Discussion in 'Fly Fishing Forum' started by Smalma, Oct 30, 2012.
Here is a question for you. I rarely target bulls and usually they are a pleasant by catch while fishing for steelhead. I will target bulls at some spots of the river where experience tells me they will be present. Which brings me to my question. Are bull trout social? In other words, do they school together for whatever reasons? When I target bulls it is because I am in a section of the river that I know will hold several fish. Are they there because they like to group together or is it the holding area has the right conditions for multiple fish to hold in? I this regard they are similar to searun cutthroat. If you find one you are likely to find more.
The Skagit bull trout and their status demostrates how huge quality habitat is for robust fish popuations. As I have stated the key critical habitat (population bottleneck if you will) for bull trout is those headwater areas they use for spawning and early juvenile rearing. It has been estmated that 80% of that key Skagit basin (down stream of the dams) bull trout is located in the North Cascade Park or a wilderness areas - in short the vast majority of that habitat is about as good as it can get.
25 years ago it was felt that harvest (over fishing by most the recreational fishers) was a significant factor in limiting the native Char populatons in the State. As an outgrowth of that concern there regulation changes to address those concerns. Prior to 1990 on the Skagit native char (bull trout) were consider a "trout" and were included in angler's trout limit. In 1990 on the Skagit limits were established specifically for the bull trout. The new limit was a 2 fish daily limit with a 20 inch minimum size limit. The 20 inch size limit was picked to insure te vast majority of the char would have the chance to spawn at least once prior to entering the fishery.
At the time of that change there was only one char spawning idex in the basin (3.5 miles of the South Fork Sauk below Monte Cristo). In the three years prior to the regualtion change a total of 27 char redds (9/year) were counted. With the regulation change there was an also immediate and postive populaton response. In the decade following that regulation change the counts in that index jumped from 9/year to 50/year. At the start of the second decade (at least until the 2003 flood event) the counts jumped again to more than 150 redds/year.
It seems pretty clear that the reglation was indeed successful in addressing a dominate factor limiting the population and withhealthy habitat the population responded very positively to the change. That kind of response is far too rate with the region other ESA listed populations (Chinook, steelhead or bull trout in most other basins) where they are clearly limited by compromised habitats.
Don't know if I would call bull trout social but they do form some pretty large aggregations. I think they form such groups because of the number of fish in the population and the attraction of the collection location to full fill their needs In this respect they are very much like sea-run cutthroat though I often find bull trout in much larger aggregates than I do cutthroat.
Like with the cutthroat an angler with practice and an understanding of the fish's behavior/needs can learn to recognize and take advantage such collection points. Bull trout form such aggregate so consistently that when I encounter a spot that experience tells me will consistently hold fish at those conditions I expect to catch multiple fish and if I don't I evaluate my approach/presentation. With some notable exceptions unlike the sea-run cutthroat bull trout do not give away they holding spots and the angler needs to "test" the water to find those spots.
Whether chasing steelhead, sea-run cutthroat or bull trout this ability/skill to read the water to effectively use an angler's time on the water is invaluable.
I've had more experience in encountering them than catching them, but I've found a river full of spawing bulls far back in an eastern BC river, so full of westslope cutthroat that I couldn't get a fly down to the arm-long bulls before a cutthroat grabbed the fly. I also met a couple of Idaho biologists walking down a road, extremely high, near the Bitteroot Idaho/Montana divide, coming into Kelly Creek from Superior who were surveying Bull trout. I gave them a ride back to their rig and they were finding Bulls in tiny little streams an near seven thousand feet.
What an amazing fish!
curt, thanks. i always throw that questions out whenever we get into the Dolly/Bull trout talk.
i know of areas (or used to know) where bulls where targeted and kept. in the Skagit/Sauk basin.
do not know if this is still going on. but i would think it is not good for Bull trout survival.
is it true that most bulls out migrate down stream in the early spring ? going out to the sound and return during the late summer ?
Thanks Curt- cool stuff!
If you like fishing for Skagit bull trout and would like to see their spawning habitat better protected, check out americanalps.org.
I'm familiar with the American Alps Legacy proposal having read the proposal several times and studied the map. Without getting into the pros and cons of the proposal (probably best for another thread) I don't see where if enacted that the proposal would provide better "spawning habitat" protection for Skagit bull trout. Virtually all the spawning occurs outside of the areas within the proposal.
How do the populations of bull trout in theSkagit River system compare to Olympic Peninsula rivers like the Hoe, Quinault, and Queets? Given that these rivers are glacial fed and the upper portions are in ONP, it would seem that these rivers would have high populations.
