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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

They Closed the Cable Hole...and the Junkyard Hole!

After speaking with a respected member of the fly fishing manufacturer's community this evening, I feel I have to write this article. Matt Castle is the mastermind behind Cliff Products. He manufactures lots of good clean fly fishing products, notably Cliff Boxes. His fly boxes are simple and fill an niche that was begging to be filled. Simple is best and quality reigns.

I stopped in to "Cliff's" joint to secure a handful of fly boxes to display in The Reef Fly Shop. Matt asked me about the Wyoming Game and Fish closing, to fishing, a section of the upper Grey Reef. The section in question is from the upper cable to the lower cable during the month of April. He finished his question with "it's good they're doing that". I replied "it is horrendous" a term that I ripped off from Trent, my business partner. Matt looked at me in shock and asked "why is that, Erik?" Matt, like most folks, wasn't aware of the nitty gritties of the closure.
I am writing this to inform sportsmen and women what the closure is all about. I will, no doubt, add my opinions and try to add some insight into this issue.

The details were never heard and the rumors are that it will keep the "fishers off of the redds" and "save the rainbows". First of all the rainbows are doing well in the North Platte River and the Wyoming Game and Fish is well aware of that. And, this closure has nothing to do with preserving the resource. Or, most importantly, to protect spawning fish...IT ISN'T DESIGNED TO PROTECT SPAWNING FISH.

So, I will describe what the closure means to me, other outfitters, the fly fishing public and spawn gazers.

First of all, if you are familiar the Grey Reef section of the North Platte River you will know what the Junkyard Hole and the Cable Holes are and the location of the two "cables" that cross the river. Bear with me if you already know these details. The first cable is a cable crossing with a cart attached that is owned by the Wyoming Game and Fish. It is positioned just a couple hundred meters downstream of the boat ramp at Grey Reef and just above the entrance to the "Junk"(Junkyard Hole). The second cable is used by the Bureau of Reclamation and is located just downstream of the Cable Hole. There is a little less than a half mile between the two cables.

The terms of the closure were signed BEFORE the BLM even put pen to paper on the Van Rensselaer land acquisition (AKA former North Platte Lodge river frontage). The Wyoming Game and Fish commissioners closed this particular section of the North Platte River because of recommendations from the head of the Casper Game and Fish office. I'm sure they 'pushed' the closure before the public ever had a chance to fish this section of Grey Reef during April. They might figure "they will never know what they are missing" if we do it now. Al Conder is the same one who was responsible for ending bait fishing from Grey Reef to Lusby. A controversial move then, but I feel it is a huge success. He was played a part in instituting flushing flows on the North Platte River. A progressive and highly successful method of taking what was generally thought of as an irrigation ditch and help it turn into a world class trout fishery. More Wyoming tailwaters would blossom if this technique were used.

Let me take a step back, the Bureau of Land Management(BLM) purchased the Van Rensselaer property for a very hefty sum. The Van Rensselaer property consisted of about 250 acres and a half mile...maybe...of river frontage. YOU (BLM is a federal agency so this doesn't only effect Wyoming sports) as taxpayers paid in the neighborhood of $2,000,000...from the Conservation Fund for this land that is intended for sporting purposes. Both the Cable Hole and the Junkyard Hole are accessed on river left via the new Van Rensselaer property acquisition. River right is still private, starting in the middle of the river. These are probably two of the four most fished runs at Grey Reef and both were completely on private property and unavailable to the public, except by floating. Now, thanks to this purchase by the BLM, you can wade fish and drop anchor on the left side of the "Junk" and the "Cable". But, the Wyoming Game and Fish closed it to fishing during the month of April (April and May are the busiest fishing months on the Grey Reef section of the North Platte River). You might think "that's good...it'll protect the spawners". WRONG, a closure during the month of April will save the spawners from harassment by the redd rapers, but the rainbows don't get everything done in one month. There will still be rainbows actively spawning on March 31st and May 1st. Moreover the eggs need about a month to hatch. This pushes the critical "stay out of the spawn beds" time to around June 1st. The redds will get trampled before and after the closure dates by uneducated or inconsiderate fishers.The closure has nothing to do with protecting spawning rainbows..it is for education. What? They closed expensive and popular runs so folks could come and watch spawning fish. Great! Watching spawners is fun and educational and they shouldn't ever be fished to. This whole thing still sounds okay in theory...doesn't it? Well , the Wyoming Game and Fish were unaware of the fact that the spawning beds are NOT accessible from the bank. You have to wade across one or two back channels to get to a spot where spawning fish can be viewed. Whoops. Bring a busload of 5th graders out to see spawning fish and now they are going to have to wade across two back channels in water temps in the low 40's and it is like wading across greased bowling balls.
The problem is that the Game and Fish are not familiar enough with the area, or where the fish spawn. And, they will not hear recommendations from people who have spent more time at Grey Reef than anybody else. Bret Van Rensselaer is, unquestionably, the foremost authority on the workings of Grey Reef and the behavior of fly fishers on the North Platte River. He lived on the banks of Grey Reef for nearly ten years and could watch the all the activity on the upper 1 mile at will. Not only did he live here but ran a successful fly fishing and bird hunting outfitting business. He owned and leased, at one time, nearly all of the land on both sides of the upper 14 miles. He watched all the time. I was Bret's right hand man and worked for the North Platte Lodge from the day it opened for business. The folks at the North Platte Lodge are the only ones who see what happens on a day to day, hour by hour basis. This isn't about tooting our horns, it is about the reality of this situation. We are the only ones who live at Grey Reef. We are the only people who own businesses at Grey Reef. I would have hoped the Wyoming Game and Fish would have at least approached us and asked where the redds are. I am worried that the Wyoming Game and Fish commissioners didn't completely understand what they were signing.

