Out Fishing

Out Fishing: Hatchery Brood Fish Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer
Hatchery Brood Fish
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer
The minute I heard there was a well stacked community fishing pond just five miles down the road from where I live, I dusted off my old fishing pole, slipped out of the house, and threw my line into the Wellsville Reservoir. I had the place to myself. There was snow on the ground but the water wasn’t frozen. Within the first hour I felt the tug on the line and reeled in a 12 inch trout. I was hooked! I returned just about every evening to catch my limit of 2. I called all my friends who liked to eat fish, and started to consider adding fresh fish delivery to my resume.

About this time I heard that although trucks from the state hatcheries stocked the community ponds, the hatchery in Kamas delivered fish to high mountain lakes in the Unitas via airplane. A few phone calls later, and I was lucky enough to get invited to watch the loading of the fish.

It was 5 in the morning when I followed the Kamas hatchery truck out onto to tarmac at the Heber airport. A specially designed Cessna 158 was waiting for us. There – just behind the pilot’s seat- was a water tank neatly divided into 7 compartments. 7 levers stuck out from the dashboard that would open and close a portal on the belly of the plane.

Hatchery staff loading about 8 lbs of fingerling trout onto a scale before loading into a plane tank via a funnel. Courtesy & © Mary Heers
Hatchery staff loading about 8 lbs of fingerling trout onto a scale before loading into a plane tank via a funnel.
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer
The crew got right to work. One pumped water into the plane’s water tank. Another netted about 8 lbs of fingerling trout onto a scale and dumped the lot into a funnel. Suddenly an especially feisty fingerling jumped out of the funnel and landed at my feet. I picked it up, cradling it in the palm of my hand, awed by the sleek beauty of this tiny trout that was exactly the size of my index finger. I wished it well as I tossed it back.

“Flush,” said the man in charge. And another man with a red bucket of water sent the fish through the funnel into the plane. Soon the pilot took off. When he got to his target lake, he would drop down and skim over the tops of the trees on the water’s edge. He would then open the portal in the belly of the plane and the tiny trout would flutter down like leaves into the water below.

If our feisty fingerling can avoid predators (mostly birds and bigger fish) it will grow to about 5 inches by September. When the water temperature drops to 30 degrees the fish become lethargic and stop growing. Next June, if the lake warms up to 50 degrees, the trout will grow 2/3 inch an month. At 60 degrees, the fish will grow an inch a month. But if the water temperature reaches 70, the amount of oxygen in the water will drop. Any higher and the fish will be severely stressed.

Growing up and backpacking with my family, I was always delighted to come across an alpine lake because it meant that I could take off my pack and stop hiking. But once I got hooked on fishing, I found myself agreeing with the poet Edgar Guest:

“A feller gets a chance to dream
Out fishing.
He learns the beauty of the stream
Out fishing….+

Now, as far as getting up to the high mountain lakes in the Unitas, one thing is for certain. The fish are already there.

This is Mary Heers and I am Wild About Utah.

Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
Photos: Courtesy
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
Text: Mary Heers, https://cca.usu.edu/files/awards/art-and-mary-heers-citation.pdf
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Mary Heers’ Wild About Utah Postings

Edgar Guest, 1881–1959, Biography, Poets.org, https://poets.org/poet/edgar-guest

Edgar Albert Guest, Out Fishin’, InternetPoem.com, 2018, https://internetpoem.com/edgar-albert-guest/out-fishin-poem/

Betancourt, Sarah, Flying fish: video shows Utah wildlife agency restocking lake by plane, The Guardian, July 13, 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/jul/13/fish-plane-video-utah-lake

Facer, Austin, Who says fish can’t fly?: Aerial stocking places fish in lakes via airplane drop, ABC4 Utah, July 12, 2021, https://www.abc4.com/news/digital-exclusives/who-says-fish-cant-fly-aerial-stocking-places-fish-in-lakes-via-airplane-drop/

Knighton, Conor, In Utah it’s raining fish, CBS Sunday Morning, Oct 24, 2021, https://www.cbsnews.com/video/in-utah-its-raining-fish/

Bear Lake Sculpin – Cottus extensus

Bear Lake Sculpin - Cottus extensus: Hayley Glassic with a Bear Lake Cutthroat Courtesy & Copyright Jeremy Jensen
Hayley Glassic with a Bear Lake Cutthroat
Courtesy & Copyright Jeremy Jensen
In Bear Lake, there lives a small, bright blue eyed, bottom-dwelling fish species that may appear insignificant as it moves among the lake’s cobble areas.

