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October 31, 2013 7:48 am

Heroes join forces to help rescue fish

Written by Gib Mathers

Wyoming Game & Fish Department fisheries biologist Jason Burckhardt (left front) was one of the many volunteers helping the East Yellowstone chapter of Trout Unlimited catch fish in the Cody Canal for later release in the Shoshone River on Saturday. Unlimited member Dave Sweet is right front. Every year Trout Unlimited members wade canals near Cody and Powell to rescue trapped fish. Field & Stream magazine covered the rescue Saturday. Wyoming Game & Fish Department fisheries biologist Jason Burckhardt (left front) was one of the many volunteers helping the East Yellowstone chapter of Trout Unlimited catch fish in the Cody Canal for later release in the Shoshone River on Saturday. Unlimited member Dave Sweet is right front. Every year Trout Unlimited members wade canals near Cody and Powell to rescue trapped fish. Field & Stream magazine covered the rescue Saturday. Tribune photo by Gib Mathers

They’re volunteers hooked on being heroes for fish.

Adults and kids rescued more than 700 fish from the Cody Canal just south of Cody Saturday. Some of the fish are no bigger than sardines but others are an angler’s dream.

“I got it!” said Cody High School student Madalyn Montgomery, snatching a nice trout from the depths with her net. 

A fish breaks the surface before diving for cover. Netters must move quickly and decisively to catch their quarry before it goes to ground in the muddy water.

The morning warms quickly. Thick grass lines the edge of the canal reflecting off the still water like ripe straw. The rescuers in waders trudge up the canal, their rippling mirror images seem to swim ahead as though beckoning them to the task at hand.

Rescuers packing electro shockers stun the trout with wands that resemble a fly rod with a open lasso attached to the end. Then others behind them net the fish and ease them into buckets that are carried to the tank. It is hard work, and it takes finesse to slip a net under an elusive trout.

For decades, the East Yellowstone chapter of Trout Unlimited has rescued fish trapped in irrigation canals and ditches around Cody and Powell when the water is stopped at the conclusion of the growing season. The fish are caught and placed in oxygenated holding tanks for return to the Shoshone River.

Field & Stream magazine is filming the event as part of the magazine’s Hero for a Day program. You can see the video at fieldandstream.com.

“We just want to cover conservation efforts and all their (volunteers’) hard work,” said Lynsey White, Field & Stream events information manager.

“I’m trying to help where I’m needed,” White said. “We don’t just come to cover. We come to help too.”

White got her hands dirty helping Tanner Rosenbaum count and sort fish by species at the tank.

Rosenbaum, 14, of Cody, is now an indispensable rescue teammate.

“I’ve been at it since I was 9,” Rosenbaum said.

The youth volunteering are from Cody High School’s Outdoor Club.

The club recently helped police Sleeping Giant Ski Area. Now, they’re saving fish.

The teenagers perform community service and enjoy outings. Over the summer, the club’s community service leaders climbed the Grand Teton and hiked about 60 miles in the Thorofare, said Erin Evans, an assistant sponsor for the club.

The youngsters gain a better appreciation of conservation, and projects such as the rescue wet their appetite for fishing.

“The kids have fun,” said Greg Bierei, Trout Unlimited chapter president.

Evans’ husband, Jim Evans, volunteered Saturday. He has designed some of the screens installed to keep fish from entering canals, Trout Unlimited member Capron said.

Trout Unlimited has no beef with irrigation districts or agriculture. Capron said he encouraged producers replacing head gates to call the organization to discuss installing a fish screen.

Four generations of Caprons are saving fish now.

Capron’s uncle, Joe Capron, installed a screen on the Lakeview Canal to prevent fish from getting caught in the canal system. Then, Bob’s son Jeff Capron started rescuing trout in the canal. That was 30 years ago. Now, Bob’s grandson, Hunter Capron, is helping too. “It’s been in the family a long time,” Bob said.

Wyoming Game & Fish Department Fisheries Biologist Jason Burckhardt said the department issues a permit to Trout Unlimited to capture the fish and return them to the Shoshone. Burckhardt also volunteers.

Now in its fourth year, Field & Stream’s Hero program, with the support of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. Inc., strives to connect volunteers with conservation workdays across the country to raise awareness of the local conservation efforts. The magazine spotlights 10 Hero-for-a-Day projects each year, reporting on the efforts in the magazine and online, said a Field & Stream release.

Trout Unlimited’s Dave Sweet was one of six finalists in 2013 Heroes of Conservation for his campaign to save Yellowstone Lake cutthroat trout. Capron was a finalist in 2010 for running the canal rescue program.

Field & Stream and Toyota sponsored Saturday’s event, which was a productive day, Capron said.

Capron said he is pleased with the turnout and national recognition that will raise public awareness of the annual fish rescue. On Saturday, 716 fish were liberated from the receding canal waters.

“That’s a good day,” Capron said.

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