Surveying Ross Lake trout

I look down, my right hand is covered in brain matter, my left hand has a piece of intestine hanging from my pinky and as I continue down… my shirt is becoming pink all over and I realize I am quite stinky and rather disgusting. I never thought I would be spending a week at Ross Lake dissecting over 100 fish…
Since working and studying at the North Cascades Institute, I have been presented with many unique and great opportunities. Some of these opportunities have been provided to us, and some we have to work a little harder to find.

This summer each graduate student applied for different “summer leadership” positions within the institute and its partners. We each were able to create and obtain summer leaderships tracks that provide each individual with experience they were interested in. From working with summer youth programs, to sticking around the Environmental Learning Center for family and adult programs, everyone seemed to find an experience that fit them. My background, passions, and future goals lay in the aquatic field—a little more difficult being stationed in the middle of a mountain range. Lucky for me, through the Institute’s partnership with North Cascades National Park, I am grateful to have created the 1st position with NCI and the North Cascades Nationals Park’s aquatic crew.

Since beginning my summer internship with the North Cascade National Park aquatics department, I have been overwhelmed with the great experiences and learning opportunities I have been provided with. From spawning surveys, water quality monitoring and teaching students about lake ecology— to say the least, this summer has been amazing!

Check out these pictures I have taken on our weekly snorkel surveys of 2 creeks on Ross Lake. Spawning surveys consisted of completed 4 reaches up each creek, fighting through the rapids to take a peak under the surface to find beautiful spawning Rainbow Trout and native Char.

Rainbow Trout fighting upstream
Spawning fluvial Rainbow Trout. These guys stay much smaller than the adfluvial Trout seen above

 I got to partake in education, research, and lots of data collection throughout this summer. The education component of my summer involved teaching the Institute’s Cascade Climate Challenge summer youth program about Ross Lake, its fish communities and the effects of climate change. The best part—after each lesson we all jumped into the lake to go snorkeling so we could see first hand what all the fish fuss was about.

Another large component of my internship was helping out with field science and data collection. This involved the spawning surveys and water quality monitoring, and also a week in the field counting Redside Shiners through snorkel surveys and another week in the field gill netting and collecting data on all the fish in the lake.

Conducting snorkel transects, counting hundreds of minnows at a time
Collecting data
After pulling the gill nets, it’s time to go to work. This was our workstation for the week

Me searching for the fish’s otolith. The otolith is a small piece of cartilage that grows in the inner ear. It can be used to find the age of the fish.

The experience I gained through this internship will aid me throughout the rest of this program and onward. I am very grateful for this opportunity and enjoyed every second of my time in the field with the North Cascades National Park.


  1. Jeff A.

    WooooHoooo! Great story and pictures Jess. Congrats on filling your entire summer with science!

  2. Brian P.

    Really good story and photos Jess. Now if I only knew which high-country lakes and streams in the North Cascades NP have fish!?!

  3. John B

    Cool pics! I just got back from Ross Lake today. How old are the oldest rainbows? Did you pull out any other fish beside dollies and rainbows out of the nets? Thanks !!!

  4. Tanya Anderson

    It was fun to read about your self-designed summer leadership track. What an interesting experience!

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