Go With the Flow

This month has pretty much been all about larval collections. At 2:45 in the morning on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday we arrive at the bridge up in Chiloquin that spans the Williamson River. We take our nets, tie them to the bridge, and let them fish the river for 20 minutes. Then we pull the nets, dump the fish into a small insulated bucket, and reset the net for another 20 minute fishing period. We do this for 4 sets and we are usually leaving the bridge right as the sun is starting to come up. After getting back to Gone Fishing we have to count out every single one. This part can get interesting on days when the catch is super high. The fish never seem to want to leave the bucket one at a time, so the whole process takes both focus and patience which can be a challenge at 7am when you have been up since 1:30. I have developed a habit of drinking a lot of coffee.
It’s been pretty suspenseful. The spawning is a little different each year so you never know the size or shape of the larval peak. The first week we didn’t catch anything. That was actually what we were hoping for because it meant we didn’t miss part of the window. On the other hand it was a little frustrating getting up at 1:30 in the morning with nothing but a 0 to show for it. On the 7th we caught our first larval sucker, on the 9th we caught 37 more, then the catch started exploding.
We have room at the gone fishing facility to stock 6000 juvenile suckers in the outdoor ponds. Accounting for larval mortality the goal is to collect 10000 larvae. The drift could be small or really short lived so during the beginning of the collections there is definitely an urge to collect as many as possible. Despite catching 922 on our third haul since catching anything we decided to add a third net just to be safe. This proved to be a little redundant once the catch per net went from 128 to 264. At this point we had already caught over 6000 fish and the catch was still going strong. We want to collect across the entire spawning period to avoid artificially selecting for early spawners, so we dialed it back to 2 nets and once we hit our target we actually released some of the larvae we collected on the high effort days. Right now we are still pulling in about 500 per day with 2 buckets. That’s far from the peak of 1700 so it seems we are winding down but you never know. There have been a couple false springs this year so we might have two peaks.

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