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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

A Day Stern Trawling On the Missouri River

Region 3, October 12, 2012
Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron - Photo Credit: n/a

The morning started off grand, a beautiful sunrise with promise of a great day of trawling for larval fish. After a few morning preparations we were ready to go out on the Missouri river. We hopped into the truck and made our way through the Missouri countryside bordered on both sides with green fields, their promising yields lit by the sun. The last mile was a dusty lane beside the Missouri river and through the trees you could glimpse the seemingly calm waters we were about to traverse. At the edge of the waters we saw a great blue heron with a stoic pose, waiting for some ill-fated wanderer.

Finally we arrived at the ramp. A rumble from the boat’s engine and we were off. Water sprays from either side of the boat as it glides effortlessly through the current. After a short time of the wind unsuccessfully trying to remove our hats, we arrived at a location suitable for trawling.

Many of small young-of-the-year fish are so small that they are not able to withstand the mighty currents of the Missouri river. So they quite literally, “go with the flow.” Occasionally the river allows them some relief as they drift into some backwater slow enough to allow their little undeveloped fins to be effective. This is exactly what the heron is hoping for, an easy meal. And so it is where we too try our hand at collecting these young fish. These areas are not without hazard for us, as this happens to be the same areas where the river likes to toss large snags when it floods. This always makes it more interesting as we attempt to drag a net along the bottom, looking to the fish-finder for help with snags.

Our first net came back to us without issue. We started the careful work of looking through the debris/gravel for fish not much longer than your fingernail. It is amazing how through genetics, you can determine to whom these little fish belong.  After several trawls, getting stuck on a sandbar, tearing a net and retrieving it from a snag, we decided to limp back towards the boat ramp. We may have had a victory in numbers over the stoic heron, but perhaps it ultimately won in its calm serenity of waiting patiently for a catch along the peaceful shores of the Big Muddy.


Written by William "Zack" Brock

Contact Info: Patricia Herman, 618-997-6869 x108, Patricia_Herman@fws.gov