Saturday, January 2, 2016

THE 2016 GREAT LAKES TROUT, SALMON, STEELHEAD ENIGMA,PART I- UNCERTAINTY, CONTINUED ABUSE OR CALL TO EMBRACE AND RE-INVENT

Happy New Years to all! 

Each new year I try to asses our gains and accomplishments , losses and setbacks as to where this massive Great Lakes fishery is headed. This year , we have some serious soul searching to do my friends as to how we manage and grow the fishery if its not too late. We have witnessed across the year some of the worst migratory runs of our beloved steelhead, trout and salmon, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. We are at a very critical point in these fisheries. But together we can turn and nurture the whole wonderful salmonid experience around.

 However looking at data and management models that were geared from the 70's/80's 90's that are dysfunctional today, a lack of dollar resources that plagues new research on the state and federal level, we have our work cut out for us. Also, we are in the midst of a " general dark era' of self inflicted malaise for a call to action, due to all the pressured society issues of keeping careers, families through instant' stressful  reactive operating modes that hand held electronic devices shackle us daily, doesn't make things easier. All in all, we often watch things just simple fade and erode away and exclaim " that's too bad".

First off, a very special thank you to all our wonderful clients, social media friends, acquaintances around the country and world and all the positive fun and grateful people today that makes what I do so exciting,  rewarding and fulfilling. There is still a shining light that many who get it still burn to protect and enhance the fragile nature of our wonderful Great Lakes freshwater wonderland. With its hundreds of thousands of miles of cold, clear wild and propagated trout and salmon rivers, inland seas, glacial lakes, and wonders of the world that we have been blessed with here, mother nature refuses to yield and clings on on with a more thin fragile thread than ever to what we haven't destroyed,  despite mankind's monetary greed, arrogance, ignorance of the ecological process and just plain old "dumb-it down" stupidity we sadly use as our guiding methodology ( guilty in both degrees by scientists that should know better but refuse to see the impact due to political/monetary implications... and the ignorant laymen that stubbornly plain old refuse to know) . 

These reality blinders we wear baffles my mind when we look back in hindsight to 'serious resource declines' in almost every aspect of our Great Lakes fisheries from what was considered the "good ole' days"- sorry for my candidness. These issues are not just regional and secular in nature.  The entire  worldwide salmonid network of unique ecosystems will forever need a constant love, undying appreciation, monitoring and meticulous and stern protection if we are going to enjoy them for generations and the rest of humanity to come. 

On this New Years day, we all need to reflect on something we love so much that is perpetually slipping away from us and pledge a resolution that each person can make a difference even if they just applied 5% of their thoughts and efforts toward a long term sustainable goal to not let these magnificent fisheries wither away like so many fisheries have and continue to do so around the salmonid world. 

 Myself and others have devoted an endless passion with consistent writings, books, hundreds of articles, news items, videos, blogs about this subject. Somehow I feel cursed to have to address these issues- ignorance and bliss would be less stressful and wish I had that luxury.

So if you have the time to consider my points than  indulge me- God bless!- if not, the delete button is only a strike away. Blogs are today's modern and instant editorial columns that allow the flow of ideas to stimulate thought and action.

                                  Here are a few New Years thoughts to consider for 2016

CHALLENGES WE FACE ON THREE FRONTS

1. Global Climate Change influencing Prey/ Predator Dynamics and Migratory Run Dysfunction from the Norm.

 This is a battle from the norm that we have very little control over.  However we need to manage this change so we don't loose fisheries just as California Fish and Game came in and rescued wild indigenous trout in streams that were dying from heat and droughts- yes we do have the ability to buffer and manage here. Or when salmon runs on the west coast were appearing during extreme droughts and the fish were going to perish, they were often carted upstream to safer nursery waters. So in hindsight man can help where nature is destroying its own. But a consistent monitoring mechanism needs to be in place- we don't have this modern vision in the Great Lakes- but can.

