Looking for trout, finding the Marines

The object of our affection -- the Lahontan cutthroat.

 

By Sam Davidson

It’s been hotter than Hades around here lately, so I jumped at the chance to go high up into the Sierras last week to check out a native trout restoration project.

The directions to this site – on Silver Creek, a glorious thread of a stream in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest on the east side of Sonora Pass – were sketchy. So at a "One Way" sign whose arrow pointed in the wrong direction I got lost.

After a hairball drive up and down rough forest roads that had seen little traffic for probably the last thirty years I finally followed the right road and came to the primitive camping spot at the edge of a scenic meadow at 8,000 feet where I was to meet Jessica Strickland, California Field Coordinator for Trout Unlimited.

Instead I found 200 Marines there, and about two dozen portable toilets.

You drive through the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center to get to this pretty place, and the Marines train in the neighboring National Forest lands, so maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised.  But still.

In the morning, I followed Jessica up the drainage some three miles to the stream segment where the restoration work is under way. Silver Creek is now a key resource for bringing back the native Lahontan cutthroat trout in the Walker River watershed. But like so many streams across the country, well-intentioned resource managers or anglers put non-native trout here in the past, to the detriment of the natives.

Nowadays, there are relatively few places where you can catch native inland trout in their historic range (disclosure: the restoration zone on Silver Creek may not have been, technically, historic range for Lahontan cutthroat, as it is above a natural barrier fall). I like the idea of fishing for native trout in the places they lived before Manifest Destiny. In today’s world, this seems a precious opportunity.

This summer, the restoration crew – including interns with TU, California Trout and the Southwest Council International Federation of Fly Fishers, students from Columbia College, and volunteers from SWCFFF and TU – are electroshocking Silver Creek to remove brook trout and document the number and condition of Lahontans. Some of the Lahontans they found, in a stream you can step across in many places, exceeded ten inches in length.

As I hiked back down the drainage, I indulged in a little fantasy. I imagined myself returning, some years from now, and, when I could focus on something other than the beauty of the area, dapping a fly next to the thick undercut banks of Silver Creek, and coaxing a pure Lahontan cutthroat to take it.

In case you think this fantasy improbable, consider: after more than a decade of restoration, Wolf Creek, close neighbor to Silver Creek, will open again to angling – for native Lahontan cutts – later this year.

 

Sam Davidson is TU's Communications Director for California and Nevada.

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