Washington Trail Blazers

A History of the Trail Blazers

Charles M. Yadon

“For assistance to bashful hobbyists” -- these are the first words on the first page of the Trail Blazer minute book before formal organization took place. A group of 4 men who fished and hiked together conceived the idea of a club for comradeship on the trail, for mutual interchange of ideas and experiences in hiking, fishing, hunting and photographing on back-country trips. They hoped to learn together more of the Cascade mountain back country, more of fishing and hunting conditions, more about the conservation of fish and game, and to mutually assist each other with any hobby having to do with the outdoors. Those first words were a tentative statement of one purpose of the club. The men were: C. A. Carlson, J. W. MacDonald, H. K. Butler, Hilding Adler.

These 4 men brought seven of their friends to three meetings in December 1933 and to the first formal meeting of the Trail Blazers club Dec. 27, 1933. Officers were elected and a start was made on a constitution and By-laws.

These men hiked and fished together in some of the high lakes, and soon found that only a few of the lakes were stocked and that fishing was poor. They began to discuss the reasons for this and the possibility of stocking the high lakes themselves, carrying the trout fry in pack cans on their backs. They visited the Tokul Creek hatchery, then under County Game management, and became acquainted with the hatchery superintendent, Chappie Dunstan. He gave them all the information he had on back-packing fry to the high lakes, furnished packing cans to hold the fry, and went with them on a few trips to show them how to take care of the fry enroute. Mr. Dunstan took great interest in the club, for they were doing work that was close to his heart, taking direct action to plant more fry and to create good fishing for all sportsmen in lakes and streams where no fish had been planted before. He gave these men the benefit of all his experience in handling and planting the fry and started them on the road to success. He was made the first honorary member of the club in February, 1937.

During the first year, the club members learned thoroughly the method of taking care of the fry on the hike to a lake. That year 235,000 fry were planted in 4 streams, 11 barren or depleted lakes, and 45 lakes which had been stocked at some time and were showing poor catches. The following year 108,000 fry were planted in 11 more lakes. Each year as more lakes and streams were planted, more and more sportsmen heard of the Trail Blazers and their work, and saw directly the results of planting the high lakes. Any sportsman who fished the back country and began to make better catches in his favorite territory would inquire of other sportsmen, or of the Game Department or Forest Service, and find that plantings had been made by the Trail Blazers. This work also began to be recognized by member clubs of the State Sports Council, which the Trail Blazers joined in 1935. Each year a few more back country hikers came out to club meetings, took part in the planting trips, and became members of the club.

It was stressed early in the organization of the club that picked men were to be elected to membership and that all members must be active in planting work and in all plans and discussions at club meetings. Men with intense interest in the work who would actively push planting and survey work were more to be desired than a large number of members with less interest. Originally, a limit on the total number of members was set at 15, raised to 25 in 1936, and finally removed altogether in 1939.

In order to become a member, an applicant must take part in one full season of planting work and be judged by all the membership on planting trips, as to his behavior on the trail, his eagerness and interest in the work, his cooperation and unselfishness toward club members and other sportsmen in general. A member must be always aware of the need for observation of fish and game and willing to actively practice it. A written statement of the Trail Blazer requirements for membership was prepared in 1945 summarizing all these and other ideas which had originally been intended by the charter members of the club. These requirements have been handed down by word and precept and action, from the charger members through the older members and the Advisory Committee of the club, which is composed of past presidents of the club, shapes and club’s policy, and assures its adherence to the main purposes of conservation, propagation, and planting of fish and game.

The club had a slow growth in membership the first five or six years until the war, when it lost many members to the armed services. Since the war ended, all these members have returned except Bill Simon who was lost on a bombing mission in the Southwest Pacific. Growth of the membership has become a little more rapid in 1945 and 1946. The planting program was also restricted during the war as it was difficult to get gasoline and tires, and most of the men had only Sundays for planting trips. Now that the war is over, planting can be done on both Saturdays and Sundays and longer hikes can be taken to reach back country lakes.