Carbon emissions are a very small part of  the climate change maddening ' temperature rising' debate,  but it constantly takes the main stage on the liberal and conservative media shit shows- the political Obama vs Republican political dog bashing junk. Sun cycles, rotational tilting orbits, solar flares, climate changing from ice ages to warming cycles do not generate $$$ and disunity in society so they get practically zero press coverage and have no partisan shock value-sad. 

The winters of 2014 and 2015 had a massive effect on the Great Lakes that scientists are just beginning to understand. The total ice-up freeze- overs had a significant impact in the entire food chain/plankton dispersal/temperature regimes that all influence how migratory Great Lakes salmonids and the predatory /prey food chain must adapt to. It could be that since the introduction of the Pacific salmonid experience , we have never seen to record setting brutal winters like the past two- so all new stuff to exotic fish and exotic prey.


When an ecosystem goes "black"- solid ice/darkness, and stays sterile cold for an additional 5 months than normal, the energy machine of the sun and warmth is turned off- like the sterile cold of the deepest ocean or the sterile matter in outer space. How this lack of energy has effected plankton/alewife prey and the normal feeding and migrating patterns of  the 'in the forever hunt' and constantly hungry salmon and trout is a dynamic that has to be considered. I have noticed and have heard from many anglers how" hungrier than normal the steelhead and salmon are this year"- which meant they took the fly and bait much quicker and with reckless abandonment, due to food being harder to find in the big lakes thus conditioning their predatory kill instinct to less discriminatory modes. I too saw this when the salmon finally arrived on the Muskegon.

In turn the fish's phsiological seasonal/spawning maturity development , migratory hunting/predatory routes, shore bound orientation is severely impacted along with its "normal migratory run timing". Also lake temperature/river temperature alignment is drastically altered which dramatically effects timing.

 Unless Im losing my mind which I have been relegated by my lovely wife to thinking I am,  all of the runs of steelhead and salmon starting in 2014, and coming full circle in 2015 , were delayed from one to three month from "the norm"- or some migratory runs didn't occur at all! It wreaked havoc on anglers trip planning, 'we crushed 'em last year at this time- what the hell is going on!!!" was the common denominator. Biologists like Brian Breidert - Indiana DNR, couldn't answer a phone call without another person asking, " Brian, where the hell are 3/4 of a million summer Skamania steelhead at?' They normally show in June, last year they decided to come in late August and well into LATE September even given one of the coolest summers on record. Winter steelhead runs on rivers like the Muskegon and other Michigan Rivers peaked in May and ran all the way until June 24th- latest I have ever seen in 20 years!- March /April are the norms.


With alewife populations being at all time lows- down as much as 90-95% in most lakes, except the constant rebounding of Lake Ontario's endless bait highway of the St. Lawrence channel to the ocean, which by the way had a devastating thymine deficiency which killed Lake Ontario  steelhead in massive die-offs due to excessive alewives ( again the insane imbalance of feast or famine that climate change is wreaking havoc on, which all started with the exotic invasion, Eco-disturbance of zebra/quagga mussels and other non-indigenous organisms) Climate change will only add to the dynamic.

