Notes from the Northwoods: The Trout Lake Experience

by Aisha Liebenow
This last week was one heck of a week for Trout Lake Station. On Monday, we had our curtain removal at Little Rock Lake, reuniting the two halves of the lake and ending thirty-years’ worth of ground-breaking research. It was a huge undertaking, one that couldn’t have been done without all of our wonderful helpers, but it also garnered a lot of news coverage.

The amazing crew that helped out with the Little Rock Lake curtain removal. Dirty and tired after the all-day event, they graciously allowed me to take their picture to commemorate the accomplishment. Photo: A. Liebenow
The amazing crew that helped out with the Little Rock Lake curtain removal. Dirty and tired after the all-day event, they graciously allowed me to take their picture to commemorate the accomplishment. Photo: A. Liebenow

If you want to read more about the Little Rock Lake curtain removal, we saw reports everywhere from the Minneapolis Star Tribune, to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and many more! Our personal favorite was a report from Wisconsin Public Radio.
A few days later, on Thursday, we were joined by three parties at the station – the Juday and Lane families for our annual Juday/Lane Luncheon, and the members of the Trout Lake Property Owner’s Association for our Trout Lake Social. All were amazing people interested in science and in collaborating to find new solutions in taking care of our beloved Northwoods waters.
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A family enjoying some of UW Madison’s very own Babcock Hall ice cream. Photo: A. Liebenow

And then Friday ended our week with the big, grandaddy of ‘em all… our 3rd annual Open House and Ice Cream Social! A lot of folks felt we couldn’t top last year, when cars lined Highway N in both directions and more than 200 visitors flooded the station.
Those folks were wrong! We had an amazing turn out, with 352 people pouring into the station to see plankton under the microscopes, ride a pontoon boat out on Trout Lake and pick our researchers’ brains about all things lake-related. The only down point was running out of delicious Babcock Ice Cream to serve with an hour still left in the event.
 
Adorable girl gaining some limno-knowledge at the Weevil Station at our Open House. Photo: A. Liebenow
Adorable girl gaining some limno-knowledge at the Weevil Station at our Open House. Photo: A. Liebenow

But, even so, plenty of bellies went away happy, and minds went away full of new limnological knowledge. More pictures from the event can be found here and a short video of the event was recently on this blog.
The last couple of weeks have also brought many new experiences my way. Coming to Trout Lake Station this summer, I expected to see and do new things as I explored the meaning of limnological research. But I never expected that these fellow scientists could get me to hold a snake, fillet a fish or man a electro-fishing net.
Me, holding a ring-necked snake!!! Eeek. Photo: C. McLeavey
Me, holding a ring-necked snake!!! Eeek. Photo: C. McLeavey

I think if you asked any of my family members, I would be the last person you would expect to hold a fish, never-mind cut one open! But these bones have some brawn in them after all. I was taught by one of our undergraduate pro-fishermen, Chris Bailey, who made the task look easy with his electric fillet knife. I soon found that his expert strokes were not so simple to mimic. I only allowed myself to ruin one of his catch for the day, but maybe I’ll try my hand at it again soon with my own!
Electro-fishing turned out to be quite the event as well. Fish Crew, part of the North Temperate Lakes Long-Term Ecological Research team, and a couple other volunteers and I, ventured out in the dark in our enormous shock boat (designed specifically for e-fishing) with the intentions of momentarily stunning some fish, scooping them out of the lake with nets and adding to the once-per-year “census” of what’s out there.
The 'tentacles' of the shock boat gliding gracefully in the sunset. Photo: A. Liebenow
The ‘tentacles’ of the shock boat gliding gracefully in the sunset. Photo: A. Liebenow

This is all made possible by running an electric current around the front of the boat. The electric current is created by an on board generator and travels through cylindrical coils hung from two outstretched bars. Their appearance gives them the nickname ‘tentacles’. The fish are then caught in long nets and brought into a temporary holding container in the center of the boat. I took turns both wielding a net, and measuring the sector’s catch. After being measured, the fish are then released back into the water.
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Fish crew members, Dani and Drew and I bundled up and caught some electro-stunned fish. Photo: N. Lottig

Of course my Northwoods education wouldn’t be complete if it was all work and no play. Thankfully, Trout Lake has offered me a chance for some rope-swing and snorkeling adventures as well.
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Jake Heyka taking the plunge on our Trout Lake rope swing. Photo: A. Liebenow

I’ve braved the unpredictable waters of Trout Lake many a time to experience the wonders of the legendary rope swing. No one knows how it got there, when, or if it’s actually structurally  sound but, each year, its memory prevails and students make the journey to see if it still exists.
Snorkeling is also a common activity at Trout Lake. It is something that is done by researchers everyday to help them collect their needed samples, but I went along with graduate student Adrienne Gemberling to help her hunt for snails and discovered it was way too much fun to be considered work (for my one outing, at least).
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Me, snorkling for snails. Photo: C. McLeavey

Being exposed to all of these amazing opportunities is what helps create the community here at Trout Lake. We all work together, but we also live, eat, and play together. I have really enjoyed sharing with you all the ‘Undergraduate Experience’ here and am going to be very sad to leave this place in two weeks. Two weeks? Guess I better head back to that rope swing!

These are the first-hand ‘Notes from the Northwoods’, as UW – Madison undergraduate student, Aisha Liebenow, dives into the world of science, ecology, and aquatic systems. Follow her throughout the summer in her Northwoods immersion at the UW Center for Limnology – Trout Lake Station in Boulder Junction, WI.

4 thoughts on “Notes from the Northwoods: The Trout Lake Experience”

  1. I was able to visit on the open house and it was a great event. My highlight was the weevils eating milfoil. Sadly, I did miss out on the ice cream but totally understand since there was such a great turnout.
    Great articles Aisha. You have a great way of capturing the heart of research going on at Trout Lake.

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