Fishing used to be so much better.

I’m afraid I’ve ruined it all.

I don’t catch as many fish as I once did. It’s not that I fish less or more ineptly, there simply don’t seem to be as many fish available for catching as there once did.

I’ve fished the same stretch of the Yellowstone River in Yellowstone National Park nearly every summer since 1971. It used to be a 40-fish-a-day spot. I caught my age in cutthroat trout there when I was 55. A dozen years later, however, and I’m lucky to hit double figures.

My wife and I used to make a couple of trips a year to the Tongue River Reservoir to take advantage of the exceptional crappie fishing there. We quit the place about 15 years ago after the crappie virtually disappeared.

Ten years ago I started fishing Fort Peck Lake. I well remember a couple of epic trips there when we caught lots of big walleye, northern pike and bass. Now I own a cabin on the lake, fish it regularly, and have yet to enjoy the success I used to when I just trailered a boat there for the day.

I’m sure there are anglers who would argue that those three fisheries are as good as they ever were and if I’m not catching as many fish as I used to then the problem lies with me. That may be true. But whatever my problem is it’s apparently contagious. I seldom fish alone, and my fishing partners usually tend to be far better anglers than me. In my presence, however, they catch as few fish as I do.

I have my theories. The trees that lined the canyon in the park before the fires of ’88 never grew back. It’s hotter there now and the insect life not so plentiful.

Coal-bed methane production upstream at the Tongue increased over the years as the fishing declined. It may not have been a coincidence.

Fort Peck has been high the past few years and the game fish have been feasting on the growing baitfish population instead of my crank bait.

Again, just my theories based on purely anecdotal evidence, but I’m sticking with them. The alternative, that perhaps I’m becoming a worse fisherman as I age, is simply too much to bear.

I need a better excuse.

Maybe I just caught them all.

Parker Heinlein is at pman@mtintouch.net