2. THE POLITICAL MONETARY INHANCEMENT GAME ON THE STATE AND FEDERAL LEVEL
When I worked briefly on the west coast in the late 80's/90's in the hotel executive business, I witnessed  fist hand the decline and decimation of the once hallowed and historic ocean runs of indigenous wild steelhead- it was a very steady sad decline. Over-harvesting of  wild spawning populations, irrigating and pumping drinking bottled water from rivers and aquifers in prime steelhead spawning habitat, de-foresting, dams, Russian and Japanese slaughter fishing fleets and protecting ridiculous labeled endangered predator species ( sea lions/terns/cormorants etc,) was the ultimate demise.
 Old time west coast "Mr. Steelhead"-aka Steelhead guru Bob York simply put it , 'politics, money and wild steelhead dont mix". It is ironic how now the Great Lakes are going through almost the exact series of acts of decimation and not even realizing it!- we dont have Russian and Japanese trawlers but highly technological sophisticated charter fleets that are icing down fish in Igloos by the hundreds /thousands daily at a comparable scale in much smaller and limited oceans of the our lakes. Yes it is their given legal right to do so, not illegal and people gain pleasure and meat from it - all good given moderation- thein lies the problem. There is only and " x #" of steelhead and salmon in a given system- if you break the migrating sustainable balance you lose the total system- simple math. Steelhead that are caught by the massive toll by Canadian and American walleye trolllers in summer on the Erie, and summer charters on Lake Michigan have caught a crap load of wild and propagated steelhead destined for rivers.
It has taken the west coast wild steelhead coalition over thirty years to strike a series of major victories for wild steelhead- thank God their persistence and vision never stopped!. But it came with a serious hard perception and 'come to Jesus' value change in everyone that takes advantage of, profits or enjoys these fisheries to say- "no more abuse"!!!-sorry, the fish come first before my greed and lust!
Fact- DNR's survive on fishing licence sales. They are falling inversely as rapidly as people picking up I Pads and youth X boxes/Play Stations over picking up fishing poles. Society has become reclusive techno- geeks where the living room/game cave has replaced the outdoors, which  have the lowest priority. In an effort to combat a sociological trend that is scary , state and federal  agencies are allowing the most liberal protection and conservation measures in order to sell licensees and land use permits to resource rapers. 'Come and get it ya'll- as much and as many and whichever method you choose- just buy licences dammit!- we dont care!!!!- we only care about $$$$$"- seems to be the given state of affairs. Given this new"dark side management" thinking, I would not be surprised if snagging and spearing of salmon dont come back just to get more 'bubba" dollars that were alienated over the change- no shit, but that is the trend that makes sense from a revenue standpoint.
3. GREAT LAKES PERCEPTION MUST CHANGE-THE NUMBERS/GREED GAME OF OLD IS OVER
Hate to break it to you, but unless you have been asleep for twenty years, the glory days of the magnificent Great Lakes steelhead /salmon miracle of grotesque abundance are over- DONE!!!!. Gone are the 30-50 steelhead hook-ups in an afternoon day on the "steelhead alley " of Lake Erie's Cattaraugus Creek/Elk Creek PA etc.. One of my clients from Pennsylvania spent a week this 2014 fall on the 'Cat" and hooked two fish in 5 days- and this dude was a steelhead Jedi swing/nymph master that had it all dialed in, floated the entire system on inflatables- nobody else was catching fish either!!! On the other hand I'm hearing on social media that the 'Catt' had one of the best runs in a decade- so I guess those that fish regularly can only gauge qualitative issues of "one of the best" based on their past experiences. On the positive side, more wild fish are very possible in the amazing spring -fed system of the Cattauragus valley with the dam removal that would open up countless miles of pure cold, gravel laded spawning waters. Looking at the Pere Marquette, wild resident trout and steelhead actually benefit each other quite to the contrary popular thought that upstream fisheries would falter-stigmas with no scientific foundations.
Could or insatiable lust, insatiable greed, insatiable harvest for these magnificent fish brought us to lose our minds and ignore the reality fact that the Great Lakes steelhead fishery is in  trouble and needs protection?  Could it be fixed- absolutely! Besides New York going to a 'one steelhead limit" on the Salmon River, and Minnesota's north shore wild steelhead rivers going to "no kill", nothing has been done about correcting and manicuring a problem that needs help. 
Guides/outfitters are the last to accept it because its our likelihood/or pride- "dont let the cat out of the bag"- I know, Im one of them!. Sorry , but the cat has been escaping the bag for some time now, not just this year. Yes, we occasionally have a rare "awesome Facebook day '( I'm the biggest abuser- not without sin here!) where hero shots are epic and all the rave 'likes' come applauding in-these are very proud moments that we take joy in. It is our pride and enthusiasm that keeps us coming back and occasionally the pig finds the truffles- but again the truffles are becoming rarer and smaller!!! 
 It is without question that 2014 was the worst steelhead run I have ever witnessed in the Great Lakes in this my 20 th year of guiding. This 'epic fail' factoid occured  wheter you were on the Douglaston Salmon River run, Erie Tribs, Huron tribs, Lake Michigan tribs: summer ,fall, winter, spring- didn't matter!- it was Great Lakes pandemic. I dont think there is one true and honest steelheader/lover,  all guiding bullshit/ money lust aside , that will argue with that simple fact. 

