. After working for Vermejo Park Ranch as a game manager in the late 1920s, Barker went on to serve as director of the Game and Fish Department for 22 years. He was instrumental in making Smokey Bear an icon. Barker helped found the National Wildlife Federation and advocated for wilderness decades ago. The conservationist published seven books on outdoors pursuits and western life. Beatty’s Cabin is a classic. He died in 1988 at 101. Nearby Elliot Barker State Wildlife Management Area is appropriately named.

Ahlm and Barker both came of age in northern New Mexico, though decades apart from one another. Fishing and hunting and conservation intertwined their lives and their careers. Barker cared about native trout of northern New Mexico probably as much as Ahlm and his colleagues.

Barker’s cabin where he and his wife and two young daughters lived for a time is perched on a hillside above a most picturesque Castle Rock at Vermejo.

“You can’t help but feel a kinship to Barker out here,” said Ahlm. “He and I both worked for the same outfits, and I suspect that working here influenced his conservation ethic and the progression of his long career. It’s kind of cool,” he says, passing through a gate of an exclosure where ranch employees are busy augering holes for cottonwood poles near the spur of the turkey foot.

Mere feet away Rio Grande cutthroat trout, followed by their silent shadows throw up puffs of sand as they scurry for the cover of grass thickets that hang over a cut bank.

Learn more at vermejoparkranch.com and www.fws.gov/partners

Springer is with External Affairs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Southwest Region