Anglers with a taste for rainbow or brook trout can now get their fill while visiting Yellowstone National Park.

In order to safeguard the dwindling population of native cutthroat trout, park officials have removed limits from fishing for rainbow and brook trout in most Yellowstone waters. According to the Associated Press, exceptions include Madison and Firehole Rivers, part of the Gibbon River, and Lewis and Shoshone Lakes. The park’s native fish, including cutthroat, mountain whitefish and Arctic grayling, are catch-and-release only.

Non-native fish were introduced to the area in the early 1900s and are in fierce competition with the cutthroat trout already there. Coupled with the expansion of mining and logging, the native trout population began to drop. Perhaps the most damaging blow was the introduction of lake trout, which were discovered in the park in the early 90s and are now the target of an aggressive eradication program.

As a vital part of the Yellowstone ecosystem, the loss of the native trout began affecting other species. Recently, a study revealed that Yellowstone bears have become increasingly dependent on elk as the number of cutthroats dwindled. Even so, the park’s bears are struggling to compensate for the loss of the fish, which were more numerous and sustainable than the park’s elk. Cutthroat trout are also rich in protein and easily accessible to predators during spawning period. Unlike non-native trout which spawn in lakes, cutthroats move up tributary streams to spawn.

Atlantic salmon and largemouth bass were also introduced in early attempts to stock the park’s waters, but never took hold. Yellowstone’s sportfishing opportunities remain a major draw for many visitors. With over 200 creeks and dozens of fishable lakes, the park has come a long way since its inception and holds a favorable reputation amongst anglers, especially fly fishermen. Three-day permits for fishing in Yellowstone cost $18 while annual permits run for $40. Anglers aged 15 or under can fish for free.

Image courtesy U.S. Forest Service

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