Catch and Fillet

Catch and Fillet

Eat a lake trout and save a cutthroat

  • By: Wayne Phillips
In the late 1980's someone--for whom karma will certainly be a bitch--foolishly released lake trout into the cool, clear waters of Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone National Park. This was not a good move. Yellowstone Lake is one of the last strongholds of the threatened Yellowstone cutthroat trout, and the introduction of the non-native lake trout (which is actually a char, by the way) has put this population at risk: Lake trout favor small fish for their diet and juvenile cutthroat are at the top of their menu.Park biologists have used several control methods over the years, including gillnetting and electrofishing, in order to reduce the numbers of lake trout. Although these efforts have succeeded in removing more than 100,000 lake trout since 1994, this represents but a small percentage of the population, and anglers have a role to play in protecting the Yellowstone cutthroat. Park officials have enlisted the help of anglers by declaring that any lake trout caught must be killed, so why not turn them into table fare? (If you don't want to make a meal out of a lake trout park biologists recommend you puncture the swim bladder and toss them back into the lake.) Lake trout are a terrific fish to eat when fresh, but it does not freeze well. So it is best to enjoy eating lake trout as soon as possible after it is caught--and the following recipes are quick enough to make right on shore. Catching Lake Trout Having fished for lake trout for many years in northern Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories, I have developed some tactics that lake trout find hard to resist. While fly-fishing for pike during the spring and fall, I discovered that I often caught as many lake trout as pike. The trick is to let the fly sink all the way to the bottom and then slowly strip it in. Lake trout will often follow flies without striking, but you can induce strikes by speeding up your retrieve and then stopping and letting the fly sink. When casting from shore, keep your retrieve slow so the fly stays near the bottom. If working from shallow to deeper water, you also want to give the fly extra time to sink to greater depths as you slowly work it back to you. Lake trout prefer rocky shorelines, so begin your search for them there. Even though lake trout are deepwater fish, they sometimes cruise near the surface and feed on blackfly larvae. I have also watched them swim with their backs out of the water and slurp in flying ants by the dozen. Always keep a couple of big, dark floating patterns like salmonfly dries or dark hopper patterns in your lake trout fly box. Season and Location Yellowstone Lake is open for fishing from June 15 through the first Sunday in November. During June, lake trout gather in shallower waters and feed heavily. In the late summer and early fall lake trout begin congregating in preparation for the spawn. Park biologists have located three prime spawning areas (see map below): Carrington Island, the mouth of Solution Creek, Pumice Point as well as other accessible locations in the West Thumb area. Tackle Since you are throwing big, heavy flies, use an 8- to 10-weight rod. Full-sinking fly lines are ideal because getting your flies to the bottom quickly is essential. Shooting heads also work well. Lake trout prefer rocky bottoms, so using an Albright Knot to tie a shock tippet of prestretched 60-pound mono to a standard 12-pound leader will decrease fly loss. Lake trout up to 36 inches are found in Yellowstone Lake, with the average size being 14 inches. Yellowstone Lake is very cold year round. Five-millimeter neoprene waders work well if you wade the shorelines. They are also perfect if you choose to fish from a float tube or pontoon boat. Flies Lake trout like the same types of flies as pike. They have a distinct preference for yellow and red. Big flies from 4 to 10 inches long work best. Favored patterns include Bunny Leeches, Lefty's Deceivers, Whistlers, Dahlberg Mega-Divers and Clouser Deep Minnows. Remember, when weighting your flies, that Yellowstone Park fishing regulations forbid the use of lead, so choose tungsten or other non-toxic products instead. All flies must be barbless. Saving the Yellowstone Cutthroat Lake trout and Yellowstone cutthroats do not mix well. In fact, the presence of lake trout in Yellowstone Lake jeopardizes one of the last populations of the threatened Yellowstone cutthroat trout, and Yellowstone National Park officials are not taking this lightly. Park biologists have mounted a campaign to extirpate lake trout from Yellowstone Lake. Biologists estimate they have removed 100,000 lake trout from Yellowstone Lake since 1994. The benefit of this is exponential as each lake trout would consume many cutthroat in a given year. However, the Yellowstone cutthroat is not out of the woods yet. For the time being, according to Patricia Bigelow, project leader for the lake trout removal program, the Yellowstone cutthroat "are not getting any worse, but they are not getting any better." There are, however, several indicators