SPENCER - Brow furrowed in concentration, Taylor Phillips listened intently through her headphones for the telltale chirp of a radio signal.
"There," she said, pointing a handheld antenna over the boat's gunwale. "The fish is right under us."
Station WAL-I was on the air.
Deep under the surface of Charles Fork Lake swam a walleye with a tiny transmitter attached to the base of its dorsal fin. Every second or so, the transmitter emitted a signal that, when detected by Phillips' receiver, created that telltale chirp.
Armed with this or similar technology, Division of Natural Resources biologists hope to track walleye movements in Southern West Virginia's New River. The work Phillips does is a yearlong test to see which equipment works best.
"This is part of our effort to reintroduce native-strain walleye to West Virginia waters," she explained. "We needed a way to effectively track the native-strain fish we've been stocking there for the past several years. We know they tend to move a lot, but we don't yet know where they go."
Phillips said information gathered during the walleye-tracking project would be shared with anglers to give them a better idea of where and how to fish for walleye, a species highly prized as table fare.
"It will also give us biologists an idea of where the fish go to spawn and where they go when they're not spawning," she added.
Until now, DNR crews had relied on capturing and recapturing tagged fish to determine the extent of their travels. It was a hit-or-miss proposition.
"In a river like the New, it's hard to count on recapturing a walleye you've tagged," Phillips said.
Earlier this year, Phillips tagged 12 walleyes with radios - four fish from Charles Fork Lake and eight from the New River. The fish from Charles Fork have been relatively easy to find in the 70-acre impoundment, but the fish in the New have been a bit more challenging.