Arctic Grayling Project At Elk Lake (P1)

To some people a fish is a fish is a fish. However, to the dedicated folks who work for Montana's Fish Wildlife and Parks, everything which wear scales and fins is unique in its own right. Thus, as I have reported in earlier posts, they have undertaken a major project to re-introduce a fish native to our lake whose presence had been lost in Elk Lake's waters.

As I showed in a post this past February, the Grayling reintroduction project has been quite complicated. Not only did this mean more than merely putting fish back into the lake, it has required reconstructing an entire stream as well as a 1/4 mile pipeline to guarantee adequate stream flow, even in drier springs.

A beautiful stream (and they did an amazing job) and piped water are not sufficient in and of themselves. To create the Grayling 'nursery' to raise these precious young, the FWP had to develop the water pressure needed to feed the buckets. Thus this spring they built a 'pond'.

But in our country, merely digging a hole and setting a headgate does not guarantee water storage. In fact, our ground is so shaley, the FWP had to haul in a truckload of Bentonite to seal the pond's bottom.

The trickiest part in the whole process was creating a pond (and sealing its leaky bottom and sides) without disturbing the spring which fed it. In the final analysis, it appears the spring is producing better than ever!

The end result is quite impressive. And, we have been assured the FWP will be back to refoliate the pond's banks. However, according to one of the biologists, this stream actually grows plants too well - so maybe it won't wait that long! In other words, the spring's abundant nitrate grows lush streamside foliage. But, that much nitrate is not healthy for baby fish. So, over the winter, the team put their heads together and created a 'waterfall' to reduce the nitrate levels!

Once the habitat had been constructed, it was time to secure some fish eggs. Since the Artic Grayling which inhabited Elk Lake have relatives thriving in Red Rock Creek, they were the logical brood stock for reistablishing Elk Lake's Grayling propulation.

While some might think this process requires a hatchery and a few captive fish, the process is in one way much more simple and in another much more complicated. To assure the greatest chance for successful reintroduction, the baby Grayling need to 'hatch' where they will later spawn. So, the first step was so catch some Grayling before they spawned.

I suspect that never - even in their wildest dreams (or nightmares) - did these fish expect their spawning expedition would end this way! While it doesn't look very romantic, 'milking' the Grayling for their eggs and sperm is the quickest way to obtaining the fertilized eggs so necessary for our project.

And while the Grayling have had to endure the indignities required to obtain their eggs, Elk Lake's Westslope Cutthroats have been going about it the 'natural' way! It is so nice to see our stream already proving itself to be desireable habitat.

Next time we'll continue to Grayling Saga and show what happened to all those eggs 'stolen' from the Red Rock fish. I must admit. I never expected moving to the middle of nowhere would provide such an education. Who else has science experiments going on in their backyard? Who else can watch the reintroduction of a lost era - and enjoy the process from start to finish? We are certainly a blessed family!

Lady of the Lake

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