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First Few Weeks Flyin’ By

My name is A.J. Mabaka and I am a rising senior at Washington and Lee University majoring in Environmental Studies with a focus on Water Resources. I was born in Libreville, Gabon, and moved to the United States when I was 3, where I grew up in Long Island/Westchester, New York. Growing up near the beach naturally led to the development of my interest in the ocean, including the relationships between marine organisms, and a deep passion for recreational activities such as fishing, crabbing, kayaking, spearfishing, snorkeling, and clamming. I actually wrote my college essay about clamming! In high school I was fortunate enough to be a Hutton Junior Fisheries Biology Intern in the Gobler Lab at Stony Brook’s Marine Science Center. My experience working in the Gobler Lab nurtured my interest and passion for biology, ecology, and the conservation of ecosystems, especially since much of the Gobler Lab’s research was conducted in bays and waterways near home that I frequently enjoyed for recreational activities.

Fast forwarding to my freshman year at Washington and Lee, I took a fisheries management course that cemented my interest in the study of fisheries and greater ecosystem conservation and management. Thus, when I saw a flyer in my sophomore year that mentioned working with the Henry’s Fork Foundation in Idaho doing research on trout fisheries, I couldn’t have been more enthusiastic! Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, my internship with HFF transitioned to be online and remote for the summer of 2020. Nevertheless, I am still quite thankful to have participated in ongoing and meaningful research on water quality conditions and study how they affect rainbow trout within the Upper Henry’s Fork River (from Big Springs to Island Park Dam).

All that being said, I am fortunate enough to be an intern again with HFF and am very happy to say that I am in person here in Ashton! I will be working again this summer with PhD candidate, Jack McLaren, but this time our research will be based in Island Park Reservoir and assess how drawdown may impact water quality conditions and suitable habitat for kokanee salmon! The first two weeks have flown by and I’ve been catching up on research, reading papers, and building background knowledge for our research project. Jack and I have been going out on Fridays to collect data on Island Park Reservoir, which is unbelievably picturesque.

Oftentimes, when I go for a walk or drive through Ashton and look out at the Grand Tetons, I think about what I thought being here would look like when I was a remote intern, and I can happily and genuinely say my experiences so far have transcended my prior imagination. I can’t wait to continue fishing (I’m learning to fly fish), hiking, and exploring this beautiful part of the country all while continuing to do amazing and meaningful research with Jack and the Henry’s Fork Foundation!

Pictured above is the first trout that I caught on the fly rod with my mentor Jack McLaren just past Vernon Bridge. My goal will be to have a picture with a bigger trout on the line for my next blog post!



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