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The Drake Fall 201480
CASTLE AND MARRIAM
PEAKS, WHITE CLOUD
MOUNTAINS, IDAHO.
Fall 2014 The Drake 81
A
FISHERMAN’S
MONUMENTFighting for protection in Idaho’s Boulder-White Clouds
P
ublic debate over p...
The Drake Fall 201482
The Upper Salmon
Basin supports
the highest-and
longest-migrating
salmon and
steelhead in the
world,...
Fall 2014 The Drake 83
plan can address degradation of spawning and rearing
habitat due to grazing, irrigation diversion, ...
The Drake Fall 201484
nearby as well. I also fish Little Boulder Creek between
the lakes, where I land only cutthroat befo...
Fall 2014 The Drake 85
THE EAST FORK OF THE
SALMON RIVER, HOST TO
MANY SPAWNING SALMON
AND STEELHEAD.
The Drake Fall 201486
designate a half million acres of federal land in Idaho as
a place worthy of protection.
Yet Idaho i...
Fall 2014 The Drake 87
and release regulations. “The fishery and watershed would
benefit from it,” he says. “We would bene...
A Fisherman's Monument, The Drake
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A Fisherman's Monument, The Drake

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A Fisherman's Monument, The Drake

  1. 1. The Drake Fall 201480 CASTLE AND MARRIAM PEAKS, WHITE CLOUD MOUNTAINS, IDAHO.
  2. 2. Fall 2014 The Drake 81 A FISHERMAN’S MONUMENTFighting for protection in Idaho’s Boulder-White Clouds P ublic debate over protecting Idaho’s Boulder and White Clouds Mountains has spanned a generation of political careers with no decisive outcome, but a recent proposal to designate the area a national monument has hope running high among flyfishers and other conservationists. One of Idaho’s most iconic landscapes, and the largest unprotected roadless area in the Lower 48, the Boulder-White Clouds contain the headwaters of the Big Wood, Big Lost, and East Fork Salmon rivers, along with dozens of high-alpine lakes. At 592,000 acres, the proposed monument would form a rough triangle between Ketchum/Sun Valley, Stanley, and Challis—offering a lifetime of trout-chasing options.
  3. 3. The Drake Fall 201482 The Upper Salmon Basin supports the highest-and longest-migrating salmon and steelhead in the world, and the East Fork Salmon and its tributaries make up a good- sized chunk of the spawning and rearing habitat. When I ask local guide Paddy Mcilvoy about the proposed monument from a flyfishing perspective, his first response is an enthusiastic endorsement of the East Fork of the Salmon—a stream that isn’t even open to angling, at least not for its namesake fish. “When you’re fishing below the confluence and hook one of those wild East Fork steelhead, you pretty much know it immediately,” he says. “They’re a strong fish.” A fan of wild steelhead, Mcilvoy supports the closure on the East Fork and recognizes the opportunities the tributary spawners present in the main Salmon, which runs parallel and just outside the proposed monument boundary. It’s a renowned steelhead and Chinook fishery, but all major tributaries including the East Fork, Lemhi, Pahsimeroi, and the entire Middle Fork of the Salmon, are closed to steelhead and salmon fishing as refuge for spawning fish. The Upper Salmon Basin supports the highest- and longest-migrating salmon and steelhead in the world, and the East Fork Salmon and its tributaries make up a good-sized chunk of the spawning and rearing habitat. Salmon Basin steelhead and spring/ summer Chinook travel nearly 900 river miles and spawn at elevations up to 7,000 feet. These fish are unique and in trouble, according to Pat Ford, longtime director and one of the founders of Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition. “The East Fork is unique habitat by virtue of its elevation and its high-desert character,” Ford says. “Historically, the East Fork fish have been a decent component of the main river fishery, but because the numbers of salmon and steelhead coming