Nov 1, 2010


   I'm a member of the American Fisheries Society (AFS). This is an international organization that provides a venue for fisheries professionals and students to share their research, ideas, and get to know one another. I'm also a member of the Idaho Chapter AFS and the Palouse Unit AFS here locally at the University of Idaho. I like these organizations partly becuase I think they will help me with my carreer, but also because sometimes we get to do fun things like go dinosaur hunting! Let me take you back to the first of November 2010..........

   For the last several years the Idaho Department of Fish and Game has had an ongoing study on the white sturgeon population between Hell's Canyon and Lower Granite dams. They are trying to get a handle on things like growth rate of different age classes of fish, how many fish have hooks inside their stomachs, and what kind of hook is best to use when fishing for them. The Palouse Unit AFS gets to go down and help "sample" (which in this case means fish for them) one weekend a year. This was one of the things I was most excited about when I was accepted to grad school at the U of I.
   We stayed in a Fish and Game cabin which was conveniently located right by a really good sturgeon hole. Friday we loaded up into our jet boats and headed downstream to some good holes. The fishing started out painfully slow. We fished most of the day with only a few nibbles. The scenery and weather were hard to beat though!
Beautiful afternoon in Hell's Canyon.
The cabin at Billy Creek where we stayed.
   The cool thing about Hell's Canyon is that there are tons of things to do even if the sturgeon aren't biting. I bass fished to pass the time, but there were also steelhead and fall Chinook in the river at the time as well.
It's hard to complain about the sturgeon not biting when there are smallies like this 16 incher to be had
   I was a little worried when we returned to the cabin without catching any sturgeon. I was even more worried when people wanted to stop fishing for such ridiculous and trivial reasons as dinner, and being tired, etc. but I went along with it and went and ate a quick hamburger and then mentioned that I wanted to go back down and fish into the night. Pretty soon there was a whole group of us ready to go back out, and so we did. Someone in our group landed a little one of about three feet or so. Then it was my turn. To be honest I'm not really sure how we (I) decided that it was my turn. I won't say weather or not it had anything to do with flying elbows, but it couldn't have hurt.
   Pretty soon it got dark, but I came prepared. I taped glow-sticks onto the ends of the rods and we kept right on fishing. One of the glow sticks started bouncing up and down so I grabbed the rod and set the hook. Fish on! I could tell it was a big one because it ran straight downstream and never stopped. I held on for a few minutes then I felt the line going over some rocks and the fish broke off. I tried to act tough and optimistic but I was pretty sad.
    We (I) decided that that turn hadn't officially counted since I didn't actually land the fish (insert devilish laugh here), so I was still up. wouldn't you know a few minutes later the little light of the glow-stick started bouncing again. I set the hook into another fish and this one felt just as big! This time instead of staying on shore we decided to get out in the middle of the river in the boat so he couldn't get into any rocks. I pulled and cranked on that thing for what seemed like a half hour, until my arms felt like burning jelly (which sounds unpleasant, but don't knock it till you try it). I handed the rod off to my buddy Cordell who cranked on it for a while till my arms were recovered, then I cranked some more. We finally got the fish tired out enough to take the boat to shore. I had previously caught one four foot sturgeon on another trip so I thought I knew what I was doing but at the first glimpse I got of this big tree of a fish I almost needed a change of pants!
   I worked him around the side of the boat and Cordell grabbed him by the lip and flipped him on his back so he would stay calm. I did a little dance and as fast as I could jumped down and got in the water with them. We had to collect data from each fish we caught so we went to work on this fish. We measured length and girth, scanned it with a metal detector to see if it had hooks inside, removed a scute (bony plate on the side of the fish) to mark it for future reference, PIT- tagged it, and took a little fin clip for genetic analysis. He ended up measuring 7 feet 4 inches, which beat my other sturgeon by over three feet and probably 100 lbs!
Measuring the girth of a dinosaur

It's harder than you'd think to measure a wiggling tree
Cordell and I with the 7 ft 4 in sturgeon!
     At this point in the trip I was pretty satisfied so I stopped elbowing people and went happily to the back of the line.
     Saturday Morning we went upstream farther into Hell's Canyon where we saw plenty of deer and bighorn sheep. We fished for a while without too much to show for it before stopping at a promising looking hole and two boats in our group parked on one side of the river and we parked on the other. We again began the waiting game looking for any movement in our rod tips. Nothing. Not even get a nibble. But suddenly from across the river I heard my friend Tasha scream at the top of her lungs followed by what sounded like a man-sized boulder careening into the river! It didn't take too long to figure out what had happened; they hooked up on a big fish and it had jumped! I think it's impressive and certainly entertaining when a trout or steelhead that I've hooked jumps into the air, but imagine a fish of 7 or 8 feet or more doing the same thing! Entertaining doesn't even begin to describe it!
     We watched them fight the fish for 20 minutes or so, glancing disgustedly every once in a while at our own stationary rod tips. Finally it looked like they were gaining on it and I thought they might land it on the beach we were parked on, so I innocently walked down the beach to see if they needed a hand with the measurements and data collection. There were four of them on the boat and they had all taken a few turns, this was a big one! Apparently they weren't as close as I thought and they followed their fish up and down the hole for another 20 minutes while I watched the drama unfold from the beach. Pretty soon they headed my way, but not to land it - they wanted my help fighting it! Being the kind and giving person that I am, I graciously agreed to come aboard.
     I have pulled pretty hard on fish before, but this one definitely took the cake. Several times during the fight the fish would run and I would try to stop it by digging both of my thumbs in the reel, but I don't think this big dinosaur even noticed!
It's hard to stop 300 lbs of angry fish with just two thumbs.
    He had his way with us for another half hour or so before we could finally get him close. We parked on the beach and pulled the fish closer to shore. There were about three or four of us trying to grab ahold of it. We couldn't quite get a good grip on its lip but somebody managed to grab the tail and flip it over. We did it!
8 ft 2 inches, 5 people, and 10 tired arms!
    We tagged, measured, and sampled this fish just like the other ones. It hadn't been caught before and didn't have any hooks in it's belly. It ended up stretching the tape at just under 100 inches, 8 feet 2 inches! They guessed that it was around 300 lbs! This is by FAR the biggest fish I have ever caught or even seen for that matter (ya ya I know it wasn't really my fish, but this is my story and I think I did at least as much as the other four people who helped so I'm counting it)!
   Now I was really on cloud 9 by this point. I think my boat landed two more throughout the day, nothing near as big as the 98 incher though. I didn't participate in those ones (you know, trying to be fair to everybody else and what-not).
    Right before we called it a day, it was decided that it was my turn again. I wasn't going to argue with anybody about it so when we started getting a bite I picked up the rod. I swung and missed. I left the bait there and the fish bit again, so of course I missed again. I think the fish and I did this 5 times before I actually hooked it. This time it wasn't much of a fight, in fact I wasn't even sure I had the fish on for a while. This one was just over three feet and made a pretty good ending for our trip. As much as I loved the big monsters, it's good to know that there are little ones being made still so they can grow up into the future big monsters. Besides, I think he's cute.
Little three footer, who although small is still probably older than me!
   My friend who was serving as president of the Palouse Unit AFS at the time, sent pictures of our trip into the parent society AFS and they ended up publishing them and giving a brief description of our trip in their monthly journal: Fisheries. It was pretty sweet to see my picture in a journal article! 
Here's the page out of Fisheries that I'm in. If you want to see for yourself click here.

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