Friday, August 11, 2006

A day on the St.Croix

This is the eagle that spent the day alternately laughing at us ( I think I heard him) and thanking us for the abundance of slightly stunned redhorse suckers that were easy scavenging. It's the only picture I got; I was too busy wielding a long-handled dip net, weighing catfish, and trying to help the boat driver avoid shallow places and rocks.

Sometimes I think I have a really fun job. Today was one of those days. The mission: along with J and The Intern, electrofish a short stretch of the St. Croix River, a Nationally-designated Scenic Riverway. This particular stretch has Minnesota's largest state park on the Minnesota side, and some equally wild-looking land on the Wisconsin side. The river banks are lined with mixed hardwoods and some beautiful stands of white pines. The companion eagle enjoyed vantage points from some dead white pines.

In case you're not familiar with electrofishing (and how many people are?), our boat is an 18 foot flat bottomed jon boat equipped with a generator, output control box, and electrodes that dangle from booms suspended in front of the boat. One person drives the boat, and two of us, leaning against a sturdy railing around the front platform, dip up fish as they are temporarily stunned by the electrical current. Just seeing what turns up is fun in itself. Add a river that can turn shallow unexpectedly, scattered boulders that suddenly meet the underside of the boat, and it is a true adventure that makes me long for a lazy paddle down the same stretch of river in a canoe.

Today we dipped up numerous redhorse, which are in the sucker family. There are five species of redhorse we saw today, some specimens pushing ten pounds. My arms got a workout dipping them up and putting them in a holding tank in the boat. We also dipped several large muskellunge (twelve plus pounds), walleye, smallmouth bass, and channel catfish. In our last run of the day, we ran into a plethora of catfish, some weighing over ten pounds. I have a healthy respect for catfish; in my first year of work, an eager coworker reached into his dipnet and ended up with a catfish spine embedded in his hand. So I approach them cautiously, although I would love to return here and catch a meal to grill or fry.

We had some harrowing times as we ran down a small shallow rapids, then realized there was no easy route back up the rapids to where we needed to get back to the launch site. Alternately getting out and pushing, then running the motor while pushing off boulders, we managed to maneuver our boat where perhaps no such boat should go.

Although we returned to the office a half hour after quitting time, it was, all in all, a great way to spend a working day.

P.S. As I write this, late in the evening as I listen to Greg Brown's new album, the coyotes are yipping and howling up a storm, just across the creek. Wow.


pablo said...

I went to St. Croix once, but I remember it as being more tropical, with lots of sandy beaches and palm trees all around. Also, it was an island, not a river!

Floridacracker said...

I'm familiar with electrofishing, but haven't had the experience...yet. Neat post. I too love seeing what comes up whether it's in a net,line or whatever. Sounds like a great day at work!

barefoot gardener said...

I was wondering, did you notice if the river was especially low this year? I took the scenic boat tour a couple weeks ago out of Taylor's Falls, and it seemed low to me. You would be a much better judge than I, considering your line of work, so I was curious about your observations.

Deb said...

pablo- I've been to St. John and St. Thomas, but not the OTHER St. Croix.

FC- yeah, it was fun. I even took pride at the fact that I out-dipped The Intern when we turned up a bunch of ten pound redhorse. At my age, that totally makes my day!

barefoot- It was a little bit low, but I think the recent rains might have filled it up a little. A couple of weeks ago the rains would not have reached the river yet, and as I recall the stretch below Taylors Falls is also regulated by output from the hydropower dam at St. Croix Falls. It is a dry year though, no doubt about it.