back to the East Fork are so low, you don’t have the fishery you could have.” East Fork spring/summer Chinook numbers have dropped from 3,000 fish per year in the early 1960s to an average of just 178 annual returning spawners in the period from 2000 to 2009. Steelhead numbers are harder to gather because much of their spawning habitat is below the fish- trapping weir 20 miles up from the river’s mouth. Plus, they spawn during higher water, making redd counts more difficult. But using projections based on wild steelhead counts at Lower Granite Dam downstream, the NOAA draft recovery plan for the Upper Salmon Basin includes a population estimate of 556 natural-origin steelhead returning annually to the East Fork. Most experts, however, believe even those numbers are overstated. Downstream factors, not the least of which are controversial dams inhibiting fish passage, play a major role in salmon decline, and those problems won’t be solved by monument status for Boulder- White Clouds. Nevertheless, a national monument COREYKRUITBOSCH
  4. 4. Fall 2014 The Drake 83 plan can address degradation of spawning and rearing habitat due to grazing, irrigation diversion, off-road vehicle use, and mining and mineral exploration. Much of the bottomland in the lower East Fork drainage is private, and would remain so under monument status, so restoration efforts will need to be cooperative between public and private landowners. Ford and Mcilvoy both believe that a monument, if it’s done right, can protect spawning and rearing habitat and also go a long way toward building public support for addressing downstream factors. “The steelhead and Chinook of the East Fork and other upper Salmon tributaries are worthy of protection and celebration,” says Ford. “But we should do it in a way that builds constituencies and political will for solving the big problems downstream.” When I ask Mcilvoy about fishing in the rest of the proposed monument, he takes a breath and an uncharacteristic pause. “To me, the real gems are the alpine lakes,” he says, specifically referencing his favorite spot in the White Clouds—a system of 11 lakes collectively known as the Boulder Chain Lakes. “You’ll probably find bigger fish in some of the lower elevation spots like Heart Lake or Champion Lakes, but the Boulder Chains are jaw-dropping gorgeous and the fishing up there is insane.” T hree days later I backpack into the Boulder Chain Lakes to see for myself. Accessed via the town of Challis on the northeastern edge of the proposed monument, the road to the Livingston Mill trailhead follows the lower East Fork Salmon and offers a panorama of the expansive East Fork drainage before splitting off with Big Boulder Creek. The East Fork is classic Western high-desert terrain; barren and formidable except for a bright green ribbon of irrigated bottomland sectioned off between well-maintained ranch homes. Per usual, I over-pack. So by the time I reach Willow Lake, at seven miles in and 3,500 feet up, I am ready to ditch the backpack and string my rod. The trail to this point is well-used and open to motorcycles and mountain bikes, but despite hiking in on Sunday of July 4th weekend I see only one other party—a group of four backpackers from Idaho Falls, who tell me they’ve been planning this trip for three years. A spur trail to the Boulder Chains splits off at Willow Lake and the trail gets steeper. The Boulder Chains include two clusters of lakes spread along three miles of Little Boulder Creek. And Mcilvoy is right; the setting is mind-blowing, with the 11,000-foot White Cloud Peaks casting mirror images on lake surfaces. I catch fish at each lake, mostly rainbows, with a few cutthroat. There are brookies AT 11,815 FEET, CASTLE PEAK IS THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN IN THE WHITE CLOUD RANGE. IT SITS WITHIN THE SAWTOOTH NATIONAL RECREATION AREA, ABOUT 20 MILES SOUTHEAST OF STANLEY.