The fish grows up to three inches in length and is endemic to Utah’s northern most lake, hence its name – the Bear Lake sculpin.

The sculpin is a scale-free, tadpole-like fish with a broad flat head, a slender body and eyes placed high on its head. It has elaborate pectoral fins that stretch out like decorative fans from both sides of its body and two dorsal fins along its back that sometimes connect at the base.

Bear Lake Sculpin - Cottus extensus: Sculpin Courtesy & Copyright Jereme Gaeta
Courtesy & Copyright Jereme Gaeta
Although the sculpin is small, its worth is significant. One of the main sportfish of Bear Lake, the Bonneville Cutthroat trout, rely heavily on the sculpin to be a source of food as its main forage fish, the sculpin makes up more than 70% of the diet for juvenile trout.

Interestingly, Bear Lake is the only place the sculpin is natively found and it is one of only two sculpins in the West that live in deep-water lake habitats.

It stays exclusively in the lake. While other fish in Bear Lake migrate up the tributaries to spawn, the sculpin seek out the lakes cobble areas where it can find cavities under and between the rocks to lay its eggs.

The best cobble habitat in Bear Lake is along the eastern shore at Cisco Beach where the shallow water covers the rounded rocks that range from 2-12 inches in size. Only 0.1% of Bear Lake is cobble habitat.

Bear Lake Sculpin - Cottus extensus: Bear Lake Sckulpin Courtesy & Copyright Jeremy Jensen
Bear Lake Sculpin
Courtesy & Copyright Jeremy Jensen
The shallow location of the cobble is important for the successful nest since the wave turbulence begins the hatching process. Waves and currents also help with the dispersal of the sculpin embryos throughout the 282 square kilometer lake.

Once hatched the young-of-the year have a feeding ritual quite different from their juvenile and adult counterparts. While the older sculpin stay on the bottom of the lake foraging for food, the young float up during the day to where the sun easily penetrates the water. The sunlight makes it easier for the young sculpin to find their food and it warms their bodies so they can digest their food more rapidly– which stimulates growth. The young sculpin can feed up to nine times faster during the day than they would at night. Once they have grown, it is difficult for sculpin to rise up the water column because they do not have swim bladders as trout do.

An essential component to have a large population of new sculpin each year is to ensure there is sufficient cobble habitat in Bear Lake.

When drought years hit, large portions of the cobble are exposed due to both that drought and human use. While the lake has never dropped to the level where all cobble habitat is exposed, a USU research team has documented more than 96% of cobble reductions during extreme multi-year drought events. This raises major concerns and questions about how a decrease in cobble would impact the sculpin population.

To investigate this question, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources awarded a research grant to Jereme Gaeta, assistant professor in the Department of Watershed Sciences and the Ecology Center in the Quinney College of Natural Resources to improve our understanding of the potential effects of drought on cobble habitats and fish communities.

Bear Lake Sculpin - Cottus extensus: Sculpin in Haley Glassic's hand Courtesy & Copyright Jeremy Jensen
Sculpin in Haley Glassic’s hand
Courtesy & Copyright Jeremy Jensen
Hayley Glassic, a graduate student in Gaeta’s lab has worked on this project since 2015. In the coming months their findings will be published and made available to the public.

This may be important reading for any agency or person making decisions about the Bear Lake water levels, which would impact the cobble habitat of the Bear Lake sculpin.

According to Glassic, “Sculpin appear to be one of the essential parts of the entire (Bear Lake) ecosystem.” Ensuring their cobble habitat is preserved during drought years is necessary for the overall health of the lake’s ecosystem.

This is Shauna Leavitt for Wild About Utah.