that the removal efforts are having a positive effect controlling the lake trout population: The average length of the lake trout caught is decreasing, which means the largest--and therefore the most predacious--specimens have been removed, thus saving many cutthroat from becoming dinner. The overall catch of lake trout has increased as well. Despite these positive indicators, there has been an increase in the number of spawning lake trout, so the threat is hardly over. The removal program is making really good inroads on the lake trout, Bigelow says, but she expects "to see some real strong cutthroat recovery in about four years." However, she added, the next three years will be the most critical for the removal program to prevent the lake trout population from exploding. For more information visit: www.nps.gov Lake Trout Recipes Following are some simple but very tasty recipes that can be prepared at home, at a Park picnic site or at camp. Remember, with every lake trout taken from Yellowstone Lake, the chances of survival for the Yellowstone cutthroat increases. Happy angling and even happier cooking. LAKE TROUT WITH ROASTED RED PEPPER SAUCE: A roasted red pepper sauce is wonderful over baked lake trout. Prepare the sauce at home and top your fish lakeside for a terrific meal. For the roasted red pepper sauce: 2 roasted red peppers 4 cloves roasted garlic 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar Roast whole red pepper until skin is charred. Put in a paper bag until cooled. Remove skin and core, chop and pulse in a food processor until smooth. Or buy a jar of roasted red pepper at a supermarket. Season with salt and pepper. Add vinegar and olive oil. Pulse until well blended. LAKE TROUT 'Lobster' WITH TARRAGON GARLIC BUTTER SAUCE: Turning lake trout into "poor-man's lobster" is a snap. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Season the water with salt, pepper and dried tarragon. Simmer one-inch cubes of boneless lake trout until opaque. Do not overcook or the fish will fall to pieces. Dip in garlic butter sauce and enjoy. To make the butter sauce you need: 1 stick of butter 2 garlic cloves, finely minced 2 tablespoons chopped fresh, or 1 teaspoon dried, tarragon Melt butter with tarragon and garlic. Dip the lake trout pieces in the sauce. HEARTY LAKE TROUT CHOWDER: Turn lake trout into a delicious chowder guaranteed to drive away the chill from a cool fall day. Prepare the recipe at home up until you add the fish. At the lake, reheat the soup and add the fresh lake trout. 1 pound boneless lake trout, cubed 4-6 slices smoked bacon, diced 1 onion, diced 1 red pepper, diced 2 potatoes, diced 1 cup kernel corn 4-6 cups of milk 1 tablespoon fresh, or 1 teaspoon dried, tarragon 4 bay leaves A pinch of cayenne pepper Salt and pepper to taste Kneaded butter: This thickener is made with equal amounts of softened butter and flour creamed together. Use 3 tablespoons each of butter and flour. Saute bacon, onions and red pepper in a stock pot. Add potatoes, tarragon, bay leaves and milk. Simmer until potatoes are just about done. Add corn, simmer 5 minutes. Add cubed lake trout and cayenne pepper. Simmer 5 minutes more. Thicken soup with kneaded butter. Serve with crusty bread. LAKE TROUT ON BANNOCK: This is about as good as it gets--fresh lake trout on bannock (a Scottish/Native American bread that is easy to make over a campfire). Bannock 1.5 cups flour 1.5 teaspoons baking soda 1 teaspoon salt 2/3 tablespoons margarine Mix together flour, baking powder and salt. Work the margarine into the dry ingredients with a fork. Add just enough water--usually about H cup--to form a dough. Do not over mix. Place a cast-iron skillet over a bed of coals, add 2 tablespoons of margarine and pat dough into the pan. Shake the pan after five minutes. Once the bottom is golden brown, flip over the bannock. It is cooked through when it sounds hollow when tapped on top. Make sandwiches out of pan-fried lake trout that you can top with a flavored mayonnaise. For an Italian flare, add some basil pesto to the mix. Adding Oriental garlic chili paste to mayonnaise yields a spicy topping that brings out the best in fish. These sandwiches are certain to become all-time shore-lunch favorites. LAKE TROUT WITH TOPPINGS For real simplicity, try spreading the cooked lake trout with one of the following toppings: Basil pesto, widely available in grocery stores, turns lake trout into a marvelous treat. You can also use your favorite tomato-based salsas. Choose either mild or spicy salsas. Salsa on the top of cooked fish brings out the fishes' natural sweetness. Fresh fruit salsas are a snap to make and perfect with lake trout. Fruit salsa: 2 cups fresh mango, pineapple or nectarine, diced 3 tablespoons red pepper, finely diced 2 teaspoons serrano chilies, finely diced 3 tablespoons cilantro, coarsely chopped 1 teaspoon brown sugar 1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice 1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil Salt and pepper to taste Combine all ingredients at least 30 minutes before serving or prepare the salsa at home to allow all the flavors to come together.