Out West student blog

Wild Trout, Turbulent Waters

Color image of a cutthroat trout being held in a hand
A young cutthroat trout caught during an electrofishing survey of Packsaddle Creek in Driggs, ID. (Image: Christina Morrisett)

By Christina Morrisett
B.S. Earth Systems, 2015
Environmental Modeling Intern, The Henry's Fork Foundation

 

 

Having grown up in rural Alaska and having just graduated, I was ready to leave the Silicon Valley suburbs behind and return to a place that felt a little more like home. Almost immediately, southeastern Idaho gave me that feeling. With a little over 1,000 residents, Ashton, Idaho is cozy. Agricultural fields stretching across rolling hills to the base of the Grand Tetons provide open space that is plentiful and welcoming. And then, of course, there is the Henry’s Fork – a river many claim as home to the best fly-fishing in the nation (if not the world).

I wanted to learn about the research, management, and general atmosphere associated with sports fisheries - especially given that HFF works closely with different stakeholders like water users, hydroelectric power companies, government agencies, and other nonprofit groups.

The Henry’s Fork Foundation is the only organization whose sole purpose is to conserve, protect, and restore the unique fisheries, wildlife, and aesthetic qualities of the Henry’s Fork and its watershed. Founded in 1984, HFF serves as “The Voice of the River,” conducting research to provide a scientific basis for management and decision-making in the Henry’s Fork watershed. Projects that monitor fish populations, study habitat-use, and reduce sediment load all contribute to the Foundation’s efforts to improve wild trout habitat and maintain angler satisfaction.

Already familiar with commercial fisheries and interested in pursuing a career in fisheries management, I sought out the opportunity to work with the Henry’s Fork Foundation to gain experience with sport fisheries. I wanted to learn about the research, management, and general atmosphere associated with sports fisheries - especially given that HFF works closely with different stakeholders like water users, hydroelectric power companies, government agencies, and other nonprofit groups. I am learning about all of these things and much more through two major projects:

1. Hydrologic modeling: Like the rest of the American West, Idaho is in a drought and as water needs become strained, politics become turbulent. In events like this, the importance of HFF’s role in communicating with a variety of stakeholders is heavily underlined. My primary role this summer is to graph how current river flows compare to past flows, incorporating diversion data from Idaho Dept. of Water Resources and reservoir discharge data from USGS. It’s a bit of statistics, a bit of math, and a whole lot of programming in R. It was challenging at first, but I’m enjoying it the more I learn.

2. Cutthroat trout population survey with Friends of the Teton River: Yellowstone cutthroat trout are native to the basin, but their populations are changing due to the range expansion of nonnative species like brook and rainbow trout (species that are prized in the sports fishery). The project uses fly-fishing and electrofishing (stunning fish with a weak electric field) strategies to capture trout for tagging and enumeration. Understanding how the cutthroat trout population is changing will inform future species recovery efforts. Electrofishing requires a lot of hiking and teamwork – it’s definitely a skill I’m happy to have learned!

When I’m not working, the other HFF interns and I can be found hiking in Grand Teton National Park, swimming around Jackson Hole, or, of course, fly-fishing on the Henry’s Fork. For more stories about everyday life here in Ashton, please check out HFF’s Intern Blog!

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