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Troutnut.com is a photographic shrine to trout, fly fishing, beautiful rivers, the fascinating flies we imitate, and how to match the hatch for every common species in North America. It is run by "Troutnut" Jason Neuswanger with help from many others.

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Fieldwork plus a bit of fishing in Alaska, anyone?

By Troutnut on March 25th, 2015, 7:41 pm
On the Drift Model Project at work, we're getting ready to hire two field technicians for this summer in interior Alaska. See the announcement below. Obviously, this is real work first and not primarily a fun fishing trip, but there will be downtime (while the cameras are collecting data, or when we're done working for the day) to experience some of the best grayling fly fishing in Alaska. We're also working on a small stream with dwarf dolly varden reminiscent of eastern brook trout.



If you're interested in spending the summer camping in Alaska, contributing to interesting scientific research, working some long days in mosquito-infested wilderness, and having some dynamite fly fishing on the side (with half your days off to explore elsewhere), feel free to apply as described on the flyer.

Most of the technical things we're doing are so project-specific that previous technical experience in fisheries--although helpful--isn't strictly necessary, which is why I'm posting the position here on Troutnut.com. We mostly need extra hands and (for one site) backs to pack gear. We need people who are willing to spend a few days at a time working long hours in semi-remote wilderness, and who have the skills and experience to take care of themselves around camp and enjoy the environment enough to still be good company by the end of a trip.

Exciting adventures and misadventures in Alaska in 2014

By Troutnut on December 23rd, 2014, 11:11 pm
I finally found time (with my dad's help) to post about several of this year's adventures. I was too busy early in the summer, finishing my Ph.D. and starting my new research project, to get out fishing. In August, my dad (having just retired from the Wisconsin DNR) flew up to Alaska to help with fieldwork. We didn't have enough fieldwork to justify hiring a technician this year, but it was too much to do with day-to-day volunteers, so his help for a couple weeks was extremely useful.

We blazed a trail at a small-stream study site and tested a bunch of equipment.





Later that same day, we met up with my wife at Denali National Park and celebrated our 4th anniversary with an exciting packraft float down Class II-III Riley Creek.

That night my wife's parents flew in, so my father-in-law came out to help us record data on Chinook salmon in the Chena River.

After that, dad and I traveled to a large spring creek study site to set up the camp our study will use for the next few years.



We accomplished a lot of productive technology testing and fly fished for big grayling to gather diet samples.



After finishing fieldwork at all of our sites, we took a few days just to hunt and fish.

Our first and most exciting trip was a caribou hunt in the Alaska Range. We hiked in about 13 miles and floated out about 15. My dad wrote up his account of the hunt, too. We saw some epic scenery, and courted disaster multiple times--the story is worth a read!





After that adventure we took a day in Fairbanks to recuperate before heading to the Kenai peninsula, where we fished the Kenai River for trout and did a saltwater charter out of Homer.



We broke up the 12-hour drive back to Fairbanks by spending a night in Talkeetna, where good weather the next morning encouraged us to take a spur-of-the-moment flightseeing tour over Denali National Park with K2 Aviation.



A week or so after dad left, Lena and I participated in the Denali Park road lottery, driving our vehicle in and seeing some great wildlife.



A few weeks later was my first trip to the bush to help some USFWS scientists with technology I developed during my Ph.D. See sights in Kotzebue, sights from the trip to camp through the village of Selawik, photos from the Selawik River, traveling from Selawik to Kotzebue, views of Denali Park the flight back.



As of this August, it's Dr. Troutnut!

By Troutnut on November 26th, 2014, 9:23 pm
I didn't post much to the site this year because I was very busy finishing my Ph.D. at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and immediately starting an exciting post-doc. I defended my dissertation in June and graduated in August, and my dissertation was finally published online recently. Anyone curious what I've been up to in Alaska can download it from ProQuest as a free PDF here:

New 3-D video methods reveal novel territorial drift-feeding behaviors that help explain environmental correlates of Chena River Chinook salmon productivity

The long-winded title results from my doing four chapters on seemingly separate topics that deeply connect to each other in detail. Overall, my dissertation is about understanding what processes and environmental variables control the success of salmonids--both individuals and entire populations. I directly studied juvenile (fingerling) Chinook salmon, but many of the results are likely to apply to trout, grayling, and any other stream fishes that engage in drift feeding (i.e. holding a stationary feeding position in the current and darting back and forth to intercept items of food).

Details of my dissertation

Chapter 1 is about technology, especially a computer program I developed (called VidSync) that makes it possible record fish with a pair of video cameras and then quickly make thousands of measurements of the fish, their environment, and their behavior. The chapter describes this program and the math behind it (which I didn't invent from scratch, although I made some important improvements). VidSync made the next two chapters possible.