Yes, some guides /anglers that chum and coral fish in low water estuary pools did better- BTW,speaking on behalf of others (ya'll know where I stand on this issue),  there is no ethical issue here because it is LEGAL to do both- ethics only get into the picture if you break the law in our twisted failing legal system.
 So if you gain joy and satisfaction out of that technique and find value in it, God bless to whatever turns you on.
 Our Great Lakes fishery has been plagued by the numbers game since day one- our insatiable " numbers"appetite has been inbred in us for decades- not your fault! So there are those that need big numbers, all the time, which arent coming.  Then there is another angler who derives more joy from the chase, the swing tug, the nymph mastery, float fishing  and egg as a natural,  the occasional much earned chrome fix, the art form , the fly art, the massive joyous literature surrounding our celebrated fishery,  the natural beauty of steelhead environments - are they better people/anglers?-  this here is a moral issue . 
We have the right to choose, but when a choice has a serious denigrating biological impact to the resource, an overriding jurisdiction needs to set the bar- so far that is not happening as long as DNR=FEDS=$$$$$- SIMPLE! Once the fishery is decimated , is it done- over?,  or will we find something else to decimate in the proud noble tradition of homo sapiens stupidity !

Can you just change a mentality level in the snap of the fingers just because the fish just aren't there ?- no. The human instinct tells you to push on harder, pummel it even harder, harvest even the last one- go to any length like a crack addicted drug addict to get the chrome fix.
 In our great country being ethical is obeying the law. Was it a rare year anomaly- NO!, it has been a progressive occurrence since 2010's last epic run when doing the math  and statistics. Water levels were extremely low that fall, but fish and the size of them seemed to come by the thousands like an invasion of the plague of zombie steelhead- the salmon run also was insane!

( I had to use my drift boat to push it down river in spots , but 15lb fall steelhead were a reality- a measured 20 lb summer run  and the bottom buck went 18 lbs in late February by Dr. Steelhead Johnny"

2016 CHALLENGE CALL

1. SOCIAL MEDIA/FACEBOOK RESPONSIBILITY

I absolutely love all the posts I see of epic days on the water, great images of accomplishment and mastery. This is the great cool and fun part of social media, even though it maybe sometimes somewhat 'braggadocio /'one upmanship' and massive self promotion and marketing.- fact.
I know it well and have been a vital part of all of this self promoting/enthusiasm/....whatever and however you want to label it.
But in hindsight do we often portray a false sense that "everything is perfect , getting my game on', ... the fish are jumping out of the water to take our flies- its going gangbusters!!!!- so BOOK NOW!!!!...tough question to answer. 

There are no innocent sheep here ( me included!) and most fisherman and women (women less so thank God) have an uncanny ability to let their enthusiasm run away-  in the old days it was called 'bullshitting, lying and exaggerating".
SO, MAYBE?... in a new age of a call to preserve and protect before we loose it all, we should post a wonderful" hero/success/mastery day , and also on the next post something on a 'giving back' note. Maybe more posts on what could be done to improve the fishery, regulations needed, share some knowledge- stimulate constructive thought, enlighten people about conservation efforts, personal accomplishment endeavors  towards helping- something that is not solely driven for individual fame gain. I love it when friends post amazing scenery, lovely stories, fun stuff about family or Friends . Sometimes we just have to step back and take a deep breath and say to ourselves" what are we trying to accomplish with this stuff- often the true heart felt answer will surprise you!

