BIG LAKE...The name of the lake, the name of the town.

Let me start off by saying that the oh so creative (that is supposed to be sarcasm) name of this lake and town in Alaska only makes sense for one of those things.

Take a look at this picture I took of my handy map and you will see what I mean. That blue blob is the lake and that tiny place to the right of it is the town. While Big Lake has over 50 miles of shoreline and is well...quite big, the town of big lake has just over 2,000 full-time residents. 

So why am I telling you about Big Lake?       Well, last week I had the opportunity to work with a field crew who do Coho salmon research there! This crew sets fish traps along many miles of creeks and lakes surrounding the Big Lake area. To get a better idea of the fish migration and populations, the crew members tag, measure, and count all the fish they capture. Anywhere from 4-7 full time crew members are working this summer from June-October on the annually recurring project being conducted by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. I came away from that week with a better understanding (and a whole lot of respect!) for the work field crews do, the work my body can handle, and how great a shower feels after a week of wearing the same two shirts every day. ; )

      I must say that camp life was a lot more luxurious than I though it would be...well minus the no-showering. Here is a picture of the weather port which I slept in. There was a little cot inside and it kept me very warm and dry the whole time I stayed there. I was thankful there was no need for the secret stash of ibuprofen I had brought to take for my aching back after sleeping on the ground night after night. 

Also, the crew I worked with were AMAZING cooks! I ate way better than I do in my little apartment in Anchorage and was treated to King Crab, grilled asparagus, and shrimp curry among other tasty things. Let me tell you, it was a wonderful thing to look forward to after a long day working in the field....which I will tell you about now!

Each morning would start with breakfast and hot coffee in the cozy warm camper at about 7AM. We then prepared fish traps and all of our gear to head out to a designated site by 8AM or so. Typically 3 crews of two people each go to survey at different sites. After arriving at the site, we put on chest waders and boots, put on big packs with all of our gear and needs for the day and hike out to the water! 

This is how the day goes from there---ready?!

1. Set up 10 fish traps with bait canisters somewhere along the waters edge. 

2. Each person takes 5 traps (quite a handful for me!) and sets two along 25 meter stretches of water.

3. The time each trap is set is recorded so that we make sure each one will have the same soak-time.

4. Find a place to lounge on the banks of the creek and wait one hour!

5. Retrieve the traps in the order you placed them.

6. Now comes the tricky part: Count and identify all fish in the traps! We find rainbows, sticklebacks, and sculpins (sometimes over 100 in each trap!) but only keep the Cohos to measure and record. 

7. Captured Cohos are placed in a bucket of water containing some myseterious "fish drug" which makes them "sleepy" enough to stay still and be measured. Here some fish are waiting to be measured and will be dropped into the "recovery tank" after so that the "fish drugs" can wear off before we re-release them (was that enough quotes in one step?)

8. We record length measurements and check to make sure that none of the Cohos are recaptures--Cohos which were previously tagged by the crew. if they are, we scan them with a special wand and record the code that comes up.

9. Repeat 1-9 x2! So that makes for 30 traps set along about 400 meters of water.

Did I mention that the whole time you are wading through chest deep water, carrying heavy gear, and sitting in the rain for hours on end? Sounds great right (more sarcasm)?? Well, turns out, it actually is! I got to see the most beautiful areas of forest and was surrounded by Alaskan wildlife. Dozens of large Red Sockeye Salmon would swim inches from me as I set my traps-- eagles and sand hill cranes fly by while I lay in the grasses waiting to collect them again. It was an amazing experience and great to get out of the Anchorage city life I have been getting used to, and I made some new fisheries crew friends in the process. 

Now I'm back to work to catch up from a whole week out of the office! Look out next week for my recap of an event I have been working to plan all summer...A public talk being delivered by famous author and activist for environmental education... RICHARD LOUV!

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Comment by Danielle Thompson on September 6, 2012 at 4:13pm

Trina- Thanks so much! The event is tonight so we are very excited! Will write a post about it (hopefully tomorrow?)

Joe- Totally worth it.

Comment by Joe Thurston on August 30, 2012 at 1:34pm

Wow. King Crab? Shrimp curry? Grilled asparagus? Worth the trip for the dinners alone, sounds like.

Comment by Trina Van Schyndel on August 30, 2012 at 10:23am

AWESOME! Glad you had the chance to experience this! Good luck with the Richard Louv event, I'm sure he will give a great talk!

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