Bug Hatches and Earth Day Thoughts

This week’s Dog on a Rock photo.

In mid-April, the fish are starting to wake up. With longer days and slowly warming temperatures, aquatic insect activity is picking up and fish are beginning to look up towards the water’s surface for their next meal.

In mid-April, as many people were finally getting serious about filing their tax returns, I went fishing, and with a clear conscience. I’d filed tax returns the last week of March.

As I got ready to hit the road one morning, it struck me that it actually felt warm outside. Our springtime in the Rockies is a fickle process, marked more by rain and snow than warm sunshine.

Along the lower Madison River, it seriously felt like spring. Dandelions were blooming, and wild currant bushes were leafing out. For a change, there wasn’t even much wind. There was a cloudbank to the west, the leading edge of a storm system.

I was actually hoping for some overcast, and that clouds and perhaps a few drops of rain would trigger a baetis, or blue wing olive, mayfly hatch. With the bright morning sunshine, nothing was hatching, however. I did catch one small rainbow trout that took a nymph.

After a couple hours and a lunch break, those clouds on the western horizon were overhead and casting shadows on the river, and as I resumed fishing I started to see a few rises. I studied the water’s surface, and, sure enough, a few tiny mayflies were floating along the water’s surface. There wasn’t a feeding frenzy, but I did hook a rainbow trout big enough to put a bend in my rod. My day was complete.

Still, no day on the Madison River is complete without wind, however. As the storm system moved in, winds picked up, putting a stop to rising fish, and made casting a challenge.

I ran into rain on the way home and even a few snowflakes coming over Homestake Pass. That evening we had a snowstorm. Typical spring weather.

Last Saturday, many Americans celebrated Earth Day, which included tree planting here in Butte.

One of the themes of this year’s Earth Day observance was to increase environmental and climate literacy among our citizens.

In keeping with that theme, National Public Radio carried a news report last week on the threats facing our native fish, the cutthroat trout. Here in Montana, we have two strains of cutthroat trout: the Yellowstone cutthroat and the Westslope cutthroat trout.

As I’ve often reported, we’ve treated our native cutthroat trout poorly. A century ago aquaculture was the aim of fisheries biologists. Without really questioning their actions, they established fish hatcheries and dumped non-native trout, such as rainbow and brook trout, into our streams. Brook trout have spread out, taking over many streams. Rainbow trout, in a way, were even worse, in that they interbreed with cutthroat trout.

Here in southwest Montana, we’ve had a number of projects to restore cutthroat trout to headwaters streams, which often includes removing non-native rainbow and brook trout.

A cloud on that horizon, however, is continuing climate change, a scientific fact. Our world’s climate is warming, and a warming climate poses a threat to cold-water fisheries, especially to our native cutthroat trout.

There’s a lot of nonsense floating around about climate change. Some people point to a sub-zero day in January as proof that global warming is a hoax, just as a U.S. senator (Jim Imhofe, R-OK) brought a snowball into senate chambers as proof that global warming isn’t happening.

Education is the best antidote to nonsense, and education about our environment and climate change is the only realistic way to combat falsehoods and nonsense about the realities that face us both now and in coming years, as we experience more and more freaky weather events, melting of glaciers, and low water flows in our trout streams in late summer.

This, as far as we know, is the only planet we can live on. We need to educate ourselves on the proper care of this home we all have to share.

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