2. THE AGE OLD DNR "BITCH" ISSUES  ( It is country wide my friends!) AND THE BEAUTY OF TECHNOLOGY
No matter what state I travel to, you always hear from local fisherman, guides etc. ," man did the DNR/Fish commission  etc. really F'd this place up- it used to 'blah, blah blah". Yes some state agencies are very progressive and proactive- others are failing to grasp change and positive forward thinking and continue to let fisheries fail.
SOLUTION: With the power of email and social media we no longer have to knock on doors to get petitions signed, have town hall/fly shop meetings  etc. If each of us took an hour of our life and drafted and emailed a very sincere letter to our state DNR and sincerely expressed our concerns on issues that are effecting the fisheries that we love, they would be flooded beyond belief with an overwhelming cry to solve many easy to fix situations.State agencies only react when the 'walls are caving in' ( BTW:, looking at a "sound check" at myself personally, I have been very vocal over the decades, often too vocal!-but I get things done swiftly if need be, and YES!, my new years resolution, which I have been working on for some time now is to 'tone it down', but PC I'll never be!- sorry, ain't in my rebellious Polish DNA...:)

3.  MICRO REGIONAL MANAGEMENT SUCCESS AND THE POWER OF LOCALLY CONCENTRATED EFFORTS
Trout Unlimited/FFF are phenomenal organizations that have held things glued together for decades- without them we would be in serious trouble. But again, 95% of the work is done by 5% of the members. Also the larger the organization , the more the bureaucracy and channels that must be addressed before change occurs.
 The future of change lies in small micro regional watershed alliances that work directly on specific focused issues of importance- we started one on my home river and the DNR has responded with mutual cooperation.

4. THE RESPONSIBILITY OF MEDIA AND "THOSE THAT SHOULD KNOW BETTER" 
This is an issue that has forever plagued our sport. 'Why the hell did that magazine/author/publisher  print that damn article/book about that river etc.- they ruined it!!!, now look at all these knuckle heads on my river!!!"...does this sound familiar?

Being immersed personally from head to toe in the printed/video/editorial fly fishing world for 30 years I am more familiar with this subject than anyone.
The old adage " boy did those guys sell out for the $$$$ and fame" will perpetually haunt the quiet secular nature of a man or women in a quite setting on a pristine river- the paparazzi and commercialism of fly fishing media often is a complete antagonist against what we are trying to accomplish with our passion.
There are so many phenomenal new books/DVD's/ film media coming out it makes our head spin! A great majority is from truly creative people that have so much to offer, so many awesome theories, insight into the world of fly fishing that has captured their soul and lives with a passion.
But how much is driven by love and passion, how much is driven my self exoneration and ego is the perplexing enigma we all have to deal with when we enter that venue.
If we could just apply 5% of our passion to become famous, published and acclaimed and focus a part of that energy towards an uphill battle to constantly keep our fragile fisheries resources well kept, healthy and manicured, we would see amazing things. 

All the epic books, theories, new fly patterns etc. mean absolutely nothing unless we have fisheries to use them in. I just look back at the historic Cumberland Valley Limestone spring creeks and look at all the marvelous literature by my mentor Vince Marinaro and others, as these books are all becoming 'folk lore' now, gathering dust , as the fragile streams continue to whither away- very sad! Could this someday be the future of the Great Lakes?....hmmm, makes you wonder. Could my books and the amazing works of others become 'folk lore' and gathering dust?- I sincerely hope not!

The youth of America today has amazingly pure, untainted visions of what this planet should be. Its often us "elders", with our egos and self exonerating devours that keep things muddled and in discord.
END

COMING IN PART II- an assessment of the fisheries for 2016- El Nino is a good thing!

 Hope all have an epic 2016 year on these magnificent waters!
If I accomplished anything , I hope I got you to think a little about how grateful we are for all the amazing things we have in the Great Lakes, how devastating it would be to loose it and how each of us can help make a difference
 Cheers/Na zdrowie,
Matt Supinski