Here a Little, There a Little . . . Small Steps of a Long Journey


Sometimes it is challenging to know where to begin — when the news is a compilation of seemingly small stories and events . . .  But, sometimes in life it is many small steps that ultimately make the long journey . . . and ultimately lead to the desired result or ending.

The “Kortum of Discovery Researcher” (Carmela – Mount Carmel with an ‘ah’ at the end) has been aggressively researching for many weeks regarding certain leads and details of history that should shed some light on the origins of the trout in the Guano Creek system.  Yet, sometimes, it seems the more we learn — the more we realize how little we know . . .

Though Memorial day weekend is traditionally set time on the creek to assess the spring trout and the spawning characteristics in the system, this year we were delayed to the east in the Steens’ streams, and T-boomers with exceptionally wet outbursts compelled us to take an easier course, and stay with the redband trout of the Catlow and Malheur Basins.

We “hunkered” with a rancher in the Steens Range, and ultimately we were favored with permission to pass through his ranch to obtain access to one of the canyon streams where we were in pursuit of it’s native redband trout strain.  Alas, sometimes with “fair weather tread” on the tires, the gumbo and sand tends to fill in the traction grooves, and traveling up and down sloppy wet hillsides can become quite treacherous.  We then opted for plan B.

Not as glamorous in some respects (as our first destination), yet the upper reaches of the streams that we pursued next are second to none — ancient scoured-out glacier canyons. Yet the roads and weather again kept us in the more moderated elevations.  Though this time we located a few trout to photograph (as different as different can be from Alvords).

20.5 inch Steens Redband

We were also blessed to catch some Catlow redbands from an upper Steens canyon stream that we that we hadn’t previously caught trout from . . .  So, overall, it was an eventful trip.


We’ve been able to secure copies of many of the original Hubbs/Miller correspondences revolving around the Alvord Basin, Catlow Basin and Guano Basin proper.  Clearly, both men were anticipating that a new young fish researcher  — Dr. Robert Behnke —  would help unravel some of the mystery around the trout in the region (much of their research and energy had been directed toward chubs and minnows: more than Alvord cutthroat).

It does turn out that Dr. Robert Miller also believed that overflow from the Alvord Basin had flowed into the Snake River system in pluvial times (see “Questions From the Pluvial Past” May of 2011:  . . . Hubbs favored the headwaters transfer from Summit lake.

In a February 17, 1971 letter to Carl E. Bonds, Carl L. Hubbs stated that in studying USGS maps, they’d noted a suggestion of a gap on the east rim of Alvord Basin which: might’ve tied together the ancient waters wherein trout have still held out with the Snake . . . ”

On July 20th, 1972 Dr. Robert R. Miller writes, in a letter to Carl Hubbs, that he had had a profitable conversation with Carl Bond that morning; and Bond stated that Dr. Behnke had told him of Ray Simon, doing chromosomal work for him, stating that “the karyotype of the Alvord cutthroat is closest to that of the (undescribed) Snake River cutthroat, a very fine-spotted subspecies I first saw alive at the AFS meetings in Teton National Park in 1962.”  (This is a very interesting note to us, and encourages us all the more that a genetic baseline from the Alvords residing at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology should be ascertained!!)

Finally, there are also some notes involving the debate about the Coyote Lake Basin where Willow and Whitehorse Creeks terminate, and the upper Humboldt streams and the trout present there.  Dr. Behnke stated in 1972 that he believed that the Willow and Whitehorse Creeks trout “were derived from headwater capture from the Lahontan Basin.”  There are unique geologic features that may help explain the identity of these trout as being distinct from alvordensis (classified as humboldtensis by Behnke and Trotter with meristic basis).


It is also interesting that Carmela has been able to chat with a few of the “living legends” of the region—including cowboy ranchers and family members of the very homesteaders that established their ranch, with homes and barns, fences and corrals, right in the very area we fish today for a remnant of what all visible indicators show to be a remnant of alvordensis.

One former local has fished Guano Creek every year for over sixty years, and has caught trout there throughout that entire time period!!!  (We even verified what his favorite fly is!)

The consensus of these ‘old timers’ is that the creek did not completely dry up, even during the extreme drought of the early 1930’s or subsequent droughts . . .  And, the consensus of these old timers is that the local ranchers did not plant the trout there (they knew these ol’ time ranchers well, one ‘living legend’ having worked with and for them for many years). . .

Their thought is that the trout were always there; much like the reply of Chief Moses when asked about the trout in intermittent Crab Creek of Washington State when replying to the  question as to how the trout of Crab Creek arrived; he said: “My people know, and I know, that they have always been there.”  (from Cutthroat: Native Trout of the West by Patrick Trotter, 2nd edition, pages 259-260).

Of course; there were events at Fort Warner, and with the earliest ranchers, that predate even what these “old timers” can tell us about Guano Creek and the region’s history of fish.

Perhaps there are still ancient historical threads, or yet future genetic analyses, that can -and will – tell us the whole origins, and outcome, of the saga of the Alvord cutthroat trout.


In the meantime, pursuit of genetic analysis of the Hubbs’ alvordensis collection at UMMZ and pursuit of the program that Shannon Hurn, ODFW, has undertaken to propagate trout bearing the phenotype of alvordensis is the most meaningful activity we could hope for . . .

Native Trout Enthusiasts should write notes to encourage Shannon Hurn RE: her current effort to capture, trans-locate (to hatchery facilities) and to propagate Alvord phenotypes, and then introduce them into a suitable fishless location (preferably in their native range):

Please write notes of support and appreciation to:

Shannon Hurn, ODFW District Office, 237 Highway 20 South/PO Box 8, Hines, OR 97738

(Special thanks to those who take time to write and encourage Shannon in this endeavor.)

© Kortum of Discovery   May 2013

About kortumofdiscovery

Kortum of Discovery (a slight play on Lewis & Clark's Corps of Discovery) is a family team that is Affirming the Exceptional Beauty of Nature, one Adventure at a Time. With a focus toward rare and endangered species in the Great Basin and American west: discoveries, unique methodologies, and many “tall tales to tell” are continually being shared around the campfire!
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