Photos: Courtesy and Copyright Jeremy Jensen
Photos: Courtesy and Copyright Jereme Gaeta
Text: Shauna Leavitt

Sources & Additional Reading

Bear Lake Sculpin – Cottus extensus, USGS, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/factsheet.aspx?SpeciesID=503

Bear Lake Sculpin – Cottus extensus, Fishbase Consortium, http://fishbase.org/summary/Cottus-extensus.html

Bear Lake Sculpin – Cottus extensus, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, https://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/rsgis2/Search/Display.asp?FlNm=cottexte

Bear Lake Blue Ribbon Fishery, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, https://wildlife.utah.gov/hotspots/brwaterbody.php?id=41

Bear Lake Sculpin – Cottus extensus, Idaho Fish & Game, https://idfg.idaho.gov/ifwis/cwcs/pdf/Bear%20Lake%20Sculpin.pdf

Aquatic Insects, Harbingers of Health

Aquatic Insects, Harbingers of Health
Skwala (Large Springflies)
Stonefly Nymph
Courtesy & Copyright
Robert Newell
As found on

Aquatic Insects, Harbingers of HealthMayfly nymph
Courtesy & Copyright
Leo Kenney, Vernal Pool Association

Aquatic Insects, Harbingers of HealthNorthern caddisfly Larvae

Photo Credit:
Howard Ensign Evans,
Colorado State University,
Used under
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0

Hi, this is Mark Larese-Casanova from the Utah Master Naturalist Program at Utah State University Extension.

As we officially enter summer, it’s easy to notice nature at its peak. Wildflowers are in bloom, birds are feeding their young, and insects fill the air. Life is especially robust near our wetlands, lakes, and streams.

Our aquatic, or wet, ecosystems provide habitat to abundant plants and animals. Only 1% of Utah is wet, but over 80% of all wildlife in Utah depend on aquatic ecosystems for at least part of their life cycle. However, the quality of Utah’s aquatic habitats is often affected by chemical pollution or excessive nutrients and sediment.

Some organisms, including many aquatic insects, only live in the healthiest of aquatic habitats. Many of the insects we see in summer live in the water when young, during the larval or nymph stage, before becoming adults. Three insects in particular- mayflies, stoneflies, and caddisflies- require especially clean, cold streams low in nutrients and high in dissolved oxygen to survive.

Mayflies are aquatic as nymphs and emerge from the water to live as adults for just a day. The external feather-like gills of the nymphs can be seen fluttering along the sides of their abdomen. They feed by scraping algae from rocks.

Stonefly nymphs are well adapted to living among the rocks of swift-moving streams. Their hooked legs grasp the slick rocks as they shred apart plant litter that falls into the stream.

Caddisfly larvae spin a sort of spider silk to glue rocks or sticks together to form a case in which they live. They will also build webs underwater to collect small particles of food that drift by.

The quality of a stream habitat can be assessed by counting the number of different species, or types, of mayflies, stoneflies, and caddisflies. A greater number of species generally means that habitat and water quality are higher. Dramatic decreases in insect diversity from season to season or year to year can signal a decline in stream health. Monitoring aquatic insects over time gives us an accurate picture of the long-term health of our stream ecosystems.

For more information about monitoring water quality and aquatic insects, visit Utah State University Water Quality Extension’s website. Once there, you’ll find a wealth of information about monitoring Utah’s aquatic ecosystems, including Utah Water Watch, a statewide volunteer citizen science program.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Mark Larese-Casanova.

Images: Northern caddisfly larvae, Howard Ensign Evans,
            Colorado State University
            Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
            Stonefly Nymph, © Robert Newell, displayed on Troutnut.com
            Mayfly nymph, © Leo Kenney Vernal Pool Association
Text:     Mark Larese-Casanova, Utah Master Naturalist Program
            at Utah State University Extension.

