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White Pelicans

White Pelicans Are Killing Our Cutthroat Trout
By Daryl L. Hunter
Pelican crusing for a trout
Pelican crusing for a trout

In 1988 there were the famous fires in Yellowstone National Park a dramatic but ecologically beneficial event for the area, but there are side effects of this event that will alter events forever.

There was so much smoke in the Yellowstone that most of the White Pelicans that summer on Yellowstone Lake and the Yellowstone River went elsewhere where the breathing was a little easier and a lot of them discovered the fishing on the South Fork of the Snake River and don't want to return to Yellowstone. It seems that they are big fans of the slot limit of keepable fish and the catch and release ethics of the South Fork fishermen.

Pelicans eat a horrendous amount of fish. One of the world's largest birds, it weighs 10-16 pounds, adults consume about to 4 pounds of food each day, about a quarter of their body weight in fish every day. In the spring when there aren't any fishermen on the river, you can see them floating down the banks of the river about where a fly-fisherman would place a fly as that is the likeliest place to slurp up a tasty cutthroat trout.

Cutthroat trout are the only endemic trout to the river. Decades ago brown trout and rainbow trout were introduced, and they coexisted in a steady ratio for decades about 80% cutthroat, 10% brown trout, 10% rainbows, however during the 90's things began to change. The rainbow trout started becoming more predominant and it is alarming the biologists.

Pelicans, Grizzly Bears
Pelicans flying over grizzly bears

Game and Fish's biologists believe the rainbow trout have become more prolific and want to kill them where they spawn. They already kill the rainbows during the fall fish count survey when they elector-shock the river and the fish float to the top for counting, or for killing.

I believe the biologists have overlooked the pelican factor as that is the only environmental dynamic that has changed for decades. Any fly-fisherman that has been at it for a while can tell you that if you want to catch rainbow trout fish with nymph patterns on the bottom of the river if you want to catch cutthroat trout use surface patterns and fish on top.

Pelicans prefer fishing for surface fish as they can't get to the fish that feed on the bottom of the river, consequently their diet consists mostly of cutthroat trout.

The rainbow trout is a great sport fish, and the fly-fishermen of the South Fork River historically have enjoyed the tremendous fight they get from their occasional rainbow. The fishermen also don't want to lose the stupid cutthroat that are easier to catch. Cutthroats are also more likely than any other trout to take a dry fly and dry fly fishing is more fun than fishing on the bottom.

The Pelicans feeding on our cutthroat trout today don't even know were Yellowstone Lake is and will never return there, therefor will alter the dynamics of their new home forever as did the rabbits of Australia.

A common sense solution to achieve our 80%, 10%, 10% ratio of trout we once had would be to eliminate hungry white pelicans from their adopted environment instead of destroying our rainbow trout, and release all cutthroat trout until the ratio of the last 50 years has been attained.

Open season on pelicans would benefit our river.


Roast them like a goose, or smoke them like a turkey, or nuke them like an enemy!

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Trout rising for Salmon Fly
Cutthroat trout coming up for a fine salmon fly dinner


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