IMAGINE A CUTTHROAT GORGED ON LOCUST
The new six inches of snow has given me time to chase records and historical accounts for climate during the early years of Yellowstone National Park. It’s became apparent that the years from the 1870’s to the 1890’s are pivotal in my understanding of the weather during this time period. This is when the accounts are most frequent and everything is “new.”
An interesting byproduct of the research was my discovery of the continued references to the Rocky Mountain Locust and the enormous swarms noted during that era. This insect is now extinct.
The reports of fishing done in the park by the early explorers invariably mention the efficacy of using grasshoppers. This is not a coincidence. Yellowstone’s famous Grasshopper Glacier, (and several others,) give testament to the hoards blown into the region that was to become Yellowstone.
In my background page on Yellowstone’s Current Trout Species is an article by John Byorth excerpted from The Magazine of Western History. In it he makes mention of the early explorer Gustavus Doane and his advice on catching trout.
“Despite present-day lamentations that wealthy outsiders are ruining western fishing sites with high-priced garb and outsider ideals, the greater Yellowstone region has been an elite fishing hole from the git-go. These men spread the word about Yellowstone’s exceptional fishing, writing in their journals, gabbing at cocktail parties, and blowing cigar smoke over fine Scotch about their piscatorial exploits. While the smoke has long since cleared, their journal entries preserve those classic park fishing stories. Gustavus Doane, for example, wrote in 1870 that “the Yellowstone trout … numbers are perfectly fabulous. [U]sing [grasshoppers] for bait, the most awkward angler can fill a champagne basket in an hour or two.” Nathaniel Langford described “catching forty of the fine trout,” a particularly successful day for his fishing partner Cornelius Hedges. Soon national and local newspapers, as well as periodicals such as Forest and Stream, American Angler, and Outdoor Life, regularly reported Yellowstone fish stories-some humorous, most glorious.”
Several things can be noted from this brief quote: Yellowstone Fly Fishing has always had an elitist-tinge to it, it is written about by people from distant places, it is a male activity, the catches of fish are exceptional, grasshoppers work.
I wonder, and speculate, if the extinction of the Rocky Mountain Locust, and the gradual and continual decline of the Yellowstone fishery has as much to do with global warming as it does with human intervention.
Certainly overfishing, invasive species, and low water levels are contributory to the recent poor fishing on the Yellowstone River. Certainly increased agricultural pressure, drought, and fire contributed to the extinction of the great locust. I just wonder if these are not part and parcel of the same very large event that we are just now beginning to comprehend?
Anyway, just how wonderful would it have been to catch a bushel basket full of 25″ cutthroat, and have them prepared by the kitchen staff at Mammoth for me and a few friends.
A few years ago National Geographic ran a special on the tube about the Rocky Mountain Locust. I vaguely remember it – should have paid more attention! Below are some references to the insect and it’s demise – and entombment in the Grasshopper Glacier.