A group of about 25 wildlife experts, anglers and biology students waded through the Middle Provo River on Tuesday wearing camouflage and carrying landing nets, a few of which generated 250-volt electrical shocks. Their mission? To survey fish populations in the stretch of water running from Heber Valley to Deer Creek Reservoir.
Electrofishing is a technique of stunning fish — without killing or permanently harming them — using a low voltage shock, and then catching the fish with nets, tossing them in plastic barrels, measuring and weighing them and eventually releasing them back into the water.
Mike Slater, sport fish project leader for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, said he was impressed with the health of the thousands of fish — mainly brown trout, but also rainbow trout, whitefish and sculpin — surveyed by the group of volunteers, which included members of Trout Unlimited, High Country Fly Fishers and Alpine Anglers.
“I (only) saw one skinny fish,” Slater said, an indication that there isn’t a shortage of food or too much competition in the water. “I mean, I’d be happy if I saw 20.”
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources surveys Middle Provo River fish populations every three to five years, according to Slater.
Utah and Wasatch County residents know the Middle Provo River to be a fishing oasis. Because it is located downstream of the Jordanelle Reservoir, and therefore doesn’t flood, it is an optimal place for fish to live and swim. Therefore, it is just as good a place to fish.
“This is an amazing thing,” James O’Neal of Provo said about the river he has fished in for 50 years. “There’s nothing like it in the whole United States.”
In 1999, the Utah Reclamation Mitigation and Conservation Commission launched a restoration project to straighten the Middle Provo River and create an area for fishing access and to protect wildlife habitats, according to a page on the mitigation commission’s website.
Rebecca McGregor, a senior at Wasatch High School and participant in the school’s career advanced placement program, joined the other volunteers as they moved upstream and pulled stunned fish from the cold water.
“It was a good adventure,” McGregor said about the day.
While nearly every fish was tossed back into the river unscathed, a small percentage were killed in the process. These fish were collected by McGregor and other Wasatch High School students to perform stomach analyses to find out what the fish are eating.
Aside from being an educational exercise and opportunity to assess the river’s fish populations, Slater with the Division of Wildlife Resources described the day as a success for “people that love the Middle Provo River.”
“They wouldn’t be here if they didn’t,” he said.
Slater and others will continue electrofishing in more northern sections of the river on Wednesday and Thursday.