Public Lands & Waters photo

I made a trip south April 22nd to fish for native cutthroats with Trout Unlimited’s Corey Fisher, National Wildlife Federation’s Land Tawney, and Joel Webster of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. I started out at daylight, and crossed Rogers Pass in a howling horizontal blizzard. At the Cenex station in Lincoln, the first town for seventy miles from my house, I stopped for coffee. A young tow truck driver at the gas pumps asked me, “How’s the pass?” I struggled for an answer that would actually describe what I’d just driven through.

“Ahah,” the driver said. “It’s real bad!” I just nodded. It was Earth Day, and the earth was throwing my rattle-trap Hyundai and me a pretty good thrashing.

By the time I got to the river- and yes, it is in southern Montana–the skies were the color of lead, but the wind and snow had quit, and the temperatures were edging above freezing. We rigged up and headed upstream, in the clear light of mid-day, with a snow squall off in the high country, but a thin sun coming down on us like a blessing. I didn’t care if there weren’t any bugs showing, or even if the fishing on big streamers and nymphs was tough. It felt so good to be out after a grueling winter that it was all could do to keep from bursting into song. But on top of all that, we actually got into them. Corey took one right away on a nymph and my first fish whacked a big weighted sculpin pattern, swung deep through a cold green line of current that had scoured out a channel under some old willows. Later, the sun came out strong enough to set off a hatch–Corey called them March Browns–and a few fat squalls appeared, flying slow just above the rush of the water. We all caught good fish during that short stretch of warmth, heavy-bodied natives rushing a floating Adams, rods bowed, whooping and hollering. The cutthroats a deep golden color, black spots, rose bellies, bright arterial blood-red slashes below the gills. Springtime, man. Like the shaggy moose ma and her two leggy young ‘uns threading the mud trails in the bottomland thickets, we’d all made it through another winter.

Since this is the Conservationist, I want to point out that the river we were fishing is public water, and it gets fished hard, and it remains one of Montana’s top Blue Ribbon Streams, in large part because its headwaters are on the Bitterroot National Forest, which in that place is mostly roadless and wild. That unbroken heavy-timbered high country and the snow that it catches and turns loose in the spring and summer is what gives us the clean water and the cutthroats and all the rest of the fish below. You can’t create wealth like that, and you can’t replace it if we let people who don’t understand how it works mess it up. Besides that, it’s hellacious backcountry elk hunting. But that is all for another day and another blog post.

What I really want to do today is ask readers for some help. I try hard to keep up with the conservation news and all the issues that relate to healthy fish and wildlife populations. But it’s a mighty big country, and I’ll never know a thousandth of the places and the stories in them. So I’m asking: what is the main conservation issue or challenge where you fish or hunt? Please remember, conservation is a broad topic. I’m looking for the big picture to the tiny picture here- for example, loss of local hunting access, or dwindling numbers of fishermen, is just as important as a valley fill from mountain-top removal coal mining. I’m looking forward to learning from fellow hunters and fishermen whose best-loved places are woods and streams that I have never heard of.