The following table shows the total fry planted each year and the number of lakes and streams planted:

YearTotal Fry PlantedNo. Planting Trips
1934 235,000 20
1935 108,000 11
1936 309,000 24
1937 368,000 37
1938 153,980 19
1939 210,000 26
1940 50,000 8
1941 101,565 18
1942 17,000 6
1943 53,100 10
1944 69,750 14
1945 32,000 17

Total through 1964 2,411,254 754 Lakes & Streams

Almost two and a half million fry have been planted on trips to 754 lakes and streams. Some of these waters were planted more than once. Early in the work, many lowland lakes and close-by high lakes were planted. As these plants were completed, it became necessary to go farther back and higher up to plant new waters. Experience also showed the danger of overplanting a lake and decreasing the food supply so that the fish population did not attain maximum growth possible. Accordingly, stress was laid on survey work and checking lakes for food supply before planting, and upon intelligently planting a smaller number of fry planted each year after the first four or five years, together with the fact that longer hikes were necessary.

The average trip requires a drive of 50 to 90 miles, the last part usually on a Forest Service road up one of the river valleys. This is followed by a back-pack hike with the 35 pound can of fry about 6 to 8 miles in, climbing usually from 1000 feet elevation at the cars to a 3000 or 4000 foot elevation at the lake or stream. On occasion (not average) a maximum elevation of 6000 feet is reached on some of the harder trips.

An examination of the planting record shows the important plants during the first three years involved hikes of 5, 6, and 8 miles to the lake, or 10, 12, and 16 miles round trip. The next year, 1936, the longest trip was 10 miles in or 20 miles round trip, taking two days and requiring holding the fry overnight in wire screens in a creek. In 1937 a 13 mile hike was made to a lake, requiring 3 days for the 26 mile round trip. In 1938 many trips were 7 and 8 miles each way, and another 26 mile round trip was made, this time in 2 days. In 1939 three 10 mile trips were made, and on one of these the return trip was made the same day. One of the hardest trips that year involved a climb from Scenic at the mouth of the Cascade Tunnel, elevation 2106 feet, to the crest of the main Cascade Summit at 6400 feet, crossing to the east slope and dropping to 4000 feet near Square Lake. This trip was 15 miles round trip and the men were on the move from 4 a.m. to 7 p.m. In 1940 fewer long trips were made, but one 20 mile round trip was completed. During the war years somewhat shorter trips were made, and there was some opinion that we would enjoy trips more if they were not so hard. Moreover, only Sundays were available for trips during this time as most of the men worked six days a week. Longer trips required starting from Seattle not later than midnight Saturday and returning late Sunday night, permitting only a few hours sleep prior to the trip. Many of the men did not even try to sleep those three or four hours. Now that the war is over, more two-day hikes will be made to cover the distance formerly hiked in one long day. The members will also be out nearly every week and will be in better condition.

It is not the aim to make hard trips, but to carry on the planting work with the most value to the waters nearest us, and to make trips that return the most in enjoyment to the club members and to all sportsmen both at the time and on later fishing trips. Most members are always interested in seeing new country, and the scenery is a real factor in their enjoyment of a trip.

A hasty review of some of the memorable trips reveals that a start was made in 1934 in finding little known barren lakes by checking and planting Upper Granite Lake, and the Lake Basin containing three lakes west of Divide Lake (Bandera Mtn.-Mt. Defiance) -- all new territory to the members at that time and little known by sportsmen generally. In 1935, Upper Tuscohatchie was checked and planted, and a planting trip beyond Upper Granite Lake to Thompson Lake was made. At that time Thompson Lake was little known and seldom visited by fishermen. Scout Lake, completely barren and unknown, was planted in 1936. Likewise, Kullakulla (sic) Lake at the foot of the cliffs on Mt. Defiance was planted with steelhead, an innovation to us. It had been barren and unknown to the fishing fraternity, who seldom or never visit a lake unless they have heard of catches made there.

