With the calling of homewaters come thoughts of a rod bent and a trout fighting at the far end. When I envision my homewaters the trout that has taken my fly is a Yellowstone cutthroat trout, native to the waters of the Bighorn Basin and its surrounding mountains. While the namesake Bighorn River runs nearby and I've fished various stretches of it over the years, I've never considered the Bighorn River one of my homewaters. Instead that very personal label goes to the Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone, the Northfork of the Shoshone, and Tensleep Creek. The Yellowstone cutthroat trout is native to each of these waters including the Bighorn River. Nevertheless, today it is less likely that you'll catch a Yellowstone cutthroat trout than a rainbow, brook, or brown trout on any one of these waters.
The wild vs. native debate will continue to challenge the conservation community and fishery managers well into the future, but in some ways homewaters help to bridge this gap. Wild and stocked non-natives inhabit the mainstem and many of the tributaries of my homewaters, but this doesn't detract from the enjoyment I get every time I return home to fish these waters. Instead, catching a fiesty rainbow or a brightly colored brook trout on my homewaters reminds me to seek out opportunities to conserve natives and expand their range where possible. There exists neither the biological nor the technical ability to return native Yellowstone cutthroat trout to much of my homewaters, and if it were possible the political challenges of such a project would then be immense. Rather, time on my homewaters provides me a sense of clarity when it comes to supporting native trout conservation and reinvigorates my spirit of conservation in a way that eludes me on new waters where the focus is on reading the water, finding trout, and otherwise taking in a new landscape. Ultimately, homewaters and their trout provide inspiration that stretches beyond the physical limits of those waters and beyond the species therein, wild or native.