Friday, January 17, 2020
Operation Fish Rescue Allows Trout to See Another Day
John Finnell built the fish tank.
Wednesday, October 9, 2019


They didn’t wear capes. But the two dozen men, women and children who braved 43-degree temperatures Sunday afternoon to wade into the canal water running through Howards Preserve  were heroes to those with gills.

A group holding a 30-by-5-foot net strung across the canal worked their way up the canal, eventually bringing the net around in a noose.  They emptied the squirming trout in several buckets. And additional  volunteers carried them past the headgates, releasing them into the Big Wood River as it ran through Bellevue.

Within an hour the fish rescuers had saved 1,753 fish of varying sizes before moving to another site off Gannett Road where they would save another 1,463 fish.


“They don’t realize we’re trying to help them,” said David Beaudry as he watched several fish escape the net to swim down canal. “Usually, we’re the bad guy. Today we’re the good guy.”

He watched dozens of fish slide out of the net into a bucket.

“Look at that haul,” he said. “That was a good haul.”

 “Yesterday we counted 590 fish in one bucket—of course, some were small,” responded Mike Riley who, as a former of the U.S. Coast Guard was working in much shallower water than he was used to.


The fish rescue was necessitated because canal managers had shut down the water entering the canal from the Big Wood River. Had they not been rescued, the fish would have died as the canal dried up.

“Fish rescues like this are pretty unusual around the West,” said Carmen Northen. “I don’t think too many communities do this because they don’t have anyone with the know-how to organize them. Probably hundreds of thousands of fish die every year because of that.”

The fish rescues organized by the Hemingway Chapter of Trout Unlimited began 11 or 12 years ago when member Carl Everson noticed that fish had been trapped in one of the canals.

A few members showed up with buckets, scooping as many fish as they could out of the canal and transferring them to the river. They returned the next year armed with more know-how and a permit.


And John Finnell, who had been a welder in San Francisco, built a mobile fish tank which he mounted on a truck that could oxygenate water for fish that had to be trucked from one place to another.

“This was a pretty easy rescue today because we just carried the fish around the headgates and put them in the river,” said Finnell. “Fish and Game requires we return the fish as close as we can to where they come out.”

Over the years, Northen estimated, members have rescued more than 65,000 fish from canals and areas like the Heart Rock Ranch, where they initiated a rescue when The Nature Conservancy needed to do stream restoration.

“Many are just a few inches long. But we rescued a bunch last week that were about two feet in length,” he said. "We rescued 2,320 trout that day."

About two-thirds of those who showed up for Sunday’s fish rescue had never participated in one before. Among them, Jay and Susan Armistead, who wore bright blue rain boots.

“We’re getting into fishing and this sounded interesting,” she said.

Jeff Beacham brought his son Colton, a second grader at Bellevue Elementary.

“We’d never done before and it sounded like fun and a good way to give back to the community,” Jeff Beacham said.

Operation Fish Rescue drew a crowd of passersby enjoying the warming temperatures and fall colors.

Finnell recounted how 13 girls in shorts and flip flops showed up during a fish rescue last year.

“One of the girls came up to me and said, ‘I want to pull that net,’ ” he added. “She put down her cellphone and got in the water and you could see her eyes go wide as she got the chance to touch, to handle some of the fish.”

“These are living things. And we want everyone to know that,” he added. “We want the kids to be able to touch them.”

The Hemingway Chapter of Trout Unlimited has 318 members with more than 400 on its mailing list. It meets from 5 to 7 p.m. the first Thursday of every month at Whiskey Jacques for presentations that are open to the public. The Nov. 5 meeting will feature a program on fishing for saltwater fish.








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