In 1936, we back-packed California Golden Trout for the U. S. Forest Service into the Angeline Lake country, stocking Angeline, Chetwoot, 5 acre or Golden Lake, and Azurite Lake. The Goldens were obtained from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. These were back-packed from holding screens in Big Heart Lake. In 1937, the first Caroline Lake plant was made, a 26-mile round trip climbing from 1500 feet over a 6000 foot divide and down a chute to Caroline. This was memorable because we held the fry overnight in bronze screens, and during the night the creek rose from heavy rains and washed away half the fry. In 1938 several long trips were made to barren lakes, notably Klahowya or Spider Lake, Binner or Lower Maloney Lake, the second trip to Caroline Lake to make up for losing half the fry the first trip, a Golden Trout planting of 280 fingerling in Marmot Lake, and the stocking of Otter Lake by dropping cans with parachutes from a seaplane.

In 1939, a thorough stocking of the upper East Fork of the Foss River was made, planting 11 cans of fry at quarter-mile intervals from the 3 mile point to the 5.5 mile point. The Nordrum Lake Basin was first planted that year, when excessively hot weather caused the loss of almost two thirds of the 15,000 fry due to temperatures in the cans of 62 degrees and no water along the trail after the first creek two hours from starting. That year the first trip was made to the Necklace Valley with 40,000 fry carried by 25 men, followed by a second trip with 25,000 fry by 12 men.

In 1940 a long trip, 7 miles, was made up Youngs River with 10,000 fry. The Baring Mountain Lake trip, the failure to find Upper Maloney Lake because of heavy snow, the second Nordrum Basin trip when all the fry were lost due to metallic poisoning from unpainted cans, and the third Necklace Valley trip, will all be long remembered by the old time members.

In 1941, the trip to Buck and Widow Lakes was a man-killer as the trip leader almost wore out everyone, including himself, covering miles of steep; logged-off & brush-overgrown hillside, cut up by endless gulleys, on the return trip out from the lakes. That year marked our first attempt to planting eyed cutthoat eggs, under the supervision of Lewis Garlick, biologist for the Game Department. These were planted in Derrick and Shamrock Lakes. The third plant of the Nordrum Basin was successful that year.

The Camp Robber Valley Lakes and Lake above Hester were notable plants in 1942. Purvis Lake, almost mythical, was finally located in 1943 and planted, by climbing a peak and spying out the lake on the actual plant while carrying the fry, a risky method of finding the lake, losing the fry if balked.

In 1944, memorable plants were in Goat and Horseshoe Lakes, Glasses Lake on the second attempt, and Alaska and Joe Lakes. In 1945, Dream Lake, Pilchuck Ridge Basin, and Ridge, Gravel and Ed’s (sic) Lakes were the most memorable plants.

Some of the important points we have learned, by actual experience and from the State Game Department are these:

  1. The fry should be between 3/4 and 1 1/2 inches long, the 3/4 inch size having greater survival on the pack trip.
  2. The fry should be starved for 48 hours before the trip.
  3. One pound of fry is the proper amount to carry in one can, 3 gallons of water.
  4. It is imperative to keep the water moving and splashing in the cans to aid in aeration. The can should not be more than 2/3 full of water.
  5. Keep the temperature of the water down as close to 48 or 50 degrees as possible. Add crushed ice in hot weather. Change water often at creeks to keep the temperature down. Put snow in cans when on the snow.

The design of our cans has been changed as our experience has shown necessary. Burlap jackets are now being tried, as well as a quilted down jacket. We have found it possible to successfully hold the fry in bronze screen wire in a running creek overnight.

Much has been learned by experience and judgement as to the amount of food in a lake and its possibilities for spawning and propagation. The survey of lakes before planting is stressed, and survey forms are furnished to all members for checking and recording data. We keep a trip report record of all members’ fishing trips and catches and thus have some indication of catches and conditions before and after stocking.

