Laying the Groundwork

Problem solving continues at the Fish and Wildlife offices here in Klamath Falls, Oregon. After describing my work to a friend at home she summed it up perfectly by saying “Your job sounds so adventurous and MacGyver-like”. She was one-hundred percent right. As of yet, we still don’t have any shortnose suckers to put in our dock-suspended propagation cages. Nor do we have any propagation cages completely set up to put our fish in, but we sure have been working our hardest, adventuring, and MacGyvering our way to that end.

It may seem like we haven’t progressed very far since my last blog post detailing our lack of fish and complete cages, but this project requires a lot of groundwork to get moving and in the last three weeks, we have come a very long way. For example, we completely abandoned our original plan to collect eggs from adult suckers. The prime spawning window has come and gone with disappointing and worrisome results. Smaller numbers of spawning fish than previous years were caught migrating upriver, and the fish that were caught didn’t have good eggs. Several factors may have caused this year’s unusual spawning including lingering cold weather (something neither the fish nor I seem to be happy about) and a drought year resulting in lower than usual water levels. In any case, the hunt for adult fish has come to an end.

The new plan is to suspend drift nets in the river this coming week. The newly hatched sucker larvae swim up from the safety of the rocky bottom during the night and are swept downstream toward the marshland and lake where they will spend most of their lives. It is going to be a long week, involving several late nights and will yield a grab-bag of indistinguishable larvae species. However, a grab bag of fish is better than no fish at all! If all goes according to plan, we should have plenty of juvenile fish by the end of the week.

I should also mention that part of the hunt for adult suckers involved a day of snorkeling down the Williamson River to see if we could find any large groups of them spawning. And by snorkeling, I mean drifting face first down the snow-fed, shallow river in a waterproof, bulky suit while holding my hands in front of my face to stop it from colliding with rocks. All while trying to spot skittish fish in water I couldn’t see further than three feet in. Needless to say it wasn’t very useful and we didn’t find any shortnose suckers. But it was a heck of a lot of fun.

Spawning Lost River suckers. Similar to the shortnose sucker but slightly bigger.

The Williamson River, a far cry from tropical snorkeling.

So, that was the adventure part, now for the MacGyver part.

The best news of the last three weeks is that we got all of our docks out on the water! We have yet to attach the cages but getting the five docks assembled, out of the yard, and anchored in the two lakes is a huge step. The Jetdocks come in three by four individual floating blocks. Each block weighs fourteen pounds so you can imagine how difficult it was to move them when they were all attached together. We spent the last several weeks reorganizing them into giant “U” shapes from which we plan to suspend our fish nets. The instructional video on YouTube shows a teenage boy and an older man easily attaching and rearranging these dock with no trouble at all. What a lie. In the final stages on the water, we needed the help of an intricate system of ratchet straps, liberal use of a mallet, and two burly men from the Bureau of Reclamation. It took a total of five people about an hour per dock, but they are done! The best part of this week has been waving goodbye to the docks as we drove the boat back to shore.

Mentor Josh wrestling the docks together.

The most beautiful thing- an assembled dock.

So where are we now? We may have no fish but we have a plan and have made all the arrangements to collect larvae this coming week. We may not have complete cages, but all of our supplies have come in and we are ready to attach the nets. Hopefully by the end of next week, and with minimal MacGyvering and maybe a little adventure, the groundwork will be completed and the project will be officially underway.

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