A NC Biologist recently contacted our fishing club asking for volunteers to help out with a brook trout survey. Although my main interests were mostly based on selfish reasons I decided to volunteer. I felt worse case scenario I would know where brook trout are located. Emails went back and forth to setup where we would meet. The location of the survey was pretty remote and the recent rain made the approach less than desirable. The road was really a few steps up from a wide horse trail. Imagine that wet with large almost bowling ball size boulders here and there. The F250 quad cab creaked and moaned as it slowly crawled over the obstacles. There were more than a few times I double checked my seat belt. We made it to the starting site safely. We each were given specific tasks and a general overview of what was about to happen. The stream we were surveying was gorgeous.
The main way fish are gathered is looked down on by some. The biologist has a backpack that supplies an electric charge down to two poles with halos on the end.
Some argue that the shocking is too stressful for the fish. I wondered the same thing. After experiencing this first hand I can honestly say the effect is very minimal on the fish. The fish are only stunned for seconds and we missed almost as half as many as we caught. The fish many times revived before we could net them. If the halo stayed on the fish they stayed stunned. Once the fish were outside the range of the shockers they came to very quickly and disappeared. I was in charge of the bucket at first. People would net fish than I'd hold the bucket so they could drop it in. The highlight was catching two smallmouth. It was strange to see these fish in what most would consider a predominantly trout stream.
Later I was able to take a shot at netting fish. In a way it was like fishing. There was a funny encouragement in the group. People cheered practically after each fish was netted. I guess it was reward for our efforts. When we felt we covered a considerable amount of water we returned to our starting point to record data.
Length and weight of each fish were taken. Then the PH, conductivity and temperature from the stream. We checked out 3 stretches of water and it was interesting to see the differences.
From a distance we probably looked pretty comical. A bunch of people with nets and buckets following a guy with two rods in the water.
We all learned quite a bit about the stream. I always thought seeing crayfish was a good sign. The biologist said that if the crayfish were a certain size it was bad for trout. It meant there was nothing keeping the population in check. We also literally saw the species change. In the lower section there were daces, chubs and smallmouth. Once we hit a certain elevation all we caught were brookies. Many were very small in the 3inch range. This means there are good reproductive rates but something could be keeping the fish from growing past a certain point.
Possibly it was these browns. This would make sense but we only caught 2 out of the 3 sections we surveyed. They were large enough to eat small brookies but not plentiful enough to cut down a population. There were no rainbow trout. The biologist we worked with was named Kevin Hining. He was a pleasure to work with. Everyone who participated was very friendly and fun. How could you have bad day in a place like this?
I wish I could take credit for these pictures but they were all taken by Harrison H.
If you ever get a chance to do one of these fish surveys I strongly recommend it. It's a good chance to find out what exactly lives in a stream you fish. I really wish I documented and took pictures of our journey out of this place. We had to go out a different way we came in because of the rain and mud. The way we came out had steep hills and red mud. This stuff is basically clay and when it's wet it's like ice. The truck slid all over the road making me kind of happy I had to get out and push part of the time. At least I wasn't in the truck while it was sloshing around. There was one point where Kevin was bouncing the bumper to get traction. While moving up the hill the truck started fish tailing and Kevin went from trying to get traction to hanging on for dear life. The truck eventually got stuck. Even with that experience it was an awesome day and I'd happily do it again. It's worth it for these guys.