The Bull Trout is indigenous to Western North America. Once hailed as the greatest of all Salmonids, it began a quick decline in the 1930's. Early naturalists had this to say about the fish: Bull Trout are by far the most active and handsome of the trout, they live in the coldest, cleanest and most secluded waters. No higher praise can be given to a Salmonid than to say, it is a charr(sic). Indeed they are an aggressive and worthy game fish. And because of their desire for the coldest and cleanest water, they are a great indicator species. A whole watershed's health can be measured by its indigenous population of bull trout.
Once common in Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon, as well as Alberta and British Columbia, it has now declined so much as to be put on the endangered species list. Of course human degradation of the environment is much to be blame. But at least as big a factor is introduced species. The Bull Trout was considered an enemy of the Rainbow Trout, because of their predatory nature, so as Rainbows were introduced, catching and keeping of Bull Trout has been encouraged.
The Bull Trout can be highly mobile, often migrating back to lakes that form the headwaters of streams, or even into different streams altogether. Coastal streams will have populations that migrate to the ocean and then back. Often times in the same stream will be stationary and migratory Bull Trout. This migratory ability has undoubtedly aided the diversity and thereby the prosperity of the species.
Besides their beauty and fighting abilities. Bull Trout are also known for their size. River Bull Trout can reach 4 pounds, while lake dwellers have been caught up to 20 pounds. Perhaps the saddest part of their recent history is that sportsmen's desires for other fish, and the official biologists agreeing with this desire has directly resulted in their perilous status today. It seems we do a better job today of recognizing entire eco-systems and appreciating them for what they are. But once we begin to trigger some species as desirable and others as not, we are playing with a kind of fire that can burn us for generations. Native species exist where they exist for a reason, and we cannot wily nily go deciding we prefer other species to live there instead.
Bull Trout fry require extremely cold water to survive, because of this their satisfactory water for spawning beds are minimal. Which further complicates their recovery rate. Luckily biologists throughout their entire range are attempting to protect valued spawning beds, and awareness of them are being raised. The wonderful thing about nature is she seems to be awfully forgiving about sins of the past.
With constant vigilance the Bull Trout species will survive, thriving however remains questionable. Already gone in California, those of us fortunate enough to live near waters in their natural range would do well to see what programs exist to further enhance their survival. And the extra fortunate might even live near a healthy population, where the can go drift a Muddler Minnow in front of a hungry specimen and see, touch and photograph one close up.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cameron Larsen is a retired commericial fly tier and fly fishing guide. He now operates The Big Y Fly Company. http://www.bigyflyco.com/flyfishinghome.html He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article will appear in the Big Y Fly Fishing E-Zine at Http://www.bigyflyco.com/Bigyflyfishingezine.html