There was an article in the Bozeman Chronicle Sunday about fishing pressure on the Madison River in Montana, a river I can’t wait to visit this summer.
You know, do the tourism thing, be another one of those out-of-staters crowding out the locals on their home water…
Anyway, a 54-mile section of the river took 180,000 angler days in 2017. “Angler days” is different than individual anglers. A dude who fishes there twice won’t be counted twice, but both his days go toward the total. Of the 180,000 days sustained, 69 percent of them were from out-of-staters.
That’s a lot, and I was one of them. There weren’t people everywhere, but there could have been people anywhere, around any bend. Sounds familiar.
Things have calmed considerably since summer, but with limited daylight to make frigid skiff trips to cold rivers to chase feisty steelhead, the discussion and summer planning seasons are underway.
What happened this summer and what does that mean going forward? The weather was warm, the rivers low, the tourists plentiful. Some salmon returns were epic, others anemic.
What if the winter is a light one and instead of a solid snowpack, we get rain? I’m not one to get excited about driving to work in the dark, through six inches of fresh snow, but I also don’t want fish to cook in low rivers during August.
I was thinking deeply about the 2019 salmon bonanza and that article one dark night, (4:13 p.m. and I know, Fairbanks folk…) and I wondered how long can southeast Alaska keep this up – not only supplying for the locals, but also for guests. Not that there is an alternative because lodge and charter operations are livelihoods, and who am I to say, “Hey, guy, you should shut down because you have too many boats. Find another job so I can fish in peace.”
I was also thinking about how I hope Montana manages its resources well because on cold, windy days like today, the thought of casting hoppers to brown trout with a 5-weight in the warm sun, sounds just about perfect.
My annual trout trip outside is always a highlight and for the local guy from Ennis, Montana, who wakes up early and finds me in his spot, fishing it diligently, but incorrectly, I almost feel bad. Not bad enough to move, but I do get it. I’m planning for Montana now. He might be planning for Alaska. It’s only fair, I guess, that if a month after I ruin his (or her) program on his river, I should find him on my river, at my spot (that is not mine at all) I’d shrug and move on rather than shake my fist.
I guess that’s the funny thing about inviting people to share in what we enjoy as Alaskans, we might as well, because we can’t exactly keep it a secret. So, what do we do? Like it or not, southeast Alaska needs tourists by the ship, boat, skiff and plane loads. We also want and need fish for the freezer.
As hunters and anglers, we are allies and enemies, getting in the way of each other when we try to catch trout for fun, salmon and deer for food, but banding together to protect the rights of each other.
• Jeff Lund is a writer and teacher based in Ketchikan. “I Went To The Woods,” a reference to Henry David Thoreau, appears in Outdoors twice a month.