Although I am a Seeds of Success intern, I have spent a few days broadening my horizons by helping out fisheries to finish up some stream inventory and surveying. Before this experience, I really didn’t like fish. I had to learn some fish species for a class, and to me they all seemed to look the same. I no longer think that. This past week I have been able to learn how to catch and identify about a dozen different fish species (native and introduced) found in Montana prairie streams. Although the fish are small (most are under 150 mm), once you know what to look for you can fairly easily tell the species apart. I think my favorite species that we have encountered would have to be the river carp sucker.
Although IDing the fish is fun, catching the fish is not always so much fun. The majority of the streams are dry, some of them only having one or two pools that we are able to fish, and even if there is water in the stream, it is often less than 10 cm deep. However, in these streams you are very likely to sink to you knees in mud. In one stream (which was a deeper) we were battling almost hip deep mud while pulling the net, which was also full of mud. The only real way to make any headway was to use the pole of the net as a lever to pull yourself forward. My chest waders also had a sizable hole in them, so add carrying water in your waders up to your knees into the equation. Talk about a work out! Everyone was glad when the fishing was done in that stream.
In addition to fish, we have also caught numerous frogs, turtles, and one garter snake in our net. I have never held a snake before, so I took the opportunity to hold the garter snake for a little while. The body of the snake coiling around my hand and wrist was a weird feeling, but also a cool one at the same time. I couldn’t keep the smile off of my face. When we released the snake, we tried to feed it a frog that we had also caught in the net, but the snake wouldn’t have any of it and just wanted to hightail it out of there.
Earlier that same day, we were walking thought the dry stream bed of a different site doing various measurements when I saw my first rattlesnake here in Montana. It was coiled up among the rocks and was almost invisible. I just happened to look in the right place to see it because it was not moving and it wasn’t even rattling. The only reason we knew it was still alive was because I was able to see its tongue moving in and out. The fact that it wasn’t rattling baffled us because we were close, within striking distance when I first saw it. Needless to say, we got out of there quick and left it alone. On our way back to the truck the rattler was gone.
I am really glad that I was able to take some time off from plants and get to work with the fish. I ended up enjoying it a lot more than I thought I was going to. However, I am not going to miss having to spend the entire day in waders.
Miles City, MT