  5. 5. The Drake Fall 201484 nearby as well. I also fish Little Boulder Creek between the lakes, where I land only cutthroat before stopping at Hour Glass, the first lake in the upper chain, to make camp for the night. All these waters are full of mostly small fish. My favorite is Tiny Lake, not much more than a pond between Hour Glass and Hummock Lakes, that fishes more like a slow river eddy. It may be my bias for moving water, but one of the things I like best about the Boulder Chains is that, with so many lakes so close together, you have multiple options for fishing inlets and outlets. Catching all those pan-sized fish inevitably leads one to ponder the size question, but I gain a different perspective on this after considering numbers and odds. In a place like the Boulder Lakes, where eight or 10 inches makes a fish feel pretty good about himself, he’s gonna come to the party with a certain bravado. I do find a few that would push 12, maybe even 13 or 14 inches, mostly cruising the shoreline in ones and twos. But all those eight-inchers are so damn eager that it’s tough keeping a fly on the water long enough to catch anything else. After coming out of the White Clouds, I am eager to explore the fishing from the Boulders side of the proposed monument. As soon as I’m back home, my wife Dana and I plan a getaway to stay with a friend in Ketchum and fish the North Fork Big Wood and North Fork Big Lost, both accessed from Ketchum/Sun Valley. The North Fork Big Wood, which flows out of the proposed monument past the Sawtooth National Recreation Area headquarters, is a picturesque mountain stream with plenty of gradient and a pool- drop feel. It’s the kind of place you can pack a lunch, a three-weight, and a handful of Royal Wulffs and make a day of it. The morning we fished the North Fork, though, we knew there were much bigger trout slurping green drakes downstream, on the main stem of the Big Wood. So after two hours, we backpedalled to the Big Wood just north of town. I knew I’d be writing a story about the proposed monument, but I rationalized that no matter where you fish it, the Big Wood is still a product of the proposed monument, since that’s where it originates. The Big Wood may be one of the most underrated freestone streams in the country. Recent fish counts estimate 4,500 fish per mile in the section between Ketchum and Hailey. And these are big, strong wild trout—mostly rainbows in the upper section with browns mixed in the farther downstream you get. But underrated doesn’t mean underutilized. The Wood, as it is known locally, flows through the heart of Ketchum/ Sun Valley before meandering alongside the towns of Hailey and Bellevue. Fishing the Wood on a green drake or a caddis hatch is like skiing Alta or Jackson on a powder day: You know the goods are there, but there’s a throng of locals who know the place better than you could ever hope to, and they think nothing of dropping in to pinch you out of a honey hole. We save the best of the Boulder-White Clouds exploration for our last day. The drive from Sun Valley over Trail Creek Pass is worth the trip, and descending into the Big Lost country feels like going back in geologic time. It’s huge terrain, with a broad valley floor rolling out between steep mountains. Around every bend, we catch glimpses of yet another statuesque peak. Dana and I start just inside the proposed monument boundary, at the confluence of Summit Creek and the North Fork Big Lost, which both flow out of the Boulder Mountains and come together as the Big Lost. Farther downstream the Big Lost picks up volume from Wild Horse Creek, the East Fork Big Lost, and a dozen smaller creeks before backing up at Mackay Reservoir. But up here the Big Lost is small water and easy to wade. With riffles, seams, cut banks, and plenty of structure, the place looks as fishy as any trout stream I’ve ever seen. Forty minutes from Sun Valley and we have the entire river to ourselves. I’ve been told the Big Lost is more about quality than quantity, and that adage plays out. No hatch is going on and we never do see fish feeding, but we both manage to bring a handful of fish to the surface on Stimulators and Turk’s. They are mostly golden-hued cutthroat with a couple of stocky rainbows in the mix. We fish a mile or two, then go back to the truck and continue working our way up the North Fork. A decent dirt road follows the stream, so we drive 12 miles along it, stopping to fish whatever catches our eye. We see two other anglers. I t’s hard, in most political circles, paying much attention to a river that flows through sparse country before simply vanishing into the ground. Below Mackay Reservoir the Big Lost is a fine tailwater fishery for a few miles. But then much of its water is syphoned for irrigation and what’s left simply disappears into a desert sink—hence the name, Lost River. The Big Lost, the Big Wood, the East Fork Salmon, the high alpine lakes, and all that wild country in between, seem deserving of the kind of protection a national monument would provide, but the future of this place is far from certain. Potato State politics run pretty red, bringing a deep distrust of anything from the feds. National Monument status, if it happens, would come via a Presidential proclamation under the Antiquities Act, and it’s bothersome to some Idaho politicians that a Democrat in the White House might, with a stroke of a pen, The Big Wood may be one of the most underrated freestone streams in the country. estimate 4,500 section between Ketchum and are big, strong,
  6. 6. Fall 2014 The Drake 85 THE EAST FORK OF THE SALMON RIVER, HOST TO MANY SPAWNING SALMON AND STEELHEAD.
