"I tagged the eight New River walleyes during the spawning season," Phillips recalled. "All of them were captured in the big pool at Sandstone Falls. Within two or three weeks, all but three of them were gone. I later found one of them more than 20 miles downstream."
With the radio transmitters, Phillips doesn't have to recapture the fish. As long as she's within a quarter mile of them, and provided they aren't more than 30 feet below the surface, she'll pick up the signal.
"As I ride in the boat, I swing the antenna from side to side," she said. "The signal is strongest when the antenna points directly at the fish. We can use that directional signal to [hone] in on exactly where the fish are in the river."
So far, the transmitters Phillips is testing seem to be working well. Soon she'll start testing another system, one that combines radio tags with passive acoustic sensors.
DNR biologists are already using acoustic sensors to track muskellunge movements in Ritchie County's North Bend Lake. The sensors, which are anchored to the bottom of a body of water, pick up tiny sounds emitted by transmitters embedded in fishes' bodies every time the fish pass within range of the sensors.
The sensors log the contacts, and biologists periodically retrieve the sensors and download the accumulated data onto a laptop computer.
Phillips said the acoustic-radio combination, if it works as expected, would allow her to track New River walleyes much more efficiently.
"With the passive receivers, I can collect the data and have a good idea of what parts of the river the walleyes are in," she explained. "Then I can take a float trip down the river and track the fish with the radio."
The research is part of what Phillips calls a "big effort" to reestablish what once was a thriving New River walleye fishery. DNR officials are trying to replace the weakened, crossbred strain of walleye currently in the river with the more robust, pure strain native to the river.
"Once we know which system works best, we can go ahead and start tagging walleyes for study," Phillips said. "I'll be the one doing the research. I think it's important research because it benefits both the scientific community and anglers alike."
Reach John McCoy at johnmc...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.