Now I will get to the "How it impacts all of us" department.

Me first. As one of the owners of the North Platte Lodge (the Van Rensselaer river frontage sits directly between the lodge and the North Platte River) the closure is great. During the month of April there will be no reason for anybody(general public) to even be near the lodge. The only reason folks come out here is to fish or duck hunt...occasional bird watchers. My guests will have the whole place to themselves...wonderful. As a sportsman it bothers me. The Wyoming Game and Fish took away what the BLM(and my tax dollars) finally did for us. They secured prime land for fishing one of the best trout streams in America. I know what you are thinking..."he is just mad because he can't fish down there any more during April". Maybe, but I haven't spent much time around there for a number of years. I would rather get away from the other boats so I go to less "desirable" locales. In the grand scheme of things it won't affect me much at all...and it would probably be better if I kept my mouth shut. But, I know this whole thing isn't right and a small group of people have made a decision that negatively impacts all of you who enjoy fishing Grey Reef. The closure is just the tip of the ice burg. With the closure come enforcing the closure. Now we get to spend more of our tax dollars paying for enforcing this closure. And the BLM(along with the Wyoming Game and Fish) are planning another boat ramp on the upper portion of Grey Reef, to alleviate the pressure on the closed area. Another idea that will negatively impact the area. Another boat ramp will give "perpetual merry-go-rounders" the ability to over fish one or two runs all day long. The way it is now, some floaters will back row one run for hours. At some point they have to leave in order to get to the boat ramp at Lusby before 10PM(Lusby closes at 10PM). If they put another boat ramp in they will be allowing people to back row one run all day long because they only have to float for 1 mile to get to the "new" ramp. Building another boat ramp will disturb perfectly good riparian areas (less is more...leave things the way they are, this is an outdoor activity for Pete's sake) and then they will have to maintain another development. The BLM can't be diligent about following through on their maintenance obligations. They have many areas to tend to. It is glamorous to build it, keeping it up isn't an easy task. The boat ramp at Government Bridge has been overgrown with willows for 2 years and they have yet to trim them after several requests. I offered to trim them myself, but they said they would take care of it...

How will this affect other outfitters? I can only guess because I haven't asked them directly, but the other guides (especially the ones without any private access) will have to alter their days significantly during April. And their guests(who's tax dollars help buy the Van Rensselaer property), won't be able to fish the runs that they look forward to fishing every year. Most of our fishing guests travel from all corners of the country and beyond. They flood central Wyoming's economy with millions of dollars. But, maybe all of our guests will come away with a new appreciation of what the rainbows go through to procreate. As guides, we should make our guests acutely aware of the who, what ,where and why not of spawning trout.

