A Day With Dr. Behnke

Dr. Robert BehnkeIf you’re a cutthroat trout enthusiast, you know the stories of extinct cutthroat trout that really weren’t extinct. In stories almost too hard to believe, we’re told of the tenacity individuals displayed in moving trout from point A to points B, C and beyond. Anders Halverson records such stories surrounding the rainbow trout in his excellent book, An Entirely Synthetic Fish (you can read my review).

One such “extinct” trout was the Pyramid Lake strain of the Lahontan cutthroat. Historically found in ancient Lake Lahontan and its tributaries, its territory shrunk as the lake receded. The fish were still found in Pyramid Lake and its tributaries into the early 20th century until the lake became a source of water for irrigation. When the lake levels dropped too far, the Pyramid Lake Lahontans could no longer reach their spawning tributaries. And the fish was thought extinct by the 1940’s.

In the 1970’s, a fish was found in the Pilot Peak range in Utah that didn’t belong in the Utah mountains. Don Duff sent information to Dr. Robert Behnke about this fish. Dr. Behnke identified the fish as the missing Pyramid Lake strain of the Lahontan cutthroat. (I hope to provide more of this story at a later time.) These fish have subsequently been restored to Pyramid Lake. A brood stock has been kept at Pilot Peak to help supplement the National Hatchery’s brood stock. The Pilot Peak project is on the property of Steve Doudy, who has been the caretaker of the population in the creek and in the brood stock (both of which are on his property).3 Conservationists

This past Wednesday I had the privilege of spending the day with Dr. Behnke and some of the morning with Don Duff and Steve Doudy at the Pilot Peak brood ponds where we planned on helping spawn the Lahontan cutthroats. (More about the Pilot Peak project in another post later.)

Interestingly enough, Dr. Behnke, who was so instrumental in the identification of this strain of cutthroat, had never been to the Pilot Peak brood ponds. So my fishing buddy, Dan Line, decided to invite him. Since our trip seeking the extinct Alvord cutthroat a couple of years ago, we (actually Dan) have been in contact with Dr. Behnke as efforts have been made to try and keep at least a phenotypical remnant population of the Alvords alive. Dan invited Dr. Behnke to spend the morning with us at Pilot Peak and then help us give a presentation later that evening to our local TU chapter (Cache Anglers) about the Alvords.

My memory stinks—I’m lucky to remember details of what happened yesterday, let alone a year or more ago. Dr. Behnke’s got an incredible memory. The day was filled with his remembrances. Just ask him a question and he would fill us in with all the minutiae of dates, people, places and events. It was incredible to learn firsthand a few of the many things Dr. Behnke has been involved in with the conservation efforts of native fish and also with the furthering the world’s knowledge about fish.

I would imagine that someone as knowledgeable and experienced as Dr. Behnke could easily become snooty, arrogant or condescending, but he was extremely polite, patient and entertaining. And there is a fiery side to him as well, especially when it comes to tracking a fish’s ancestry through meristics versus genetics (Dr. Behnke is firmly in the meristic camp). (Hopefully some more about this topic in another post.)

I think I’ll write a couple other posts about this day and issues and conversations that surrounded it. I just needed to get a post up now while I had the time and inclination to write it. Hopefully I’ll become a bit more of a regular writer again.

Don Duff  is another instrumental and passionate man when it comes to fish. I’ll have a post dedicated to him later too.

PS The next issue of Rise Forms is nearing completion (Scott’s been a very busy man, and therefore very lazy about anything writing related, but things are getting better.)

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9 comments for “A Day With Dr. Behnke”

  1. You are a very lucky man! I envy you and the time spent with Dr. Behnke!

    Welcome Back


    Posted by Chris | April 24, 2011, 7:00 am
  2. Finally! I’ve been waiting for a post on this site–and a good one too. Thanks for sharing. What a great opportunity. Now, could you get the warm temperatures to rise and the rivers to drop?

    Posted by Robert | April 24, 2011, 8:59 am
    • Finally? You’ve had a lot of good posts that you’ve been writing–you didn’t need to wait for me :-). Warm temps? You mean something in the upper 40’s? That would be warm around here. Can you believe this “spring”? There’s still 11′-3″ of snow at Tony Grove with 63.3″ of water in it–when it comes down, it’s going to get nasty in this valley. I’m afraid we won’t be fishing locally until August.

      Posted by Cutthroat Stalker (Scott) | April 24, 2011, 4:41 pm
  3. Nice post and even better the news that the next issur of Rise Forms is out soon!

    Be glad you have snow and not the nasty storms we have been having. Just over 13″ of rain so far this month. Not much fishing being done yet.

    Posted by Harry | April 28, 2011, 2:19 pm
  4. Nice to see you posting again Scott. Was wondering if you’d chucked it all and headed back to Guam! Great piece – and great work. Wish we had cutties out this way. Btw, streams and creeks are raging with all the water we’ve had. No doubt every trout in the Southern Tier is in the Chesapeake now…

    Posted by Bob Bruns | April 30, 2011, 6:20 am
    • Hey Bob! Yeah, I think I’m mostly back from the land of the missing. If I moved, it would be back to New Zealand (although Guam would be a close second–no trout, but the climate and ocean is to die for). We’re barely getting to high waters here because the snow keeps stacking up in the mountains – still over 11′ of snowpack at the top of our watershed.

      Posted by Cutthroat Stalker (Scott) | May 2, 2011, 8:25 pm
  5. Great story, how lucky your were to spend time with Dr. Behnke. I read a blog article a while ago about a fly fisherman in Oregon searching for other extinct cutthroats.

    Posted by Quad Bamboo Fishing | November 11, 2011, 6:46 pm

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