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November 06, 2012 8:55 am

Canal trout rescue

Written by Gib Mathers

Volunteer Jesse Beyeler (right) was a little amazed at the size of the trout he helped to rescue from the Garland Canal last Wednesday. Trout Unlimited member Dave Sweet (left) and Beyeler’s fishing buddy, Mike Vanata, were impressed with the catch too. Volunteer Jesse Beyeler (right) was a little amazed at the size of the trout he helped to rescue from the Garland Canal last Wednesday. Trout Unlimited member Dave Sweet (left) and Beyeler’s fishing buddy, Mike Vanata, were impressed with the catch too. Tribune photo by Gib Mathers

A record breaker

More trout were rescued from irrigation canals this fall than ever before.

After water to irrigation canals is shut off, trout are trapped in pools surrounded by dry ground and are unable to reach the Shoshone River.

Volunteers with the East Yellowstone Chapter of Trout Unlimited rescue the trout and return them to the river.

On Friday, Nov. 2, the 11th and final day of rescue efforts, the chapter’s unofficial count was 6,000.

Trout Unlimited has never captured more than 5,400 trout in canals. “This is our best year ever,” said Dave Sweet of Cody, Trout Unlimited member.

By comparison, nearly 5,200 trout were caught last year.

To catch the fish, volunteers use an electro shocker with a loop attached to the end of the rod that stuns the fish. Then, the only slightly stunned trout are netted, transported in a bucket and transferred into an oxygenated tank for later release into the Shoshone.

The water in the Garland Canal Wednesday, Oct. 31 was deep, which made the going slow. The netters can wait until the water recedes more, but then risk the water freezing, thus killing the fish. Or they can brave the deep water that threatens to swamp even chest waders.

About 100 trout were caught on the Garland Canal running roughly north and east of U.S. 14-A on Wednesday.

It had been a slow start. A few trout were netted. Then after a lunch break they cruised the canal just southwest of Ralston Reservoir.

Driving up the canal road, a school of fish was spotted.

One group worked upstream and another downstream, endeavoring to drive the leery trout into a trap.

Suddenly, the trout swarmed just below the surface of the murky canal like sharks smelling a snack.

Like silver arrows, the fish darted to and fro, trying to evade the pesky nets trawling beneath them like ruthless seines.

“Got one!”

Trout Unlimited member Bob Capron submerged his shocker while a new volunteer slid his net beneath the trout. The trout slapped the net in annoyance before being eased into a five gallon bucket filled with water.

“That one hopped right in there,” said Trout Unlimited member Cathy Sweet laughing.

Seasoned members coach the two new guys, Jesse Beyeler and Mike Vanata, both avid fishermen from Cody.

The day before the guys had chanced upon Trout Unlimited members on the South Fork of the Shoshone River. When they were informed of the organization’s annual efforts to save trout from canals, they volunteered, said Trout Unlimited member Larry Thomas of Cody. 

“It’s nice to have the opportunity to give back,” Beyeler said.

Buckets filled with fish are hauled up the steep canal banks to the waiting tank on a trailer. Most of the trout caught Wednesday were browns, Thomas said.

Using a fish net as a screen, Thomas carefully poured the trout into the the net before lowering the fish into the tank. With the flip of its fin, a trout bolted across the tank unscathed.

They’re nice trout that would tickle any angler. Many run 18 to 20 inches.

A 5 pound brown was caught the day before. “We catch bigger fish here than I catch in the wild,” Thomas said.

It is grueling work wading deep canals and climbing muddy banks, said Cathy Sweet.

The irrigation districts allow Trout Unlimited access to their canals and are working with the organization to prevent trout from entering canals in the first place. For example, a fish screen being installed will bar fish entry in the North Fork Canal this spring.

“Without their (irrigation districts) cooperation we couldn’t do this,” Dave Sweet said.

Helpers are always welcome. For those who would like to volunteer next year, call Dave Sweet at 307-899-9959 or Bob Capron at 307-250-6719.

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