How will this impact the spawn gazers? They will traveling from all reaches of the globe to come to the "new" spawning rainbow preserve. We will be able to set up t-shirt stands along the side of Grey Reef Road. Cook up Indian tacos and funnel cakes for the spawner "pilgrims". It is going to be a marketing marvel. All kidding aside, it would be great if a few groups of people came out to see spawners. The logistics are too prohibitive. If the Wyoming Game and Fish really wanted to set aside the BEST place to view spawners they would have closed the first quarter of a mile below Alcova Dam. There is good parking(enough for buses) near the Kortes Road Bridge that crosses the North Platte River directly below Alcova Dam. There is a park and a school nearby for a picnic. The best part is that they could actually see spawners from a great vantage point above the river...and not get wet, cold or injured. Simply walk out on the bridge, via the separate guard railed walkway, and lean over the side and watch dozens of spawning rainbows below. If you have ever experienced Fishing Bridge in Yellowstone National Park, this would be very similar.

How will this closure impact the general fishing public? Now we get to the meat and potatoes of this discussion! The BLM used your hard earned tax dollars to get you prime trout fishing access. Then the Wyoming Game and Fish...funded by your hard earned tax dollars...blocks you out of it. All the while you are still confined to fishing below Grey Reef Dam or at the Outhouse Hole with scores of others. Then your tax dollars are going to perform law enforcement, maintenance and devopment on the closed section. They will spend your money to buy and install closed signs etc. A new boat ramp and other unnecessary developements will be constructed (like a bridge to get spawn watchers to the island). I hope they reconsider this program. I hope they improve the existing developements, like the boat ramp at Grey Reef, build a parking lot for the vehicles and trailers parked at Grey Reef. Build a parking lot the new Van Rensselaer access and improve conditions at the Outhouse Hole (Pete's Draw).

To set the record straight, I DO NOT condone fishing to spawning fish, I spend more time watching spawners (spawn gazing) in springtime than fishing, I believe the Wyoming Game and Fish and the BLM do good things. I will gladly show spawn gazers around(free of charge of course) should they show up. My life...both spiritual and financial are largely based on the continued health and success of the Grey Reef section of the North Platte River. I believe that other techniques should have been attempted before closing 2 of the most popular runs on the river that YOU finally have access to. Both of these runs are perfectly legitimate to fish during the spawn. The funny thing is that there are NO spawning beds from the upper cable to the bottom of the "Junk". That comprises a third of the closed area. The spawning areas that they are concerned with is mostly on river left (the public side) just as the North Platte River turns left downstream of the "Junk". The "Cable" has a few redds at the tailout on river right(the private side). But, starting under the second cable is a spawning area that dwarfs the protected one...and it will be available to fishers, unfortunately.
The Wyoming Game and Fish has this plan intact for 2 years. They will reevaluate this situation at that time. I am convinced that they would revisit this issue sooner if a group of concerned sportsmen approached them. My lack of tact may have already burnt my bridge. They are reasonable folks, and I don't wish to butt heads with anybody.
Here is my proposal for the closure: If it has to be done at Grey Reef (Alcova Dam is a much better option) I do approve of protecting spawning areas.
The Wyoming Game and Fish chose to close the river from the upper cable to the lower cable because they are obvious landmarks. But, they are not the obvious choice when it comes to balancing the fly fishers with spawning education. I am aware that they are planning on installing "closed to fishing" signs regardless of the obvious landmarks. I beleive they should post closed signs at the bottom of the "Junk" and "end of closure" signs just before the drop off at the Cable Hole. They should also post "closed" signs just above the actual Bureau of Reclamation cable crossing and then post "end of closure" signs just above the "Meat Hole" or near the bluff heading toward the "Outhouse Hole". Extend this closure, in the name of education, from April 1 to June 1. IF you are caught casting in or with a fish on your line in the "closed" areas (regardless if you hooked it in the "open" areas) you will be fined by the Wyoming Game and Fish and ridiculed by a group of your wader wearing peers. This way both the "Junk" and "Cable" would be available to fishers and NO spawning beds would be harmed, because there aren't any there. The target spawning ground (below the "Junk") would be protected and available to view AND they would protect, in the name of education, the much larger redd that is excluded from this original closure. The spawning ground below the BuRec cable is bigger and far more accessible to the general public than the one at the bottom of the "Junk". Rainbows frequent the spawning gravel all the way in to the middle of May. A June 1 opening date would allow the spawn gazers plenty of time to find good airline prices to travel to the North Platte River and just so happen to be close to the critical time to leave the gravel undisturbed.

Erik Aune
*Edit* I have edited this post after several nights of loosing sleep over it. I hope I have represented the facts correctly. And, I hope the Wyoming Game and Fish, at least, considers my proposal.

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