Chapter 2 is about how tiny debris in the drift affect drift-feeding fish (and it was published already in Environmental Biology of Fishes). Even crystal-clear water naturally contains a large amount of fine debris, which is difficult to notice in person but jumps out on video shot at certain lighting angles, much like the dust in the air is revealed by a lone sunbeam shining into a dark room. This debris comes from many different processes, such as the gradual breakdown of wood and leaf litter by aquatic insects and bacteria, or insects shedding their exoskeletons (exuviae) between instars (Instar: Many invertebrates molt through dozens of progressively larger and better-developed stages as they grow. Each of these stages is known as an instar. Hard-bodied nymphs typically molt through more instars than soft-bodied larvae.) or during emergence. Drift-feeding fish face the very difficult task of distinguishing between debris and food of a similar size and color. It's probably especially difficult for small fish (because there's more small debris of a similar size to their prey). Most of the foraging effort of juvenile Chinook salmon was directed at debris items they either rejected without capturing or captured and spit out. This doesn't mean they're bad at feeding--it just means they had to engage their senses of taste and touch in an important way. Even large trout are sometimes found with debris in their stomachs and observed rising to inspect inedible items... including our flies. It's a bit humbling as a fly fisherman to realize that we aren't always fooling fish into thinking our fly is food--we're basically just getting them to give it the benefit of the doubt, just like they do to countless other bits of natural flotsam.

Chapter 3 is about territoriality. Previous studies of salmonid territoriality have described fish widely spaced across a pool, with territorial boundaries that can be mapped out in 2-D (i.e., mapped from a "top view" of the pool). Juvenile Chena River Chinook salmon, at first glance, behave very differently--they feed in large, 3-D schools (meaning some fish are directly above and below others) along the edges of the river. Even though this is very different from the typical, widely spaced patchwork of 2-D territories, and even though feeding territories have never been detected within schools of fish or any other animal groups, I found that some Chinook salmon were very territorial. Some were transient, "just passing through" the school in a minute or less. Many others used strategies in between the two extremes, which haven't really been studied before.

Chapter 4 is about the effect of high stream flow on the Chena River Chinook salmon population. I analyzed 20 years of salmon run data from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and found that the salmon do very poorly when they experienced a high-water year in the river as juveniles. This effect is probably relevant to the broader decline of Chinook salmon throughout the Yukon River drainage in recent years, although there's also probably more to the story. Hundreds of scientists are working on bits and pieces of that puzzle, because so many people depend on those fish for subsistence in rural villages. This chapter identified an important clue, but it's not the whole story.

If you're interested in a slightly more technical explanation of these chapters and how they fit together, read the abstract in the dissertation PDF.

What's next?

The same week I turned in the final draft of my dissertation, I began remotely working as an Alaska-based post-doctoral research associate at the University of Georgia. I'm working with a top expert on drift-feeding behavior, UGA Professor Gary Grossman (who writes the "Ask Dr. Trout" column in American Angler). We're starting a 3-year project studying the mechanics of drift-feeding in juvenile Chinook salmon, as well as adult grayling, and dwarf dolly varden. My hope and expectation is that this project will greatly advance our understanding of the mechanisms that control the behavior and feeding success of drift-feeding fish.

This new project means I'll be remaining in Alaska for at least two more summers. Depending on my wife's career, we might move somewhere else for the rest of the year, but we have no specific plans yet. I'm really excited to have the opportunity to work with one of the leaders in my field while still spending summers in this amazing state and focusing on a project I helped design to follow my #1 research interest. I will try to continue to update Troutnut.com throughout, including posting some of my intense adventures from this summer over the next couple months.

The Alaska Range seen from the southwest

By Troutnut on September 24th, 2014
I had some spectacular views on my flight from Kotzebue back to Anchorage.

Photos by Troutnut from Denali National Park in Alaska

Mt Foraker (left), Denali (right), Kahiltna Glacier, and Chelatna Lake, the outlet of which (Lake Creek) is known for great fishing and difficult floating. Viewed from a flight from Kotzebue to Anchorage. From Denali National Park in Alaska.
Mt Foraker (left), Denali (right), Kahiltna Glacier, and Chelatna Lake, the outlet of which (Lake Creek) is known for great fishing and difficult floating. Viewed from a flight from Kotzebue to Anchorage.
StateAlaska
Date TakenSep 24, 2014
Date AddedDec 23, 2014
AuthorTroutnut
CameraNIKON D5300
Mt Foraker and the Lacuna Glacier seen from a flight from Kotzebue to Anchorage From Denali National Park in Alaska.
Mt Foraker and the Lacuna Glacier seen from a flight from Kotzebue to Anchorage
StateAlaska
Date TakenSep 24, 2014
Date AddedDec 23, 2014
AuthorTroutnut
CameraNIKON D5300

Traveling from Selawik to Kotzebue

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