Norfork Tailwater

Planting the Bonneville Cutthroat trout eggs

Posted by John Berry on July 14th, 2012
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We met at 6:00 AM on a Saturday morning on private land on the Norfork River. It was a larger group than the day before (thirty five), when we prepared the Whitlock Vibert boxes at the Norfork National Fish Hatchery. As before, there were volunteers from Trout Unlimited, the Federation of Fly Fishers, the Mid South Fly Fishers, The North Arkansas Fly Fishers, The Arkansas Fly Fishers, Friends of the White and Norfork Rivers and Friends of the National Fish Hatchery as well as the Master Naturalists and Norfork National Fish Hatchery personnel. In the car behind me were Dave and Emily Whitlock who were to supervise the actual planting of the Bonneville Cutthroat eggs. It was nice to see them again.

The original plan was the plant half of the eggs in the Catch and Release section below Bull Shoals Dam and half in the Catch and Release section on the Norfork. We were to start on the White and then caravan over to the Norfork. However, we were limited to planting the eggs on the Norfork, as the Corps of Engineers had to run water on the White, due to the excessive heat (it was predicted to reach 104 degrees on that day). The early start was designed to escape as much of the heat as possible. It was sixty seven degrees when we started.

Watch a video.

We began almost immediately, as there was much work to be done. The volunteers were divided into three basic groups. The first one was the gravel team. They dug gravel from the bottom of the river and filtered it through a mesh screen to eliminate silt and small stones. Larger rocks were also eliminated. The cleaned gravel was put into large buckets. Others on the team collected large stones to act as markers.

Another team prepared the eggs for planting. The carefully placed the Whitlock Vibert box into the wire cages, filled the remainder of the cage with clean gravel (supplied by the gravel team) and secured the tops to the cages. The performed this task on a folding table that was slowly moved downstream as the planting progressed.

The final team was the planting team. They dug the holes in the river bottom and planted the caged Whitlock Vibert boxes that contained the eggs. This was done with great precision. The holes were located at least ten feet from each other. A large hole was dug at least ten inches deep. This is no easy task in moving water that tended to fill the hole as fast as it was dug. The caged eggs were then carefully placed in the hole. The corded weight attached to the box was carefully placed on the downstream side (this would aid in retrieving the boxes, once the cutthroat eggs have hatched). The hole was carefully filled with clean gravel and outlined with three marker stones.

By planting the Whitlock Vibert boxes completely covered with clean gravel, they created a secure environment for the trout eggs. Once they hatch the trout can move around in the spaces within the gravel and grow until they are ready to move out in the river. It was imperative to carefully wash the gravel so that sand and silt did not fill these spaces.

The site chosen for the planting was carefully chosen. The spot was a shallow gravel run with a nice flow of water. The water depth is about mid calf high at low water so there is no danger of the eggs being stranded in dry gravel, when there is no generation. It is located in about the center of the Catch and Release section.

The whole planting was supervised by Dave Whitlock. He demonstrated each step of the process and was constantly inspecting each planting to ensure that it was done properly, in order to give the trout the best chance of survival. We were lucky to have one of the foremost authorities on this so intimately involved in this endeavor.

I was concerned about the possibility of the planting being disturbed by anglers. I discussed the situation with Dave and he assured me that the planting method offered a lot of protection for the eggs and that normal foot and boat traffic should not disturb them. As drag chains are not legal on the Norfork, this offers even more protection. The site has been marked with orange tape. I still feel that it would be best to avoid that section of the river for the next month as much as possible.

Many of the volunteers were wearing waders and the rest were wet wading. As the day went on, it got pretty hot and wet wading was definitely the best idea. By the time that the last box of eggs had been planted at ten o’clock, the temperature had risen to 95 degrees.

At the end of the process, T. L. Lauerman made a pizza run. The high point of the day was sitting around talking about the project with Dave an Emily. Everyone involved had a deep sense of accomplishment. The true reward will be in the years to come when we will be able to enjoy fishing for wild Bonneville Cutthroat trout.

The White River Chapter of Trout Unlimited has committed to planting the Bonneville Cutthroat trout every year for the next five. If you were unable to participate or did not know about it, make sure to join in next year. This is the most exciting conservation project that I have seen in a long time. I am proud that I was there.

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