Wildlife Watch: The fish are jumping in the NEK

Published: Apr. 25, 2023 at 4:04 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 25, 2023 at 5:20 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

BARTON, Vt. (WCAX) - At the Willoughby Falls Wildlife Management Area in Barton, the water is flowing and anglers are trying to reel in steelhead rainbow trout. But wetting a line is just a small part of the entertainment that draws visitors.

“This is the only place in Vermont where you can see this really interesting wildlife migration -- is the steelhead rainbow trout coming out of Lake Memphremagog and swimming up into the river. And here in the falls, they have to leap out of the water to get from the lower stretch of the river to the upper stretch where they spawn,” Josh Morse with Vermont Fish and Wildlife.

It’s no secret in the Kingdom that this is the place to see the fish jumping. The migration brought Jerry Smith from Hyde Park, hoping to get his first glimpse and capture it on film. “I’m hoping to see some of the steelheads come up the river here,” he said. “I didn’t get up here last year. I was up here two years ago again -- didn’t see anything that day either.

Reporter Ike Bendavid: So if you see one it would be...

Jerry Smith: It would be exciting, yes.

“You pick your spot, you study up on the species you want to watch. At the end of the day, there is an element of chance,” Morse said.

While our cameras didn’t capture the acrobatics, Vermont Fish and Wildlife sent us some pictures from later in the day.

So why do they jump? The fish have the same evolutionary adaption as other jumping fish, like salmon in Alaska, to return to their streams to spawn during the spring. Biologists say have a healthy population in Lake Memphremagog and Lake Champlain.

Reporter Ike Bendavid: Why are people allowed to fish when they are trying to migrate?

Josh Morse: We actually have protection in place around that below. The bridge down below the falls -- anglers can fish. This is a healthy fishery. The steelhead here are wild reproducing. They come back year after year. Regulated fishing is okay. But we block off fishing. You can’t fish from the upstream side of the bridge to the natural top of the falls at this time of year to give those fish who are about to start on, you know, the most strenuous part of their migration; a little relief from angling pressure.

To monitor the health of the fish, biologist Levi Brown is using a camera to try to get images of the fish underwater. “One way that we determine stocked vs. wild fish is that we clip their fins. So, this is sort of a new technique that we are trying out to see if we can access the number of stocked fish vs. wild fish that are coming up through these falls,” Brown said.

But you don’t need a fancy camera to check out the jumping, just some patience.

Officials say the migration usually goes into early May.