I was first introduced to the Buffalo Fish Ladder in mid-June of 2015 on the first day of my internship. I had arrived the night before after having driven for two days from California and had spent the majority of my first day preparing the field next to the Fisherman’s Access parking lot for Henrys Fork Day. I was just go, go, going and I didn’t quite feel like I had landed in Idaho… until we started netting fish trapped at the top of the Buffalo River Fish Ladder. Seeing Henrys Fork trout, however small, was grounding. It felt like my feet had finally stopped moving. These were the trout everyone was talking about, the trout the Foundation strives to protect, the trout that brought me to rural Idaho from the suburbs of San Francisco.
Unfortunately, I arrived during the last two days of the four-month sampling period and I did not handle fish at the Buffalo again until mid-October when we resumed monitoring for fall migration. Fortunately, my work with the Buffalo isn’t over just yet. Since extending my commitment with HFF after the conclusion of my internship, I have been tasked with leading monitoring efforts at the Buffalo for the 2016 spring spawning season as well as conducting a statistical analysis of the past ten years of migration data (keep an eye out for our findings in the next few months).
In preparation for this new responsibility, I spent some time researching the Foundation’s past work at the fish ladder. I dug through newsletters, blogs, and annual reports and learned about the history of the Buffalo River Hydroelectric Project, the installation of the fish ladder, the discovery of the Buffalo River as an important wintering and spawning habitat for juvenile and adult trout, and the sheer number of fish, trout and otherwise, that use the ladder annually.
To learn more about the work HFF does at the Buffalo, please check out this infographic.
Now that it’s mid-February, the Henry’s Fork Foundation has resumed regular monitoring of the Buffalo River Fish Ladder and will be trapping fish until mid-June. On Thursday, members of the research and restoration team trekked out to the site via snowmobile, cross country skis, and snow shoes, to prepare the fish ladder for the spawning season trapping period. The top of the ladder and attractant flow pipes have been cleared of macrophytes and other minimal debris, snow has been cleared around the trap for easy accessibility, and all necessary gear has been transported in.
As we approached the ladder, I was excited to see water overtopping the dam. Given last year’s record-setting drought, I had never seen water spilling at the site. In fact, water levels were so low in 2015 it took quite a bit of stretching to reach the surface from the dam’s edge in order to carefully release fish upstream after recording measurements. Should conditions remain wetter than last year, I look forward to higher water levels and an easier release in 2016.
Thanks to an unseasonably warm February day, we were able to poke around the macrophyte accumulations we removed from the trap in search of invertebrates. We found a dragonfly nymph, a leech, several caddisfly casings, and a multitude of freshwater shrimp. I was quite surprised to see life underwater so animated given the winter season, but I guess that goes to show how resilient healthy river systems can be.
We should start seeing fish in the trap as early as next week and plan on keeping you updated with pictures, blog posts, and interesting statistics about the number of spawners throughout the season. Once genetic results are in from previous field seasons, we will also share more information about how trout spawning in the Buffalo River contribute to the Henrys Fork population.
Photo credit to Alice Chandler