Sunday, July 27, 2014

Fly Fishing In Idaho

The first time I ever attempted to fly fish I knew nothing about it. I had been taken fishing by my grandpa but never fly fishing so since I knew nothing about fly fishing the little helpful directions I received by Zach (the HFF grad student) was actually very helpful. He would shout to me "too big of a pie slice", "abrupt stops", "you're using your wrist", etc.

I thought that fly fishing was fun but that was the highest level that it reached for me. Then, Trevor (one of my fellow interns) wanted to go fishing but he was working with me so he asked me if I wanted to go fishing after we got done with work before we headed back to the house. Well I wanted to learn how to fly fish so bad because of my grandpa so I agreed. I could have never expected what happened next...

I was casting and I was casting incorrectly and my drag was wrong and I was hardly getting anything right at all but for the first time I felt the rhythm  of casting. Fly fishing suddenly (and without me realizing till later) felt soothing, meditative and calming. My thoughts and worries fled my head and I was suddenly elated. 

I think that this is what the anglers I see coming off the river must feel. The serenity of the place and the soothing nature that has become fly fishing to me. I cannot describe how I now feel toward this rewarding and peaceful activity. I am happy to say that I am hooked to this beautiful thing and plan to continue learning (as I have been throughout this summer) as much as I can. Thank you to everyone who helped me with this and continue to assist in my learning and in the learning of anyone who is a beginner. You have to be such patient people for those who pick it up so slowly.  You are continuing the legacy that is fly fishing.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Life on the River

The girls in front of Millionaires 
Determined to live out west, I interned last summer in Bozeman, MT and (as expected) fell in love with the Northern Rockies.  Now, a year later, my internship with the Henry’s Fork Foundation (HFF) has taken me back to the area I love so much. 
Although I gained an appreciation for the fly fishing culture last summer, nothing prepared me for the fly fishing scene at the Henry’s Fork.  This 127 mile long tributary of the Snake River is prized for its superb fishing, especially dry fly fishing. Anglers are drawn here from around the world with the goal of hooking and landing one of the Henry’s Fork prized trout.
Humming to snails gets them to come out of their shell!
As the only organization solely devoted to preserving the Henry’s Fork, HFF interns are always busy.  There are two main projects going on:  a habitat study and an angler satisfaction study.   A grad student from Grand Valley State, Zack Kuzniar, is researching which habitat rainbow trout prefer, and all six interns are helping him out.  Prior to the start of my internship, over 40 fish were tagged with radio trackers.  We then spend the rest of the summer tracking this fish to see which habitat they prefer to live in.  Zach walks around the riverbank with a radiotelemetry reader to try and pick up the signals from the tagged fish.  Two interns follow him carrying all of the supplies needed to survey the habitat.  Once Zach locates a fish, we examine what the habitat is like by looking at factors such as temperature, dissolved oxygen, depth, water velocity, substrate size, and macrophyte growth.  By the end of this summer, Zach will know what factors these rainbow trout favor.
The angler satisfaction study is the other main project the interns are undertaking this summer.  The goal of this study is to let the anglers voice their opinions regarding the condition of the Henry’s Fork.  Every day, two interns drive to several access points and interview the anglers as they follow him carrying all of the supplies needed to survey the habitat.  Once Zach locates a fish, we examine what the habitat is like by looking at factors such as temperature, dissolved oxygen, depth, water velocity, substrate size, and macrophyte growth.  By the end of this summer, Zach will know what factors these rainbow trout favor.
Working on the Buffalo Fish Ladder

When we are not working, HFF interns spend their free time discovering what makes Idaho so special and enjoying the fresh mountain air.  As an avid rock climber, hiker, and cyclist, most of my free time is spent exploring the nearby mountain ranges and open roads.  Although I have seen so much, its hard to believe that I only have four weeks left here.  There are still so many items left on my to-do list!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A First Trip to Yellowstone

