The strike came at the end of a day’s fishing, just before the driftboat reached the take-out. Floating the “B” section of Utah’s Green River below Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Utah, it had already been a memorable day. I’d landed several rainbow and brown trout, not to mention two feisty mountain whitefish. A small percentage of anglers manage a three-species day on the Green. I was about to add a fourth.
With a mighty tug, the finned charger on the end of my tippet ran for deeper water, pulling yards of line from the reel. At the end of the surge it turned. For an instant, I glimpsed a long, flaxen form swerving in the current. “It’s a big brown,” I announced to my boat-mates with a smug smile.
It was big. And brown, sort of. Brought to net the fish proved to be a very large flannelmouth sucker (catostomus lattipinnus), only the second specimen of its kind my guide had seen in a decade of angling on the Green River.
A curious fish with large, downturned lips and a hulking upper body narrowing dramatically to a slender tail, the flannelmouth sucker is native to the Colorado River basin in the southwestern United States, ranging as far north as southern Wyoming. It is a bottom-dwelling (benthic) species that feeds primarily on algae and plant matter, but also consumes invertebrates. Although not technically endangered, flannelmouth sucker populations are threatened in many places by stream flow alterations, habitat loss and competition from non-native fishes.
A proposed pipeline that would divert millions of gallons of water from the Green River to suburban areas on Colorado’s Front Range, might well impact the future of the flannelmouth whose slender tail slips out of my hand and back into the river. Opposed by conservation-minded organizations such as Trout Unlimited, the Million pipeline would take 250,000 acre-feet of water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir, leaving less to flow into the river downstream from the impoundment. In years of abundance, the diversion probably wouldn’t impact habitat downstream. During drought, which occurs frequently in the Green River watershed, the water siphoned from the reservoir would leave much less to flow downstream, potentially impacting habitat for trout and native fish species, such as the very cool, so-homely-its-cute sucker who fell for my fly.
Human civilizations need water. But so do fish and wildlife. It seems to me if people in the Denver Metro area consumed a little less and conserved a little more, the “need” for this pipeline might go away. For my part, I’ll side with the suckers.