Thursday, August 16, 2012

Scientific Anglers

These people
rock! They fund
tons of great programs
in the park. Join now!
My contributions to conservation programs at Trout Unlimited are generally limited to either being arms and legs on a project or writing checks. They're both important roles and I fill them because I'm no scientist. About the closest I get to science is collecting bugs for our macroinvertebrate sampling. I don't know the bug's Latin names but I can fill a sample jar with them when required.

In Yellowstone there's a need for all manner of scientific study to support the execution and refinement of the Native Fish Conservation Plan. Some of that work includes fish sampling. It's everything from "What type of  fish are in those streams?" to "What's their genetic make-up? ".

Given the vast geography of the park - 2,650 miles of streams and 110,000 acres of lakes - you need a lot of human beings to go do that work and to do so the National Park Service relies upon volunteers to help.

And these volunteer are not scientists, they're fly anglers.

Funded by the Yellowstone Park Foundation since 2003, Yellowstone National Park's Volunteer Fly Fishing Program runs from June through September each year. Each day the program's volunteer directors take a handful of anglers on fishing trips. The purpose of these trips is to complete fish sampling for projects identified by fisheries biologists at the beginning of each season.

Bill Voigt, co-director of the Volunteer Fly Fishing
Program, Best Job on the Planet
According to Bill Voigt, co-director of the volunteer program, and a volunteer himself, the science and the projects are quite diverse. In one study they collected whole fish in several lakes to support a loon study for a university in Oregon. Loons summered in the lakes where the fish were sampled. Researchers want to know how mercury moves through the food chain of loons.

Lucky volunteers also fished the Firehole River to study the impact of the park's many thermal features on trout. Water temperatures were documented where fish were caught, fin clips were taken and fish were measured. All that angling amounted to data for researchers and a good day on the water and a tug on the line for volunteers.

If you're visiting Yellowstone Park in the future you can participate in this program. Bill's only criteria seems to be that you have an interest in the work at hand. Angling experience levels don't seem to matter and old and young can participate alike.

To help ease the financial burden, volunteers receive a free pass to the park and free lodging. Volunteers can choose between living in the bunkhouse or camping at a campsite near the research team's headquarters.

I'm already plotting my return to the park and when I do so volunteering for the program will be a must do activity. I'm sure I'll find Bill and his wife, Joann, side-by-side leading projects along the park's waters helping normal folks become scientific anglers.

Rebecca and Marc fishing the Lamar River
Rebecca lost a very nice fish along here (you're welcome for reminding you of it) and
I got a nice Rainbow not too far from where Marc is standing. Otherwise, a very slow afternoon on the river.
Editor’s note: In June, Trout Unlimited, along with Simms, the Yellowstone Park Foundation and the Outdoor Blogger Network, held an essay contest. Two winners, Marc Payne and I, were selected to attend the second annual TU Blogger Tour – this year’s tour took place July 24-28 in Yellowstone National Park. It was friggin' awesome.


  1. Sounds like a lot of great opportunities to get involved...even for us non-scientific anglers. Can't imagine a better place to get the boots wet.

    1. As an added benefit, you're usually being pointed to water where they know there are fish and are fishing with someone who's been there before.

  2. Thanks for sharing this information. It looks to be a great opportunity for some angling in Yellowstone.

    1. You're welcome, Pam. I'm definitely doing some fishing with them next year.