While my family has spent time in this part of the country before, prior to last week my parents and I had never made the trip to explore Yellowstone.  My mom and dad were lucky enough to be able to travel from Virginia this summer to spend time with me here in Idaho, and we jumped on the opportunity of being so close to Yellowstone.  Driving up US 20 and entering through West Yellowstone, we knew we were in for a special Sunday - hardly anyone there, geysers glowing with bright colors, Old Faithful erupting, and spotting huge herds of elk and buffalo and a black bear crossing the river.  We loved it so much we returned again later last week to fish the Madison River, and my dad was lucky enough to catch a trout one of his first times ever fly fishing.  Yellowstone was a fantastic way to spend a few days with my parents, and those visits make me excited to come back to this area of the country and continue to explore the parts of Yellowstone we were unable to make it to.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Idaho, its Anglers, and the Satisfaction Survey

Although I've spent some time in this area of the country with my family before, when starting my internship with the Henry's Fork Foundation, I was instantly astounded by how friendly and laid back people are in this tucked away section of America.  This summer, one of the main tasks the interns have been assigned is conducting angler satisfaction surveys.  Each day of the season, a few of the interns can be found at locations throughout Harriman State Park asking anglers to complete a survey for the Foundation on fishing conditions that day and how it compares to years past.  Interning in Washington, D.C. last summer, I was given a similar task of interviewing people about environmental issues on the National Mall.  The friendliness and eagerness of the anglers who devote their summers and falls to fishing the Ranch are the exact opposite of what I encountered last summer.  Thus far, the majority of anglers have been willing to complete the roughly 5 minute survey and many have stayed after completing the survey to chat with the interns, whether it's asking us about school and where we're from or giving us pointers on fly fishing and some spots we absolutely need to check out this summer.  Being from Virginia and going to school in New York, I was a bit worried about the transition into Idaho life and whether I would be able to connect and relate to the anglers, some of whom have been fishing the Ranch for 40 or more years.  Everyone's passion for the area and their genuine concern about the health of the Henry's Fork and its renowned rainbow trout have made my transition remarkably easy and have made me feel absolutely at home here in Idaho.  I've never met a community more eager to share, friendly, or passionate about helping an area, and it's made me incredibly excited to go out everyday and see the familiar, friendly faces of anglers I've already met this season and to make new connections with anglers, some of them experiencing the beauty of the Harriman State Park for the first time, just like me a few weeks ago.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Water, Cows and Stars

Author: Minh Chau N. Ho

 It’s hard to believe this is my last week in Idaho.  It wasn’t that long ago when I drove into Ashton at 10:30pm, trying to figure out the turn to the intern’s summer home from US Highway 20.  This summer is my first time in Idaho, where the skylines are magnificent, the river runs swift, and the eagles call.
You’ve heard about many of our summer projects from my fellow interns, so I’ll write about a project that started after most of us had left.  As the summer progressed, the water reservoirs draw lower and the river risks sedimentation as outflows skim closer to the sediment bottom.  As a result, the Henry’s Fork Foundation started sampling water quality to monitor outflows from the Island Park Dam.  Almost daily, we wade out in the Box Canyon and Coffee Pot to sample for suspended sediment concentration (SSC), total phosphate concentration, and turbidity.  Samples in the Coffee Pot, above the Dam, are used for comparisons.  Phosphate and sediment samples are sent to the Bureau of Reclamation while we run turbidity samples in the office.

Results of the study won’t come in until after I’ve left.  By now, there’s only Chris and I left and Matt, the intern coordinator, accompanies us most days.  The boys have been getting ready and excited for the hunting season, which starts in September.  As we work, they trade tips on guns, shells, tags, hunting spots, boats, hunting dogs and more.  I chime in now and then about dogs, but otherwise the topics are foreign to this California urbanite.  My knowledge of the sport has skyrocketed, and I can appreciate their enthusiasm.  It’s a part of the Idaho culture I’ve come to love.

