By Daniel A. Ritz
Editor’s note: Orvis has joined Trout Unlimited in sponsoring Daniel Ritz’s attempt to complete the Western Native Trout Challenge in a single year. He’ll be checking in regularly from his travels. Watch this space for more.
In 2019, I interviewed a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officer regarding the impact of social media on Leave No Trace practices in the Owyhee canyonlands in eastern Oregon. It took more than an hour of questioning before I began to digest his surprisingly reasonable view on exposure and digital geo-tagging.
“I actually don’t think it’s in our line of work to tell people what to do online,” the officer said, “and I’m not sure how successful we’d be if we tried. Our goal is to educate and hope that folks at least consider the ramifications of their actions.”
It was a simple, yet profound approach that has remained top-of-mind during my pursuit of the Western Native Trout Challenge. In addition to “achieving” the Master Class of the Western Native Trout Initiatives challenge, I had decided to pursue Wyoming’s Cutt Slam and the Utah Cutthroat Slam. These were important side ventures to me, as I attempted to gain a better understanding of all of the fisheries that make up the angling experience around my home in Idaho.
For months we, had known that the West was staring down the barrel of another serious drought in 2021, and recent uncharacteristically low water levels were met with record high temperatures across much of the northwestern United States.
This raised an important question: How can I highlight the native-species experience and raise awareness of these species through sharing these stories, while responsibly managing often difficult and sometimes life-threatening conditions for these trout?
I first began to consider the One & Done during my time in Utah in pursuit of Yellowstone cutthroat trout. I was getting pretty frustrated trying to find a fish, but when I finally did land one, I began to think about what it would mean to walk away at that point.
My pursuit of native species has proven to be a more contextually dense angling experience. No longer am I focused on what and how many fish I’ll catch. One of these fish can be the culmination of hours of intensive research, and then often miles of travel if not climbing. The native fish experience has revealed itself as fulfilling without even considering the number of fish I have caught, instead revealing the power of a truly intense connection and sense of satisfaction that comes from finally bringing a native trout to the net after a long hunt.
But how do we define what One & Done fishing philosophy means to everyone? To be honest, over time, I realized I didn’t feel responsible for completely defining what my program was. After encountering hard-to-find Colorado River cutthroat trout in Wyoming and Bear River and Bonneville cutthroat trout in Utah, I began to hold myself to at least the standard that Socrates described as an “examined” life.
In Utah, for example, I did wind up pursuing other Yellowstones, but at another creek a few miles away. In Wyoming, as I combed a tributary of the Green River in pursuit of Colorado River cutthroats, I bounced from hole to hole along the meandering valley stream, never taking more than one fish per pool.
Most recently, while fishing with a friend in southern Colorado, where I hoped to encounter my first Rio Grande cutthroat trout, I challenged myself to catch only one fish per native habitat stream in an attempt to see as much of their historical range as possible.
I suppose that, much like I learned from the BLM officer that there is no perfect answer for how to approach geo-tagging and social media, there is no perfect definition of One & Done. One fish per fly? Per river? Per pool? Sure, there are standard operating procedures that any conservation-minded angler should adhere to when condition get tough–including unhealthy, high water temperatures; unsafe fish handling practices; and more–but, as long as you’re thinking about it, you’re getting a hair closer to a more closely examined life.
One by one, fish by fish, angler by angler, I think a more contextual angling experience could lead us down a path towards better angling in general.
So, in summary, keep on after that next Slam. Native fish need our engagement, support and advocacy more than ever. Just, while you’re doing it, be sure to measure the stream temps. Crimp those barbs. And, maybe, just maybe, consider how good it might feel to recognize your fishing session as a small part of a solution instead of a large part of a problem?
Just think about it. That’s all anyone is asking.
Daniel Ritz is a writer, angler, and Communications Manager at Ted Trueblood Chapter of Trout Unlimited.