Most members are expert at map reading and orientation by compass and landmark. Long practice has developed considerable judgement in selecting routes across country and through rough terrain. Great use is made of aerial photographs in selecting routes, taking views of new country from several adjoining peaks or high ridges, sometimes over a period of years before enough photographic data are secured.

A late innovation in keeping the members on their toes in selecting routes and covering the country on a planting trip is the Cowbell and Cane, presented to the club as a trophy by Judge William D. Long, in token of some few well-known failures to find the way. These trophies are presented to each man who gets lost or picks the wrong route when leading a party on a stocking or survey trip.

Some slants on the character and mentality of a Trail Blazer are these: he is part idealist, part “cracker,” and part a throwback to prehistoric man. He is an idealist because nothing will satisfy him until every lake and stream is checked and stocked with fry often enough to maintain good catches. He hates to see the inroads of civilization on timber, pollution and damming of waters, the pushing of roads into primitive areas. He preaches and practices conservation because he knows it isn’t in the cards to have a plentiful natural supply of fish and game forever, as witness conditions in thickly settled eastern states. He is part “cracker” because he likes to be far from civilization, he hates restrictions on his personal freedom to take any action not injurious to his fellow-men, he will not be regimented, and he is inarticulate or close-mouthed until he has seen his questioner on the trail and knows him to be a good man in the woods. He is part aboriginal or primitive in nature, for he realizes how far civilized men have departed from the old self-sufficient, self-reliant pioneers who made this nation. He likes to return to a way of life which has been almost forgotten and which produced stronger, better men. He strives to be at home in the mountains, for he knows that when a nation departs too long and too far from Nature and abandons itself to artificialities and luxuries, that nation is in danger of losing its character and succumbing to newer, rawer, fiercer men who are not afraid of hardship.

It has been said that the most active Trail Blazers are motivated by an unexplainable inner drive that keeps them traveling, returning week after week to new trails, new scenes, in a never-ending search for new waters and an endless campaign to plant fry till there are no more barren lakes or poor catches. In some cases this has taken them away from their families so much that they are eventually forced to compromise. However, many Trail Blazer wives also like the life on the trail and go with their husbands on fishing trips when there is no planting to be done forcing speed on the trail.

One of the main benefits of this club for its members is the fellowship and comradeship with the other members, which is increasingly developed on the trail when the going is tough. When the climb is hard and the burden heavy, a friendly lift from a brother Trail Blazer is something never to be forgotten. Such things as breaking trail in the snow for the other fellow, giving a hand over a windfall, hunting a route through the brush or around cliffs, getting a meal while the other fellow fishes, having hot coffee or soup ready for a pal - all these acts and thoughts for the other fellow with the heavy pack who is tired out - these things make brothers on the trail and cannot be forgotten.

One stand which the club has taken for conservation is its advocacy of an 8 inch minimum catch limit instead of the present 6 inch minimum limit on trout. Each member must abide by the 8 inch limit while he is undergoing his period of a year or more of trial before acceptance into the club, and thereafter when he is made a full member. The club actively campaigned for an 8 inch limit for a number of years through the State Sports Council, but sportsmen as a whole throughout the state were not in favor of it and the State Council voted against it, so the club dropped it.

Several articles have been written by Trail Blazer members, notably a story of the airplane stocking of Otter Lake which appeared in the Sunday Magazine Section of a local newspaper, another story of a stocking trip in the Washington Sportsman, and articles and many pictures in issues of the Northwest Fishing and Hunting Guide.

C.M.Y. 7/25/46
Retyped 1/28/66
Retyped again, 5/12/91

“C.M.Y.” is Charles M. Yadon, who typed the original version in 1946. Whoever retyped Charley’s material on 1/28/66 added some data and comments. For example, the total number of fish stocked through 1964 (2,411,254) obviously could not have been done in 1946. Although it is possible that Charley may have done the “retyping” in 1966, the first paragraph after the fish stocking data does not have the “Yadon flavor” of earlier and later paragraphs.

“Honest Charley Yadon” described an era that will never be seen again. It was an era I would like to have experienced.

Virg Harder, 5/12/91