Once in a while we float the river searching for our tagged fish in preparation for habitat surveys in the fall.  Most of our fish were detected in the Harriman Ranch where they were first tagged. 
The Foundation will survey fish habitats in Harriman again in the fall to compare with early and late summer observations.  Sadly, I’ll be gone by then.  Sometimes, we would find cattle loosed from their pastures on our floats.  Someone would call into the office, and we would spend the afternoons checking for broken spots in our fences.  Needless to say, I’ve added cattle herding to my list of first experiences this summer.
I wanted to close with my list of first experiences, in thanks to this extraordinary summer internship.  Driving around the area has been an experience, and I like to take morning joy rides around Mesa Falls in search of wildlife.  This summer, I saw eagles for the first time.  My longer trips have taken me to the Grand Teton National Park, West Yosemite, and Bozeman, not to mention idyllic airport trips to Idaho Falls and Pocatello.  The East Idaho State Fair in Blackfoot serves as my first true state fair experience.
In Ashton, I tried the famous huckleberry milkshake at the renowned Frostop.
(The interns still argue whether it’s pronounced Fro-stop or Fros-top). 
A friend taught me how to ride this summer, and I attended my first rodeo and Dutch oven BBQ – line dancing included, and I sadly (not really) don’t have any photos to share.  I caught my first fish here, picked and tasted my first huckleberries here.
And the stars.  Lack of urban areas make the night sky less light polluted, so I like to contemplate the constellations.  The Perseid meteor shower peaked on August 12th, and Ashton was one of the best places to see it.  Here, for the first time in a long time, my sense of wonder grew.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Electrofishing on Duck Creek: lots of fish, cows, and horses… 0 ducks.

“You know who would be really good at electrofishing?” I asked the crew as we sat down in the grass, peeling off our thick rubber gloves in the 85-degree heat.
            “Who?” Jeff asked as he let the 50(ish) pound electrofisher off his back and joined us in the grass.
            “A professional lacrosse player!”
            We all laughed at my little nerdy joke, and started to guzzle water before our final e-fishing pass of the day. It was hot outside, and dressed up to the nines in our long pants, waders, and shockproof rubber gloves was certainly not cooling us down. 
            Now, you might be wondering what exactly e-fishing is. (I certainly was before I came out here!) Anne Marie was careful to assure me yesterday that we were not electrocuting any fish (that would imply fish-murder. Definitely not something the foundation supports). Rather, e-fishing is a way to collect data on fish populations in any given area of a stream/river. An electrofisher has two ends: an anode, and a cathode. A current travels between the two ends (both of which are placed in the water, several feet apart). Fish that are within reach of the current are lightly stunned – as they rise to the surface of the water they are scooped up in a net, and placed in a live-well where they can happily swim around until re-released into the stream after the survey is complete. Two or three “netters” follow behind the person who is electrofishing – the netters must deftly position themselves in the optimal place for catching tiny, stunned fish… hence the lacrosse joke. (Perhaps the strong sun weakened my humor?)
Setting up the electrofisher before heading out to the creek - this bad boy is probably
the most expensive piece of electronic equipment I will ever handle. 

            This summer the Henry’s Fork Foundation is taking part in a statewide survey of rivers/lakes/streams/tributaries in order to assess the population and health of native cutthroat trout. This survey was last done in 2002, and the new data will be used to compare the status of cutthroats over the last decade. Yesterday we assessed a tributary of Henry’s Lake – it quickly became one of the most interesting, exciting, and rewarding days of my summer.  Duck Creek is a lovely little stream, surrounded by a herd of cattle and many horses. Overgrown in several sections by thorns, trees, and sagebrush, the stream can be a little bit difficult to navigate while holding an e-fisher or nets, but it was complete worth the struggle. Duck Creek’s challenging sections were gorgeous; even after my third time up our 100-meter reach (each stream must be e-fished 3 times for our surveys); I still found it to be quite beautiful. I am still struck by Idaho’s beauty every day I am here.
The cows wanted to e-fish too, but we didn't have waders big enough for them...