The Skagit populations are sgnificantly larger than those on the coast; in fact the Skagit population lilely exceeds that of those 3 basins combined. That high abundance is the result of several factors that benefit the Skagit fish.
Frist the Skagit is a much larger basin than those mentions with substantial more of that critical spawning/rearing habitats. That habitat consist of mid/high elevation streams with relaively low gradients typically lying at elevations that are typcially snow covered (not necessarily glacial fed).
Second the bull trout using the Skagit have access to greater and more complex rearing habitats. In addition to have larger and more numerous large pool habitat for the fluvial populations and then there is Puget Sound. The near shore habitats of the Puget Sound are much more suited to and productive for anadromous bull trout than the open ocean.
Thirdly the Skagit populations benefits from more being associated with a higher overall abundance of co-mingled salmon; especially pink and chum salmon.
So virtually no bull trout spawn in the Skagit above Marblemount? No bull trout spawn in the Cascade River? No bull trout spawn in Bacon Creek? Where are all of the fish that we catch in these sections of the watershed spawning?
First tagging information has shown that many (the majority?) of the bull trout tagged in the Skagit above Marblemount spawned in the Sauk basin and to a lesser degree Illabot Creek. Just a further illustration of complexity of bull trout movements and life histories in their search for forage opportunies and their ability to find and exploit diverse habitats.
Bull trout do spawn in the Cascade river; the vast majority of which use the South Fork - well upstream of the wilderness boundary thus not covered by the American Alps Legacy Proposal (AALP). Other Cascade bull trout spawning occurs in west side tribs to the main stem Cascade; in an area not covered by the AALP.
Bull trout also do spawn in Bacon Creek; virtual all of which use the forks of Bacon Creek upstream of the National Park boundary; again an area not covered by AALP.
I'll stand by my earlier statemnt.
A fluvial bull trout with a "home pool" in the main Skagit between Marblemount and Newhalem will leave that pool to spawn in say Illabot Creek and post spawn retruning to that same pool for continue rearing and the enxt spawning season return once again to Illabot Creek.
Even though there are significant numbers of fluvial bull trout in that Marblemount to Newhalem section a significantportion of the fish spawning in the Cascade or Bacon Creek have anadromous life histories.
The more that is learned about bull trout the more interesting I find them. It seems that with each piece of new information that is learn about bull trout, their biology and behavior a new question comes to mind.
That clears it up some.
So protecting the sections of the Skagit, Cascade, and Bacon Creek watersheds in the Legacy Project's proposed park boundary expansion would would be of a greater benefit to spawning steelhead and salmon than to bull trout?
It would be at least correct to say that steelhead and salmon spawn in most of the water covered by the proposed AALP expansion.
This is fascinating material - thank you for sharing your knowledge with us all!
We met on the stream last month and got to talking with one another about Bull Trout. I casually mentioned that an Uncle of mine would occasionally catch a "dolly" while fishing the Green River - usually somewhere upstream from Auburn. This happened back in the '50's and '60's. I have found no other historical reference to Dollys or Bull Trout in the Green River watershed and have always wondered if anyone else has heard of their presence there. I assume based on your essay that these were strays that entered the river on feeding forays, but always wondered if there may at any time have been an established spawning run on the Green prior to the dams going in on the upper river.
Curious to hear your thoughts on this.
and Thanks again, Greg
As the Duwamish/Green is currently plumbed there appears to be no habitat for bull trout spawning and early rearing. However historically when the White River flowed into the system (now diverted to the Puyallup) bull trout were found in the system. A radio tagged Skagit fish was detected in the lower Duwamish so the occassional bull trout found in the system are likely out of basin strays or more likley fish seeking foraging opportunities. Indications are the bull trout population in the Puyallup may be on the up swing; if so then one can expect fish from that basin will more frequently "explore" (and be found) in the Green.
If historically bull trout spawned in the Green itself on would expect to still find remenant populations in the headwaters or the reservoir above Howard Hansen Dam and to my knowledge they have not been found there. Elsewhere in the region 'bull have consistently taken advantage of the habitat created when upper reaches of rivers were dammed.
Curt thanks for the great read. S. confluentus has always been a favorite of mine. Great to learn more when I can.
I love Illabot creek.. That is such a great place to take a 2 or 3 wt and explore. I have fished the entire basin all the way up to uppper Granite. Well worth the time spent.
I agree Illabot Creek is quite a stream though that middle reach canyon is pretty rugged and I'm glad I poked around in it when I was much younger. The significant alpine lakes in the Illabot Creek drainage are Slide and Ejar (both up Otter creek an Illabot Cr. trib).
The Granite lakes are found on Boulder Creek (a couple drainages to the east) which ultimately flows into the Cascade.