Cody Environmentalists Save Trout

Jake Blakely, Jim Eickoff, Tom Thompson, Steve Yekel work the Willwood canal to save trapped trout.

Despite a high of only 35 degrees on Thurs. Oct. 26, a group of Cody residents met in the Rocky Mountain Sports parking lot at 7:45 AM to rescue cutthroat, rainbow, and brown trout from canals that would be drained later in November.

“I started this over 20 years ago,” said Bob Capron. “My uncle used to manage these irrigation systems on the South Fork, so basically all my life I’ve known there are fish getting lost in these ditches.”

Today, the program is much more successful than the start. The Wyoming Trout  Unlimited Club has rescued an average of four thousand fish a year since 2000.

“We started out just dragging nets down the ditch, but that wasn’t real successful,” said Capron. “We got some guys trained up to work these shockers. We bought a couple of shockers, and it really increased the efficiency of  getting fish out of the channels. We’ve been doing the rescue with the shockers since 2000.”

The shockers weigh 45 pounds and have a submersible wand that, when activated, stuns the fish so they rise to the surface of the water for a few seconds. Right behind the shocker, a netter scoops up the fish, then transfers them to someone behind who carries a bucket. They transfer the fish to a big tank and put them in the river at the head of the canal, which is the environment where they originated.  Usually the team consists of  two shockers, two or three netters, and two or three bucket handlers.

The trout are the main focus and are primarily saved, while some other species of fish die from the stun.  

“We’re trying to save the game fish,” said Capron. “White fish and the suckers can’t stand  nearly as much electricity as the trout, so they’ll just turn belly up and die.”

“We work about eight or nine days a year,” said Capron.

Retired Cody resident Tom Anderson has been part of the rescue for fifteen years.

“It’s a great way to return fish to their native environment,” Anderson said. “It’s like recycling mother nature’s precious resource.”

If volunteers didn’t make the rescue a possibility, Anderson estimates, 15% of trout population in Wyoming would die every year in irrigation canals.

“Bob and his team have rescued trout from the Cody Canal, North Fork Canal, Garland Canal, Lake View Canal, and Willwood Canal,” Anderson said. “They probably go through all the major canals in Cody.”

Trout Unlimited President Tom Reed has been part of the rescue for three years.

“It’s the ultimate conservation,” said Reed. “I’ve been working my whole life, not volunteering, so this is a chance to give back to the environment. The rescue is to sustain the population. Some of the smaller ones might have five or seven years to live and naturally reproduce.”

While Trout Unlimited cares about moving the trout out of the canals to a safe place, they also are very cautious about keeping the rivers clean of diseases.

“They put them back in the same river they came from, so if they have any kind of disease, they don’t spread it to a different river,” Reed said.

The rescue has multiple purposes, one of them being sustaining tourism.

“There’s people who come from all parts of the world to fish in this area, so by saving them, it brings tourist dollars into the area,” Reed said. “Keeping the tourism side of things is also important.”

The trout rescue for this year ended with approximately four thousand fish being relocated into a safer environment.

If you would like to be involved with next year’s rescue, please contact Wyoming Trout Unlimited through their Facebook page or contact Bob Capron at 1(307)-250-6719.