            Yesterday I got to be a professional lax player/e-fishing netter, along with Bess and Chris. For his last day with HFF this summer, Jeff got the chance to don the e-fisher. (He did a great job – I was quite impressed with his ability to hold his body upright under the weight of the e-fisher AND handle the anode/cathode ends at the same time. While wearing waders, in the heat, on the slippery rocks, amid the thick sagebrush. 10 points for Jeff!) Netting, as it turns out, is a job that requires a competitive drive, good eyes, and quick reflexes. Bess, Chris and I soon turned our job into a little tournament (though no winner was crowned, I would like to believe I caught the most fish!)
The crew e-fishing Duck Creek

            So, what did we find? Hundreds of fish – mostly brook trout and sculpin… and nine cutthroats. It is hard to assess our data without comparing it to data from the rest of the state. However, it is a relief to see that there are at least some cutties still in the tributary. Brookies are more aggressive than the cutties, and hatch earlier too. The question is – will the cutties be able to make a comeback, or have the non-native brookies and rainbows taken over? It seems cliché, but perhaps only time will tell. Rainbows were introduced several decades ago because it takes more athleticism to fish for them – but nowadays we also know the value of a thriving native species. It seems to be a battle between what is best for nature and what is best for humans – a common struggle for environmentalists.
One of the cutthroat trout we caught while e-fishing

            An internship is meant to expose students to a potential career path, and to give them the opportunity to gain new skills. How many college students can say that they have spent a day electrofishing in rural Idaho, participating in field-research with some of the best scientists in the field? So often an internship turns into an opportunity for a corporation to exploit an unpaid college student – but an internship with HFF is the exact opposite of that. I am so grateful for this experience; my summer with the Henry’s Fork Foundation has been the perfect way to actualize the lessons I have learned in the classroom at Colgate University as an Environmental Studies major, reinforcing my passion for sustaining, conserving, and protecting the environment for its own sake and for the sake of future generations. 
Checking on the fish at the live-well at the end of the day

Monday, July 22, 2013

Ode to the 'Burb

           When I first arrived in Idaho, I called Matt to let him know I had made it to Idaho Falls. He cheerily replied that he would be there soon; he’d just picked up the Suburban from the shop and was running a little late. That, ladies and gentlemen, was the first time I learned of the infamous ‘burb. As I sat on the curb outside the bus stop, a “well loved” 1994 Chevrolet Suburban rolled up. Little did I know, this car would whisk me away to my new home for the summer, and also become one of the intern crew’s closest acquaintances.
            The ‘Burb, or Bruce, as she is sometimes known, has been with us almost every day this summer. We’ve had many thrilling adventures together, almost too many to count. Many days, Brucey would give us a challenge: “Go ahead, open my back doors. Bet ya can’t.” Ten minutes later, one of the two doors would be open. As Matt explained to me on my first day, “it’s a push, then a pull. Kind of all one motion.” At this point in the summer, I’m happy to say I’ve almost mastered the technique. But sometimes, our adventures weren’t as fun for playful ol’ Bruce.
The 'Burb kindly allowing Anne Marie, Zach, and Matt take some telemetry and fish surgery gear she was hauling around.
            In her old age, the ‘Burb sometimes struggles overcoming the behemoth of a land mass we call the Ashton Hill. Bruce would hiccup and cough her way to the top, then coast down until the next rise. Somehow, even with a trailer or on triple empty, we still always made it (regardless of the odd smells creeping in to us from Bruce’s innards) with country music blaring. Luckily, the ‘burb recently underwent extensive non-invasive surgery to fix her, shall we say, “asthma” problem.
            For a while, Bruce insisted on not using her turning signals while braking. Because of that stubborn habit, the crew learned all of the hand signals that you laugh at when you first hear of them during driver’s ed. When the ‘Burb wasn’t suffering from medical issues or dolling out life lessons, she silently did any tasked asked of her, with no qualms whatsoever.
            The ‘Burb is the crew’s noble steed, our faithful friend who never lets us down, no matter what the circumstances. Bruce has taken us thousands of feet up mountains, down washboarded forest roads, and carted more gear around then ever though possible. The crew would like to thank that wonderful vehicle that we are so proud to call a friend. 
The man, the myth, the legend: the 'Burb.

Keep on truckin’,


P.S. A message to Bruce: if you could please return the sunscreen, hemostats, nippers, and socks you “borrowed” from me, that would be most appreciated.