It’s early October in northern Colorado, and aspen leaves are falling in droves onto the surface of West Creek, a small stream that flows through Rocky Mountain National Park’s southeast corner. Rain from the night before has cast a perfectly formed rainbow across the sky and is feeding an invigorated flow of water over the stream’s rocks. The backcountry scene is undisturbed aside from three men slowly plodding along the stream, their equipment emitting a rhythmic beeping over the sounds of the gurgling creek.
Wading in the water is Chris Kennedy, a fish biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He wears a sturdy gray box on his back, reminiscent of the “proton packs” from the movie Ghostbusters. With each beep, the pack flashes a red light and emits a pulse of electrical current, which Kennedy guides through the water using an electrode on a pole and a live wire. If done properly, the current will force trout in the stream to involuntarily swim closer to the current where they become stunned, giving Kennedy and his two volunteers a chance to scoop them up with nets.
“If you do it wrong, you get a fish fry,” Kennedy jokes. “If you have a hole in your waders it can be a long day.”