Additional Reading:

Larese-Casanova, M. Utah Master Naturalist Watersheds Wildlife Field Guide. Utah State University Extension. 2012. https://extension.cart.usu.edu/Details.cfm?ProdID=41&category=0

USU Water Quality Extension. Utah Stream Team Manual. http://extension.usu.edu/waterquality/htm/citizen_monitoring/ust

Voshell, J. R. A Guide to Common Freshwater Invertebrates of North America. The McDonald and Woddward Publishing Company. 2002. http://www.amazon.com/Guide-Common-Freshwater-Invertebrates-America/dp/0939923874

Fossil Formation

Fossilized fish
Mioplosus labracoides
Copyright 2013 Stokes Nature Center
Andrea Liberatore, Photographer

Fossilized fish
Copyright 2013 Stokes Nature Center
Andrea Liberatore, Photographer

Horn Corals from Logan Canyon
Copyright 2013 Stokes Nature Center
Andrea Liberatore, Photographer

Fossilized leaf
Copyright 2013 Stokes Nature Center
Andrea Liberatore, Photographer

Fossilized shells
Copyright 2013 Stokes Nature Center
Andrea Liberatore, Photographer

The most popular school program that the Stokes Nature Center offers is a geology lesson for second grade. I’m not sure what happens between second grade and adulthood to make our general perception of geology go from exciting to boring, but you would be amazed at how excited second graders get over rocks, and especially, over fossils.

Fossils are really quite rare – a very specific set of conditions have to be met in order to create one. Most living things decompose fairly rapidly upon death, leaving no trace of their existence behind. In order to create a fossil, this process of decomposition needs to be halted fairly rapidly, which typically means that the body is quickly covered by some kind of sediment – like sand, or soil or mud. For this reason, most fossils are found embedded in sedimentary rock. If pressure and moisture levels are just right, over the course of millions of years the organism’s molecules will slowly be replaced by minerals from the surrounding sediments – eventually turning bone into stone.

Only somewhere around one in a billion bones will make it through this process. From there the fossil has to remain intact and identifiable through eons of tectonic plate movement, earthquakes, and mountain uplift. Then, in order to be found it has to be located near enough to the earth’s surface, and in such a place where a human might come across it. Some geologists estimate that only 1 in 10,000 species that have ever lived have made it into the known fossil record, which makes me wonder what discoveries still await us.

Fortunately for us, prehistoric Utah was a place where fossilization happened with some regularity, as evidenced by places like Dinosaur National Monument and the Escalante Petrified Forest. Did you know that Utah has a state fossil? That distinction goes to the allosaurus, a predatory dinosaur that thrived during the Late Jurassic period. Numerous skeletons found in east-central Utah range in size from 10 – 40 feet in length, meaning this fearsome creature may have rivaled it’s more famous cousin Tyrannosaurus Rex for top predator status.

With such a rich fossil history, it’s not out of the question that you might stumble onto something truly amazing during a routine hike. Can you keep your find? Well, that depends on two things: the type of fossil, and whose land it was found on. On public lands in Utah, fossils of vertebrates cannot be collected, while fossils of invertebrates and plants can be. Private land owners have full rights to the fossils found on their property. With all fossils, it’s a great idea to report your find to the US Geological Survey so that your discovery can be documented for public or scientific research, display or education.

Fossil creation is an incredible phenomenon that has allowed us to glimpse the earth’s history in ways that would otherwise be completely hidden. Thanks to fossils, we can envision a prehistoric landscape filled with giant ferns, enormous dragonflies, long-necked allosauruses, and flying pterodactyls. Without the evidence in the fossil record, I doubt that even the most imaginative person among us could have envisioned such an amazing array of life.

For the Stokes Nature Center and Wild About Utah, this is Andrea Liberatore.


Photos: Courtesy & © Stokes Nature Center, logannature.org
Text:    Andrea Liberatore, Stokes Nature Center, logannature.org

Additional Reading:

State of Utah, Utah Geological Survey, Dinosaurs & Fossils (2011) http://geology.utah.gov/utahgeo/dinofossil/index.htm

McCalla, Carole and Eldredge, Sandy (2009) What should you do if you find a fossil? Utah Geological Survey. Accessible online at: http://geology.utah.gov/surveynotes/gladasked

Trefil, James (1996) 101 Things You Don’t Know About Science and Nobody Else Does Either. Houghton Mifflin Company: New York, NY, http://www.amazon.com/Things-Dont-About-Science-Either/dp/0395877407

Bryson, Bill (2003) A Short History of Nearly Everything. Broadway Books. New York, NY, http://www.amazon.com/Short-History-Nearly-Everything-Illustrated/dp/0307885151