  7. 7. The Drake Fall 201486 designate a half million acres of federal land in Idaho as a place worthy of protection. Yet Idaho is also the kind of place that likes its politicians to show some maverick flair. While that nonconformist bent sometimes results in extreme right- or left-wingism, there is still plenty of room to buck the party line in more pragmatic ways. Eight-term Congressman Mike Simpson has made a career out of the latter. The popular and influential Republican has staked much of his political capital on brokering a legislative package known as the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Enhancement Act (CIEDRA). The legislation would designate 332,775 acres in the Boulder-White Clouds as Wilderness, while releasing another 130,000 acres from Wilderness Study Areas and providing more than $7 million in economic incentives to the adjacent counties. While some notable conservation groups, like the Sierra Club and the Sawtooth Society, prefer the Wilderness designations that would come from CIEDRA, it is a commentary on how broken Congress is right now that CIEDRA has failed for 10 years running to even get a hearing. And it’s this Congressional dysfunction that led Idaho conservationists and business leaders to bring the national monument proposal to the table. Local support for a monument runs the gamut, with Blaine County—home to Ketchum, Sun Valley, and Hailey—formally endorsing it, and Custer County—home to Challis and Stanley—opposing. Business support, particularly from outdoor-oriented businesses, runs strong. The statewide Idaho Outdoor Business Council commissioned an economic impact study last year by Ben Johnson Associates that concluded national monument designation could create up to 155 new jobs and infuse up to $12 million per year into the economies of the four closest counties. Several business owners from the Wood River Valley, including Olin Glenne, owner of Sturtevants (where Mcilvoy guides), traveled to Washington, DC, to advocate for monument designation and to present the study findings to White House officials and Idaho’s Congressional delegation. Support has also coalesced in the form of a group called Sportsmen for Boulder White-Clouds. “The Boulder-White Clouds is a sportsmen’s paradise but it’s not being managed as such,” says outreach coordinator Michael Gibson. “For too long, we’ve seen our hunting and fishing areas fall prey to mismanagement, overdevelopment, or ill-conceived land swaps. A monument proclamation would give certainty that this landscape will be passed on intact.” Scott Schnebly, owner of the Ketchum-based fly shop and guide service Lost River Outfitters, has guided on the Big Lost since the early ’70s, and he hopes a monument could help institute more sustainable practices like catch In an odd twist on the sportsmen’s front, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission voted in July to oppose creation of a Boulder-White Clouds National Monument, citing states’ rights as their primary concern. COREYKRUITBOSCH
  8. 8. Fall 2014 The Drake 87 and release regulations. “The fishery and watershed would benefit from it,” he says. “We would benefit in Ketchum. Hailey would benefit. Stanley would benefit. Challis could benefit if they were interested in promoting. Idaho needs that kind of economic growth.” In an odd twist on the sportsmen’s front, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission voted in July to oppose creation of a Boulder-White Clouds National Monument, citing states’ rights as their primary concern. “Without state sovereignty, you won’t have hunting, fishing, and trapping in any meaningful way,” Commission Chairman Fred Trevey said after the vote. Commissioner Brad Corkill added, “There’s just no guarantee that the (Obama) administration, which has shown a bit of disdain for accepted practices already, will listen to a damn thing anyone says.” The vote is not so surprising when you consider that the commission members are political appointees of Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, who came into office on a platform of anti-federalism, and opposed Congressman Simpson’s CIEDRA bill, as well as the current national-monument proposal. I’m not necessarily predicting a political shift in Idaho, but it’s interesting to note that protection of the Boulder-White Clouds was the deciding factor the last time a Democrat unseated a Republican as Idaho governor. The election was 1970, and the Tucson-based ASARCO mining company had proposed a massive open-pit molybdenum mine at the base of Castle Peak in the White Cloud Mountains. The mine would’ve required all the trappings accompanying open-pit systems, including a processing mill, access roads, power lines, and a tailings pond that would swamp five miles of Little Boulder Creek. Republican incumbent Don Samuelson staunchly supported the mine, and Democratic challenger Cecil Andrus opposed it, campaigning on a ticket of stopping the mine and putting permanent protections in place. Andrus won the election, his first of four terms as governor, with a stint in between as Interior Secretary under Jimmy Carter. The mine was stopped and the first piece of what was to be a comprehensive conservation and recreation plan for the area was put in place with the creation of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. While the Sawtooth NRA provides a layer of protection for the high-elevation terrain of the Boulder-White Clouds proper and the upper Salmon main stem, it does virtually nothing to protect important fish-spawning habitat of the East Fork Salmon and North Fork Big Lost, among others. In the years since, there have been multiple attempts to permanently protect this wild country. None have made it through the political gauntlet. Ultimately, a president’s pen may the last, best hope for this flyfishing nirvana. FALL ON THE BIG WOOD. BOULDER MOUNTAINS IN THE BACKGROUND.

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